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August 01 2012

17:30

Highlight reel: Some of the best from this year’s International Symposium on Online Journalism

Back in April, we went down to Austin for this year’s International Symposium on Online Journalism. As far as journalism conferences go, this is one of the special ones — highly recommended.

We’ve already written about much of what was covered there, like smart-fridge strategies, O Globo’s crazy-engaging tablet-only evening edition, an examination of journalistic behaviors on Twitter, and a study that pinpointed the most likely demographic to pay for the news. (Check out our roundup of lessons learned from the symposium.)

Now, ISOJ has posted a complete collection of video from the conference. Watch them all. Here’s a smattering to get you started:

Welsh: Let’s get to work

The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Welsh will make you love robots. He’ll also effectively shut down anyone who’s still arguing that computer-assisted reporting is somehow inherently bad for the industry. He’s genuinely passionate, and that’s just fun to watch.

Highlight: Skip to 11:08 to watch a minute-long crescendo that ends with the best F-bomb of the conference.

Boyer: News is a craft, not purely an art

Brian Boyer, who this summer joined NPR’s news apps team, wants you to think about news function. “Data visualizations are not on their own useful,” Boyer says. “If we only make art, we are doing our audience a disservice.”

Highlight: Skip to 3:03 to hear Boyer break down why journalists, engineers, and designers need to learn from one another.

Brown: Don’t fight the audience

University of Memphis journalism assistant professor Carrie Brown-Smith tracked the use of #Memstorm on Twitter during severe weather in her region. She examined the use of hashtags in centralizing real-time news. She also explored what kinds of information was shared, and how journalists’ coverage of the storm fit in. One key lesson for newsrooms: If your audience starts doing something cool, join in.

Highlight: Skip to 3:37 to watch her account of what happened when a local Fox affiliate tried to change the hashtag.

Doria: Make something beautiful

The iPad is special. That’s why Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor for Brazilian newspaper O Globo, wanted to give readers an iPad app that was specially made for the device. Doria felt that the paper’s basic mobile app wasn’t making full use of the platform. (Read our article about the app.)

Highlight: Skip to 8:14 to see Doria break down the numbers about engagement with the app, which jumped from an average of 26 minutes to a mind-boggling 77 minutes.

Gingras: There’s too much news

Anyone else feel like Google’s Richard Gingras is everywhere these days? It’s likely you’re familiar with his views by now. Bottom line, Gingras says, “we have to rethink it all.” To him, print is nothing more than a “derivative mechanism” and the big problem in news is that “there’s too much of it.”

Highlight: Skip to 7:45 to hear someone challenge Gingras on the idea that there are no gatekeepers anymore. Who gets to decide who a news organization is and is not? Audience member: “You do.”

Whurley: You already have the answers

“I don’t do slides, ever,” said Whurley, general manager of Chaotic Moon Labs. So instead, he opted to crowdsource his slides — asking journalists to shout out questions that he addressed later in the presentation.

Highlight: Skip to 6:12 to hear Whurley sum up his experience coding and developing The Daily, and what it demonstrated to him about the fundamental problem in journalism: “What they did is fantastic for one reason, and the reason that we participated was one reason: Nobody wants to be the first.”

April 24 2012

13:57

Human-assisted reporting, mass intelligence, and mobile mobile mobile: What we learned at ISOJ

After attending a conference like the International Symposium on Online Journalism, it can be hard to pinpoint just one major takeaway. ISOJ features a mix of quantitative academic research, practical insights, and data from media companies like CNN, The Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, and Google News — all assembled by the ace team of Rosental Alves and Amy Schmitz Weiss.

You can check out our complete liveblog from the event; ISOJ has posted recaps of the symposium’s sessions; and Alf Hermida did his usual stellar job blogging everythign in sight. But we also wanted to distill some of what got us thinking.

A future of focused brands

What will newspapers and media companies look like in the future? Richard Gingras of Google News said news outlets will continue to move away from being general-interest publications and become more of a “stable of focused brands.” As alternative news channels like Twitter and Facebook continue to grow, and as more and more people get their information on-the-go, Gingras said news companies spend too much time worrying about their home pages and not enough about their article pages. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if there comes a time when a media company opts not to have a homepage at all. (Gingras’ comments echoed the themes in his TechRaking speech, which we shared on April 12.)

Embrace human-assisted reporting

Ben Welsh, who mans the Data Desk at The Los Angeles Times, is a big proponent of using computing power to make reporters’ lives easier. That includes letting robots do some of the writing. (Here’s an example of the kind of stories that algorithms write for the Times.) He also gave one of the most succinct and passionate calls to action of the conference. You can watch his talk here.

Appeal to “mass intelligence”

The Dallas Morning News is shifting the focus of its reporting to appeal to a “mass intelligence” audience rather than a general one, according to publisher Jim Moroney: “When I say a mass intelligence audience I don’t mean elite,” but instead a readership that wants daily intelligence about the community that fits specific interests. (Moroney credits this Economist article for the term.) The Morning News is trying to differentiate itself in two ways: By shifting its production to fit devices like tablets, and by shifting its reporting with a plan they call “PICA,” which stands for Perspective, Interpretation, Context and Analysis.

Take time to play in the news sandbox

Louis Gump, vice president for CNN Mobile, said the company was slow to launch its iPhone and iPad apps because it wanted to figure out the right way to use its vast collection of video and images. CNN provides widely differentiated experiences; consider how different the iPad app looks from the iPhone app from the mobile site from the desktop site. CNN’s iPad app is among the top 10 free downloaded apps, with more than 19.5 million U.S. users in February 2012. Even with that success, Gump said CNN sees the iPad app and other mobile apps as a “sandbox” to test how the audience responds: “You can’t choose between mobile web and apps — like two wheels on a bike, you need both.”

“Survival is success” in online news startups

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, who coauthored a report on the climate of online news startups in France, Germany, and Italy, found a culture similar to its U.S. equivalent. He said former reporters are trying to address perceived gaps in traditional media coverage but struggling to find and grow niche audiences, let alone generating enough revenue to thrive. For the companies he studied, the majority are not breaking even, and most operate at a loss. (Download the report, which goes deep on nine case studies, here.)

The Carvin Factor

In analyzing the tweets of NPR’s Andy Carvin during the Arab Spring, University of British Columbia professor Alfred Hermida found that Carvin overwhelmingly quoted activists, bloggers, and alternative voices. While almost half of Carvin’s tweets and retweets came from people on the ground, they made up just about a quarter of his sources, with the rest being mainstream media and official institutions. In other words, his tweets served as a major amplifier of lesser-known sources. Hermida questioned how this sourcing structure could have influenced the framing and coverage of the events of the Arab Spring.

Build something beautiful

Creating a tablet app is not just a box for news organizations to check. Many of the panelists at ISOJ talked about resisting the urge to transfer web-based design principles to smartphones and tablets. Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor at O Globo (Brazil), showed us how the paper reintroduced the concept of an “evening edition,” providing an update to tablet readers at the end of the day. It’s rich with videos and photos — that what tablets are good at, Doria said — which keeps people in the app longer, and it features content specially designed for a lean-back evening mode of reading. Since the launch of the p.m. edition, Doria said the average time spent daily in the O Globo iPad app jumped from 26 minutes to a staggering 77 minutes.

Don’t just build something beautiful

ISOJ’s all-star data panel made clear there’s a distinction between art and data that sometimes gets blurred at the expense of user experience. Pretty graphics must provide context and useful information to be journalism. Here’s an example that University of Miami lecturer Alberto Cairo gave of data that’s lovely but ultimately not useful.

Execution is key

It takes more than a killer idea to achieve greatness in the newsroom. As Moroney argued, “culture eats strategy,” and he acknowledged it as an area where his paper still had plenty of room for progress. Moroney said that means filling a newsroom with more Tiggers than Eeyores. That drew laughs and tons of retweets, although some said that wasn’t fair to Eeyore.

Mobile will just keep getting bigger

Okay, so we didn’t need a conference to tell us that. Just today we learned more than half of Facebook’s 901 million monthly active users uses it on a mobile device. The Dallas Morning News will shift more of its development resources to tablets, promising a groundbreaking app within a year. And while News Corp. was criticized for its single-platform strategy with The Daily, William Hurley — whose company helped design the iPad newspaper — said someone had to go first. Last year, The Daily was No. 3 on Apple’s list of top grossing apps, behind Smurfs’ Village and Angry Birds. Before diving into mobile, Hurley said, news organizations should consider their audience’s needs. Start with looking at access logs to see what devices people are most commonly using to visit a website.

There’s a big world out there

Conferences like ISOJ are a good reminder to sometimes-gloomy U.S. journalists that journalism is well, even thriving, in other markets. Globally, journalists face a slew of different challenges — fellow attendees from places like Argentina and the Philippines reminded us that FOIA protections aren’t universal. But it’s also an environment where international news companies with a bit of money to spare are doing interesting things — which means there’ll be interesting lessons for American companies to bring back from abroad.

April 20 2012

15:49

Global insights into the mobile media revolution at ISOJ

The second session at International Symposium on Online Journalism focused on the impact of mobile and tablet.

A common theme was the need to tailor content for different mobile platforms to account for different audience needs and behaviours.

Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor, O Globo newspaper, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, started off by explaining how the company developed the iPad edition of the newspaper.

The iPad edition was based on understanding that readership on a tablet works differently from a news website, with reading mostly in the evening.

The iPad edition bundles news in brief, strong image, three or four long-form stories, some shorter articles and then cultural tidbits, and goes live at 6 p.m.

Before the iPad edition was launched in February, people would spend on average 26 minutes on the app.  After the revised evening edition was released, the average time went up to a hour and 17 minutes.

Impact of mobiles in Africa

Next up was Harry Dugmore, professor at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. He spoke about how the massive uptake of mobiles Africa had led some to hope the technology would help democracy flourish.

But, said Dugmore, we were wrong.

The technological environment in Africa has evolved, starting off with mobiles with small screens, slow speeds and sky-high subscriptions. This was still the situation in many places, with only one of every 100 phones in Africa being an iPhone.

The result was a focus on SMS services to keep people inform and in touch.

Mobile technology is moving towards better speeds, more competition and more powerful phones, said Dugmore. But costs are still high and net access can be intermittent.

Now, tablets and smartphones are starting to appear but are in a minority.

Some of the biggest changes, said Dugmore, have been the provision of free access to Facebook and Wikipedia on mobiles.  Facebook zero means anyone can access Facebook on a mobile, even if they don’t have any credit.

Twitter, too, Dugmore added, was emerging as a source for news, with two-thirds of Kenyans saying they get international news from Twitter.

CNN’s approach

Next up Louis Gump, vice president of CNN Mobile talked about the the mobile web as the hub of his unit’s business, with a portfolio of apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and more.

CNN Mobile reached 19.5 million users in the US in February, with over 17 million apps downloaded across platforms worldwide. This compares to around 100 million people that CNN reaches overall on digital.

Gump said CNN made a decision to take some time to think about its iPad app and see what resonates with consumers.

He concluded by highlighting imperatives for success: having a first-rate mobile website, a range of core apps, employing mobile professionals and understanding that mobile is different.

Mobile in the Philippines

A different perspective came from JV Rufino, head of Inquirer Mobile and Books, Inquirer Group, Manila, Philippines.

He comes from one of the largest media groups in the Philippines.

Rufino explained that the Philippines was largely a TV market, but that most people have several mobiles.

One of the ways The Inquirer uses mobile is by sending ad-supported news headlines by SMS, but it also has a premium news alert SMS service.

Its mobile apps are also sponsored but have to work on older Nokia smartphones too, Rufino explained.

As with other media organisations, The Inquirer has developed a range of tablet apps as premium products.

Rufino explained how the company has collated its news articles as ebooks, including aggregating romance columns and producing court transcripts.

 

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