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December 14 2010

17:00

Smartphone growth, Murdoch’s Daily, and journalism for the poor: Predictions for mobile news in 2011

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

One of the common threads through many of their predictions was mobile — the impact smartphones and tablets and apps will have on how news is reported, produced, distributed, and consumed. (Not to mention how it’s paid for.) Here are Vivian Schiller, Keith Hopper, Jakob Nielsen, Alexis Madrigal, Michael Andersen, Richard Lee Colvin, Megan McCarthy, David Cohn, and David Fanning on what 2011 will bring for the mobile space.

Vivian Schiller, president and CEO, NPR

After two decades of saying that “this is the year of mobile,” 2011 really will be the year of mobile.

My wild prediction: 2011 will be the year of media initiatives that serve poor and middle-income people.

For 20 years, almost all native Internet content has been made for the niche interests — often the professional interests — of people who make more than the median household income of $50,000 or so. But one of the best things about the mobile Internet is that it’s finally killing (or even reversing) the digital divide.

Poor folks may not have broadband, but they’ve got cell phones. African Americans and Latinos are more likely than white people to use phones for the web, pictures, texts, emails, games, videos, and social networking. As hardware prices keep falling, we’ll see more and more demand for information that is useful to the lower-income half of the population — and thanks to low marginal costs, people will be creating products that fill that need. It’s about damn time, wouldn’t you say?

Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and co-founder, Longshot Magazine

Murdoch’s iPad Daily will be surprisingly successful. I say it gets mid-six figure subscribers by the end of the year.

The iPad newspaper will launch and, while it won’t fall flat on its face, it will be exactly what is described at the end of EPIC 2015 — a newsletter for the elite. Odd that it will be digital but suffer the end fate of newspapers as described in that video.

Keith Hopper, director of product strategy and development, NPR

I predict smartphone penetration will break 50 percent in the U.S., creating a tipping point in mobile web traffic. The web folks will then finally wake up and smell the mobile. Ubiquitous support for HTML5 and geolocation will sweeten the deal, and we’ll see some exciting new news experiences delivering proximally-relevant immediacy to your mobile devices in 2011.

The cost of creating dedicated apps for mobile phones and iPads will continue to fall and some news executives may conclude that the apps are an end in themselves, and that they can continue to provide their audiences with the same content they’ve always given them. But it will become clear over the next 12 months that delivering old, worn content in a new package will not be enough to keep traditional news organizations profitable over the long term.

Jakob Nielsen, veteran web usability expert

1. Growth in for-pay content.

2. Strong growth in mobile content.

3. Mobile often means short, so need to find ways to be interesting and brief beyond simply being snarky.

iPad magazines/newspapers will figure out a way to display across platforms or else they be considered an elite novelty.

David Fanning, executive producer, Frontline

The tablet reader — the iPad et al — is the big game-changer. Not only is it going to revitalize print and launch an exciting new era of editorial design and execution, it is the real promise of convergence we’ve been talking about for so long. It’s going to be a wonderful challenge to create the new publications. It’s also a device that seems to offer a subscription or pay model that is quite natural and acceptable to readers and viewers.

For Frontline it is the bright hope. As broadcast appointment viewing declines, we’ve seen more and more viewers go to our website (we’ve been streaming our films since 2000), but also worried that with shorter and shorter attention spans, we were sowing the seeds of our own destruction. Now I can see a future for this idea we’ve defended for so long — intelligent narrative documentary journalism — and it’s on my lap. I can comfortably watch at length without a twitchy finger on a mouse threatening to pull me away. I can pause and see the film wrapped together with the best of literary journalism. I can experience the resurgence of great documentary photography, and of course I can connect to the living, pulsing web (if I have to). I can decide to throw my film up onto my widescreen TV, and sit back and watch, but most of all, I will have it all on my virtual bookshelf. That means I will have to be making journalism that lasts, that is not disposable, that is so well made it’s worth keeping. It’ll sit next to my ebooks; in fact it will be a form of ebook.

As magazine publishers rush onto this new platform, photographers and filmmakers are already embedding their video in the pages. Books like Sebastian Junger’s War are scattering short pieces of video actuality in the narrative, and there is at least one chapter that is a longer mini-documentary, on Sal Giunta, the Medal of Honor winner. But these are more illustrations than longer narrative works. Our challenge at Frontline will be to publish our longer films and embed within them other terrific journalism that both echoes and complements our stories. That’s going to be fun to design and edit.

So this new technology, the tablet, will expand our editorial horizons, force us to make new partnerships, collaborate with more writers and photographers, and find ways to invent a new kind of publication, while holding onto some old ideas about the appeal and strength of good journalism.

March 26 2010

17:00

Collaboration in action: Frontline, Planet Money, NewsHour team up for multimedia project on Haiti

Today marks the launch of a new public media series on Haiti — an experimental collaboration among public media partners Frontline (WGBH), Planet Money (NPR), and the NewsHour (PBS) to document life in the country after January’s devastating earthquake.

Though the project will culminate in Tuesday’s hour-long Frontline documentary, “The Quake” — an in-depth examination of the current state of Haiti and the world’s response to the disaster — it represents a group effort, not only among several different outlets, but also across several different platforms. The project is another attempt to achieve an increasingly common goal: to maximize reportorial resources during a time when they’re dwindling — and to find ways to collaborate during a time when competition can be an impediment to good journalism as much as a boon to it.

I spoke with David Fanning, Frontline’s producer (and recent Goldsmith career award winner) to learn more about the project.

It came from “one of those impetuous moments,” Fanning explains. “We’d had conversations well over a year ago with Planet Money and Adam Davidson about ways to collaborate on financial reporting, but we weren’t able to put anything together at the time. We were all doing our own programs.” Then, this spring, they continued that conversation, discussing the possibility of a big collaboration this summer. “And then Adam said, ‘Well, actually, I’m going to Haiti next week,’” Fanning says. “And we said, ‘Well, we have a team there filming, as well. So why don’t we see if we can get someone to go with you?’”

They did. They recruited Travis Fox, who had worked for ten years at The Washington Post — most recently, as a reporter/producer/videographer for washingtonpost.com — to shoot video that would be available not only for Frontline productions, but also to the NewsHour and NPR. “The theory is open-ended — this is an experiment — to see if you can collaborate with a reporter working in the field, without getting him off-course from what he’s doing,” Fanning says.

Another experiment: the terms of the collaboration itself. “We talk about collaborations in high-flung terms,” Fanning points out, but on the molecular level, teamwork can be a series of negotiations: who takes the lead on what, who makes editorial decisions, and so on. “My instinct on this — and it was Adam’s, as well — was: ‘Let’s just try something. Let’s just do it. If we don’t like it at the end of the day, we don’t have to do it again.’”

Ultimately, the success of the project — this one, and others like it — depends on the interactions between the individuals who are producing it. “Co-productions are never between institutions,” Fanning points out; “they’re only really between the people who work together and trust each other.” Still, those people work for institutions; and institutions — even those of public media — tend to care about things like return-on-investment, and eyeballs, and traffic. When it comes to the project’s web products, who hosts the stories? Who gets the pageviews?

“In the case of Planet Money and Frontline, we’re essentially driving traffic back to the Frontline website,” Fannings says. “We’re also carrying the NPR logo. And NPR, in turn, is going to credit Frontline — and vice versa. The important thing for Planet Money and NPR is that they’ll have the video stories for themselves, and they’ll have them produced at a level that’s not as easy for them to do.”

And, more broadly, everyone will benefit from the impact of the network. “If you marry that to really good reporting in the other platforms, which could be radio and print on the web, if you bring those together and present them in a common matrix” — though it’s an open question whether that reporting is best housed on a single, shared website, or on separate ones, Fanning acknowledges — “then you’re creating something of value in a society where so much of the information is really disposable. And if it’s made in such a way that it’s very transportable, and it’s an embeddable, widgetized commodity, then it can go out and you can put it on your Facebook page and you can send it to your favorite 500 people. If you can share it in that way — and if it carries with it its connections back to those upper partnerships — then that’s just a very valuable object.”

But while the journalism should be portable and embeddable, so should the core values that underscore it: intelligence, context, quality. Fanning mentions the reporting Davidson produces for Planet Money. “If it’s done to that high degree of intelligence, then it really has currency,” he says. “Then people say, ‘You should really hear this one.’” Productions like, for example, “The Giant Pool of Money,” the much-praised and uber-trafficked collaboration with This American Life: “Those are the pieces that become memorable,” Fanning notes. “The thing you want to do is the memorable telling. Then it becomes valuable for always, in a way. And that’s the amazing promise of this new medium.”

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