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April 20 2012

13:27

Catalysts of Collaboration: What Motivates New Journalism Partnerships

The shift from competition to collaboration in the American newsroom has been so profound that in 2009 the Columbia Journalism Review published an article on "Journalism's collaborative future," arguing that "there is something fundamental under way." That same year, Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger wrote, "I've seen the future, and it's mutual." The trend is clear, and by all accounts collaborations are expanding and maturing, but do we have a clear enough understanding of what motivates these collaborative efforts? What are the factors inside and outside the newsroom that are inspiring this great collaborative shift?

At MIT's Center for Civic Media in 2010 Scott Rosenberg, executive editor of Grist and Salon co-founder, commented:

There is a professional transition in the field from an environment where competition was the dominant mode of interacting with other organizations to an era where dividing labor and sharing might serve the public better.

The past few years have created a perfect storm of economic crisis, technological transition, and cultural change that have combined to help inspire many journalists to explore news partnerships. Below, I explore three factors that are motivating journalists to work together.

Rapid Technological Change

Journalism practice has always been tied to technological development. In their book, "Four Theories of the Press," Fred Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm argue, "The press always takes on the form and coloration of the social and political structures within which it operates." Historically, we've seen this as the telegraph led to the development of the inverted pyramid, the telephone begat the phone interview, and the always-on cable news channels resulted in the 24-hour news cycle.

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One thing that differentiates the current batch of technological changes and their impact on journalism is the profound pace of that change. Now, the Internet, mobile devices and new digital tools are prompting the profession of journalism to become more collaborative, by fostering interaction with the public and with other news organizations.

Platforms like Publish2, a content-management system; Stroome, a browser-based video editing platform; and DocumentCloud, a repository for primary documents -- among many others -- are helping to lower the costs of reporting and publishing and connecting individual journalists and newsrooms around shared resources. One of the most ambitious of these projects is the Public Media Platform, which former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said would "allow all of the content from [various public media] entities -- whether news or cultural products -- to flow freely among the partners and member stations, and, ultimately, also to other publishers, other not-for-profits and software developers who will invent wonderful new products that we can't even imagine."

In addition, collaboration between newsrooms and the public is growing. Examples include CNN's iReport, Huffington Post's OffTheBus and various crowdsourcing projects from ProPublica and others. As a society we are witnessing a technologically driven resurgence in all kinds of sharing, and journalism organizations are a key part of that development.

Economic Factors

This new era of collaboration is not just a function of shiny new gadgets, platforms or programs. It's impossible to ignore the effect the economic recession has had in prompting collaboration. We're living through one of the most difficult periods in the history of the news business (albeit, one of the most exciting), where sharp budget reductions, shrinking ad revenues, dramatic shifts in audiences' media consumption habits, and a range of self-inflicted wounds (from media consolidation to unhealthy debt loads) have upended news organizations' longstanding business models and sparked an age of reinvention and experimentation.

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Indeed, many collaborative journalism projects have either been started or are staffed by some of the 30,000-plus people who lost newsroom jobs over the last four years. Esther Kaplan of the Nation Investigative Fund, which "incubates and supports" investigative stories and journalists until the stories are published across a network of magazines like the Atlantic and Mother Jones, has called her effort a "social safety net" for laid-off reporters.

Journalism collaborations present opportunities to share resources and costs, allowing media outlets -- especially independent ones -- to maximize their dwindling budgets. Examples include the Investigative News Network and the Media Consortium, which help independent news organizations with things like back office support, fundraising, and the facilitation of editorial collaborations. In its big-picture report "The Big Thaw," the Media Consortium suggests that the rise of collaboration represents a shift toward a human-centered "alternative economy" that puts community impact and engagement at the center of journalism.

Finally, the economics of collaboration are not only driven by what has been lost, but also by what has been gained as foundations focus on expanding their impact by supporting collaborative projects across organizations. According to J-Lab at American University, foundations have spent upwards of $143 million since 2005 to support new journalism projects, many with collaborative elements. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) provided $1 million in mid-2010 for the new Public Media Platform initiative that hopes to create a shared API for community and public media. CPB and the Knight Foundation have also funded regional collaborative journalism ventures between local public TV and radio stations around the country.

Better Journalism

Not all of the factors driving collaboration are external to the work of journalism itself. Many early converts to collaborative journalism argue that it produces a superior product. Spot.Us founder David Cohn has said, on more than one occasion, that if content is king, collaboration is queen. Through collaboration you can tap into skills and expertise outside your organization (such as multimedia production), uncover new story angles, bring in diverse perspectives, and extend the reach and influence of your work.

In the Columbia Journalism Review editorial mentioned above, the editors write:

From foreign capitals to U.S. statehouses, [journalism collaboration] is a way to extend our shrinking newsrooms, begin to rebuild public trust and ensure that the standards of the professional press help shape the development of new journalistic endeavors.

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In recent years, collaborative journalism projects have been earning significant awards. ProPublica has won numerous awards for its collaborations with NPR and other new organizations. The California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting and the Chico Enterprise-Record won an award from the Association of Health Care Journalists for their joint reporting on woodstove smoke pollution. And the Tiziano Project won a community collaboration award from the Online News Association for its work promoting collaborative journalism in Iraq.

While the other factors above provide external pressure on journalists, most wouldn't embrace collaboration if it wasn't helping them do better journalism.

From Safety in Numbers to Strength in Numbers

Regardless of the catalyst for collaboration, there is a growing sense in the news business that we are all in this together.

The magnitude of this shift toward working together, not just across newsrooms but across the profession as a whole, is perhaps best epitomized by the widespread adoption of a "Show Your Work" ethos. The credo, which encourages journalists and programmers to be transparent with the work they do and share the lessons of their work with the field, was first promoted by the Chicago Tribune apps team last year, and has also been embraced by ProPublica -- but the mantra has spread well beyond these two newsrooms. Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, called Show Your Work "perhaps the biggest thing to affect journalism development" of 2011.

Show Your Work is a great example of how collaboration can turn safety in numbers into strength in numbers. Instead of collaborating simply because everyone around you is trying to do more with less, this approach suggests that by working together, we can all achieve more with more. We can build on each other's work, failures and successes to help build better journalism together.

What other motivations and external factors drive journalism collaborations, and how does understanding these catalysts help us better facilitate news partnerships?

Matt Schafer contributed additional research and reporting for this post.

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Josh Stearns is a journalist, organizer and community strategist. He is Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director for Free Press, a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization working to reform the media through education, organizing and advocacy. He was a co-author of "Saving the News: Toward a national journalism strategy," "Outsourcing the News: How covert consolidation is destroying newsrooms and circumventing media ownership rules," and "On the Chopping Block: State budget battles and the future of public media." Find him on Twitter at @jcstearns.

Photos above by Flickr users Chris Willis, Bart Heird, and Rob n' Renee.

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November 14 2011

19:30

CNN’s just-revamped iReport: Imagine all the data!

Today brings the launch of an overhaul of CNN’s iReport, the network’s platform for citizen journalism. As of today, iReport will look much less like a straight-up content site…and much more like a social network. One that, CNN.com participation director Lila King told me, “turns the site into something that’s focused on people far more than news stories.”

For a good summary of the overall changes in iReport, check out Mallary Jean Tenore’s overview over at Poynter, which is chock full of detail about how the revamped site will run. Though the idea of a social network for citizen journalism — particularly one that exists within the confines of a sprawling cable news website — is intriguing, I’m especially interested in what the revamped iReport will offer CNN in terms of knowledge about its own audience and participants. The new site will focus on user profiles, a big part of that being the areas of interest and expertise that users have identified. It will offer users, King says, a “very personalized experience that tailors the homepage and iReporters’ profiles toward the sources and the topics and the people that folks are interested in.”

And what that experience will mean, on the back end, is — ostensibly — tons of data about users’ (self-identified) areas of interest and expertise. According to internal numbers provided to me by CNN, iReport currently has 955,000 registered users. If even a fraction of those users go the social media route and register their interests with iReport, that could provide CNN with some immensely valuable information not only about the areas their users are interested in, but also the areas their users care about. For TV news, in particular, which has traditionally been even more detached from its audience than print journalism, that information could be incredibly useful. “In the past, we’ve collected in an ad hoc fashion groups of iReporters around particular areas of the spectrum,” King says. But they’ve never done so “in a publicly designated way.” Opening up the process — essentially, crowdsourcing user data from the users themselves — could allow for communities and itinerant publics to spring up using CNN’s site as their platform.

The core of the new iReport reminds me a lot of the Public Insight Network, American Public Media’s effort to “connect enterprising journalists with knowledgeable sources” — with the significant caveat that PIN focuses on citizens-as-sources, rather than citizens-as-producers. While iReport is focused on direct user participation, there’s also the intriguing possibility that the newly networked site could facilitate more direct collaboration between iReporters and CNN’s reporters — teamwork that makes use of user data and the power of the detailed call to action. “We’ve learned through experience,” King says, “that the best way to inspire contribution and participation is to give people a very specific call to action that’s tailored to them — and that says, essentially, ‘Here’s a story that needs your voice. Here’s how you could contribute.’”

That approach could be especially useful, King points out, for things like focus groups — particularly as the 2012 campaign ramps up — but also for “lots of other topics that we haven’t even dreamt up yet.” And: “I’m pretty sure that it will result in richer, more diverse coverage.”

So while the newly networked iReport can foster user participation with CNN, it can work the other way, as well, by allowing CNN to better connect with its constituents. It “just gives us more tools in our arsenal to include more perspectives in our coverage,” King says. More importantly, it “helps us, in some ways, get at groups of people who aren’t traditionally included in news coverage,” she points out. “Especially in the political arena, you tend to shy away from people who have very strident and public opinions on issues. But the beauty of iReport is that almost everyone who contributes contributes because they feel personally motivated to be part of the story — because it affects them in some way, because they’re living through it, or because it’s an issue that’s near and dear to their part.”

Ultimately, King says, “we’re creating a scenario where people can very explicitly say who they are and what they think and what they want to contribute to.” And as long as CNN’s staff does “the good work of journalists in being very clear and transparent about who people are and where they’re coming from when we include their perspective, I think it’s going to make our stories better.”

January 28 2011

18:10

5 Key Truths About Mobile News Consumers

Smartphones are ushering in the next wave of news consumption. These devices present an exciting opportunity for the news media to go mobile, putting endless information and the possibility of engagement in the palm of every consumer's hand.

But what characterizes the new mobile news consumer? How does he or she interact with news? And how can that shape the still-forming mobile news medium? I've laid out several key characteristics of mobile news consumers below. News organizations need to keep these basic truths in mind when developing apps and mobile sites.

Key Characteristics of Mobile News Consumers

1. They are impulse users.
Smartphone owners actively seek out bits of news throughout the day. Whether they are at the office, in a crowded bar, or in the comfort of their own home, the impulsive user wants to quickly open an app or browser on their mobile phone and, within seconds, have up-to-the-minute news. While some users are willing to spend time on longer reads, the majority are still looking for the latest, bite-sized chunks of news.

2. They're demanding.
Mobile news consumers invested in their devices as well as their monthly phone and data plans. They have paid good money for up-to-the-minute pulse.pngaccess, and that's what they expect the news media to deliver. The emergence of this on-the-go, impulsive, and demanding user means mobile news applications and websites need to adopt clean interfaces and offer powerful search functionality. The demanding nature of mobile news consumers also helps explain the growing popularity of news aggregator apps like the Pulse News Reader. These aggregators pull together top stories from users' favorite sites and offer the option to read a clean text summary of the story or go to the original article. Considering the mobile users' need for speed, news aggregator apps save consumers not only the time it takes to visit each site separately, but also the time it takes to read full articles.

3. They consume and contribute.
The next step in mobile news will be less about consumption and more about contribution and collaboration. Smartphones give users the opportunity to post video, images, and text to the Internet in seconds. Mobile apps like Qik and CNN's iReport currently provide some of the most visible venues for mobile users to post news as it happens. Plus, citizen-documented news is appearing on blogs, social networking sites, and YouTube. The ability for anyone to report breaking news means news organizations need to evolve further, shifting from working for the news consumer to working with the news consumer.

4. They are on multiple platforms.
The lack of a cross-platform app strategy is a stumbling block for some news outlets. News outlets and app creators need to make certain their news apps are available on all major platforms. Android is still not a priority for many news outlets, despite the fact it has more than 300,000 new activations daily and has now overtaken rivals such as RIM and Apple in U.S. smartphone market share. Similarly, Nokia's Symbian platform must stay on app makers' radar, given its massive installed base and large international penetration, with more than 450 million active devices.

5. They don't mind a little push
Traditional news outlets like CNN have catered to the new expectations of smartphone users by integrating push notifications into their apps. When major breaking news hits, CNN can push the story to a user's home screen, regardless of whether the app is open. The key is to use the push feature wisely. Many smartphone users will uninstall your app if you push too often for the wrong reasons. This is a balancing act that news organizations must pay attention to.

Patrick Mork is chief marketing officer of GetJar, the world's largest open mobile platform. He heads the company's overall marketing, branding, content and communications strategy. Prior to joining GetJar, he was marketing director EMEA at glu, where he built up the company's marketing team and helped establish glu as one of the top 3 games publishers in Europe. A former marketer at PepsiCo, Patrick has worked in venture-backed start-ups in marketing, sales and general management for the past 10 years. He holds an MBA from INSEAD and a Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University.

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July 08 2010

14:00

The newsonomics of replacing Larry King

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

I know. You say, who could ever replace Larry King? But I remind you that Larry’s six ex-wives have already confronted that question.

Most of the speculation about a replacement has focused on a range of usual suspects, personalities from Katie Couric to Ryan Seacrest to Joy Behar to Piers Morgan — all around the question of who will be able to command a better audience than King, whose ratings have seen a steady decline. Indeed, his successor, who will take over the show in November, will probably come from that list, a month after the network plucked Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker to fill Campbell Brown’s spot.

Yet the changing economics of CNN’s basic business model prompt lots of questions about ways CNN could go — as well as offering print- and broadcast-based news companies some pointers on their own business model development.

Let’s recall that CNN is a tale of two modern stories. Its flagship cable news station has been flagging badly, having fallen to a #4 position in cable news behind Fox, MSNBC, and its own Headline News Network (HLN), tabloid TV without tabloid wit. CNN is cool and confused in an age of hot and pointed.

Online, though, CNN has built a formidable business. It ranks at or near the top of the top news sites, excels at user-gen news content and offers one of the few paid news apps.

It’s a tale of two business units going opposite directions.

Look at the revenue pie for CNN, and you discover more nuance. One-half of CNN’s roughly $500 million in revenue comes from what it calls business subscription fees — what cable companies pay it for carriage. Ten percent of its revenue is now coming from prime-time advertising; the same percentage from its digital businesses. Advertising outside prime time, international, and some syndication round out the revenue picture.

We can certainly see that CNN’s revenue model is much more diverse than newspaper or broadcast companies. That payment from cable systems for carriage — averaging about 50 cents per subscriber per month, according to recent accounts — makes a huge difference in a time of great advertising change.

We can also see that CNN is becoming more and more of a content company. It gets paid that half dollar a month from cable companies because its inclusion helps drive subscribers. Recently dropping the Associated Press, it’s moving increasingly into syndication, both video and text, and there the quality and breadth of content counts. As one of the first news companies to embrace multi-platform publishing (cable + desktop + mobile, long before others got that notion), it moved quickly to price its product for the iPhone, charging $1.99 and now ranking as the #2 news app in the iTunes store.

So content creation — and content creation that rebounds in digital waves, even if it starts from a cablecast — is more important to CNN every day. If it could come up with more programming that provided digital multipliers — smartphone and tablet users willing to pay for access, and advertisers joining them — then the Larry King replacement might be not just good TV, but good strategy.

What might that mean?

For instance, how could could CNN better leverage its substantial iReport operation, a user-generated innovation that is the gold standard for TV news. Viral user-gen video is a mainstay of the digital world. Or maybe it could create an America’s Best News Videos (is Bob Saget available?), riffing on the montages that Jon Stewart has made almost mainstream. Maybe it could go The View-like, aggregating characters whose comments and rants might generate great two-three minute digital products. Or, most likely, it could find a bolt-out-of-the-blue digital age personality, like Rachel Maddow, who may well front MSNBC’s first iPad app. As MSNBC’s Mark Marvel told AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka about its coming app, it will allow users to “engage with the host of that show.” Engagement with Rachel, yes; with Larry, no. With Katie, maybe.

Can CNN find a digital upgrade to the analog King?

The goals here would be to produce great digital content, not just ratings. Sure, TV has seen some pick-up of memorable interviews — think CBS’ Katie Couric and Sarah Palin, or more recently the half-million pageviews after-market that Maddow generated with her Rand Paul interview. That aftermarket, though, has been more of an afterthought. If revenue growth is in the digital content business, CNN, broadcasters, and all news producers must increasingly think at least digital rebound, if not digital first. As Stephen Covey legendarily said, “Begin with the end in mind.” A good habit for highly effective media companies to adopt.

What else might print news companies learn from the CNN model?

First, syndication. While the Chicago News Cooperative and Bay Citizen pioneer innovative content syndication models, both with the New York Times, and Financial Times’ direct licensing model breaks new ground, most newspaper companies have failed to find other new, lucrative markets for their content. Yes, they’ve made some money from enterprise and education licensing, but if their content is really that valuable, they should be able to find other companies (Comcast, NYT, regional businesses, and more) to pay them for it.

Second, the pay-per-subscriber model that has insulated CNN from the ravages of ad change is one news companies should ponder. CNN made itself an indispensable part of the cable mix. Is local/regional news content indispensable to any aggregators — AT&T, Verizon, Apple, Nokia, for instance — as they bundle technology and content? What would it take — in the kind and breadth of content (video?) produced — to get a monthly payment, especially in the mobile digital world to come?

January 20 2010

10:57

Reporting Haiti: How news orgs are covering the story online

A week on since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, how are news websites covering the story? What tools are being used and how are media organisations helping those affected with information on top of news for a wider audience?

Here’s a selection of sites that have made the most of multimedia tools to break and roll reports of the crisis. Please add your own examples in the comment space below or email Journalism.co.uk.

Breaking news of the quake
Journalism student Emily Purser was interning at Sky News when the earthquake happened:

Unsurprisingly, the earthquake took out all the landline and mobile phone lines in Haiti immediately. This obviously disabled the country spectacularly – as well as the pressing issue of not being able to speak to each other, it meant that Haitians were not able to speak to the rest of the world. As a result, the classic ways of gathering information for a rolling news channel – call everyone we know and find out what’s happening – were redundant. We had a map, and that was it.

Twitter, Google Chat, Skype and Facebook were used to contact sources and conduct interviews; while YouTube and searches of TwitPic provided on-the-ground footage. These tools were being picked up by the entire newsroom, Purser tells us, not just the online team. What’s more the geography of the newsroom (the online desk is right next to the studio floor, for example) helped grow the story across platforms, she adds.

Beet.tv has this video interview with Reuters’ global editor of politics and world affairs Sean Macguire, who explains how the news agency builds up a network of local stringers to prepare for crisis coverage.

Macguire describes how some of the first video footage of the disaster was sent back to London by a Reuters’ videographer thanks to a “friendly embassy” in Port au Prince with an internet connection.

Helping to find the missing
Online news coverage and multimedia from Haiti has been used to locate missing persons by relatives. CNN in particular is using its citizen journalism site iReport to help connect people with family, friends and loved ones in Haiti.

An ‘assignment’ on the iReport site asks users to submit photos of missing people, including their last name, first name, age, city and any other significant details. So far, 6,753 iReports have been sent in for this assignment.

With CNN’s main site, a database of all the reports submitted by users has been created, which can be searched by name and is updated with information about those missing relatives and friends featured in the iReports.

“We are also in the process of integrating incoming e-mails, phone calls to CNN and tweets to the #haitimissing hashtag,” a CNN spokesman said – helping individuals conduct a wider search for information about missing loved ones.

“Since the earthquake hit, the Impact Your World page has had an increase of 7,545 per cent in page views over the previous week.  The site lists opportunities to donate via phone, text and website, with special sections devoted to texting and international currencies.”

And there have been some good news stories as a result – survivor Karen Jean-Gilles  didn’t know if her in-laws had survived the quake until she saw the photo of Joachin “Clark” Jean-Gilles and his wife Marie on the front of the CNN.com homepage.

Social media coverage and real-time tools
Digiphile blog has a great round-up of this, but Twitter lists have been used extensively by news organisations to group together twitters and correspondents on-the-ground in Haiti.

National Public Radio (NPR) built an extensive list of sources located by recommendation, referral and through a series of geolocated searches. This fed into an initial breaking news story, which was updated throughout the day on 13 January, and has informed the site’s topic page on the crisis.

The Associated Press (AP) is continuing to build its social networking presence by offering behind-the-scenes updates via Facebook.

Elsewhere the New York Times is bolstering its main news channel coverage of Haiti by using its The Lede blog to provide rolling coverage. The blog is updating with links to reports from other news sources as well as the Times’ own coverage and has posts filed under different days stretching back to when the earthquake occurred. The aggregation of multimedia reports on the disaster available on the site’s homepage has been replicated through a Facebook page posting updates on the situation in Haiti.

The Times’ homepage currently features this rolling picture gallery, but the Lede also links to this Flickr map of geotagged photos from the area that have been uploaded online.

The site has also set up an online photo gallery to post pictures of missing persons in Haiti submitted by friends, relatives and colleagues. In addition to the Lede’s posting of comments from survivors and those trying to reach loved ones, this is both a valuable service and a source of news leads.

In Haiti
And then compare the online coverage with the media on the ground in Haiti.

This report from the Washington Post on Haitian radio station Signal 90.5fm, which has reportedly stayed on air without pause since the quake struck, provides a stark contrast to the multimedia news coverage elsewhere.

(It also reminded me of an interview with independent Zimbabwe radio station SWRA, whose founder Gerry Jackson extolled the virtues of traditional, radio-based communication and media in such situations.

Writes the Post’s William Booth:

In a city without electricity, with no functioning newspapers, no TV signals, no telephone lines, and cellular service so spotty that it is hardly service at all, radio stations in Haiti have become the lifeline of news about the living and dead.

(…) The station operates on two diesel generators and owner Mario Vian’s promise not to stop.

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