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August 01 2011

14:00

Newsbeat, Chartbeat’s news-focused analytics tool, places its bets on the entrepreneurial side of news orgs

Late last week, Chartbeat released a new product: Newsbeat, a tool that takes the real-time analytics it already offers and tailors them even more directly to the needs of news orgs. Chartbeat is already famously addictive, and Newsbeat will likely up the addiction ante: It includes social sharing information — including detailed info about who has been sharing stories on Twitter — and, intriguingly, notifications when stories’ traffic patterns deviate significantly from their expected path. (For more on how it works, Poynter has a good overview, and GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram followed up with a nice discussion of the decision-making implications of the tool.)

What most stood out to me, though, both when I chatted with Tony Haile, Chartbeat’s general manager, and when I poked around Newsbeat, is what the tool suggests about the inner workings of an increasingly online-oriented newsroom. Chartbeat, the parent product, offers an analytic overview of an entire site — say, Niemanlab.org — and provides a single-moment snapshot of top-performing stories site-wide. Newsbeat, on the other hand, can essentially break down the news site into its constituent elements via a permissioning system that provides personalized dashboards for individual reporters and editors. Newsbeat allows those individual journalists to see, Haile notes, “This is how my story’s doing right now. This is how my people are doing right now.”

On the one hand, that’s a fairly minor thing, an increasingly familiar shift in perspective from organization to person. Still, though, it’s worth noting the distinction Newsbeat is making between news org and news brand. Newsbeat emphasizes the individual entities that work together, sometimes in sync and sometimes not so much, under the auspices of a particular journalistic brand. So, per Newsbeat, The New York Times is The New York Times, yes…but it’s also, and to some extent more so, the NYT Business section and the NYT Politics page and infographics and and blogs and Chris Chivers and David Carr and Maureen Dowd. It’s a noisy, newsy amalgam, coherent but not constrained, its components working collectively — but not, necessarily, concertedly.

That could be a bad thing: Systems that lack order tend to beget all the familiar problems — redundancy, wasted resources, friction both interpersonal and otherwise — that disorder tends to produce. For news orgs, though, a little bit of controlled chaos can be, actually, quite valuable. And that’s because, in the corporate context, the flip side of fragmentation is often entrepreneurialism: Empower individuals within the organization — to be creative and decisive and, in general, expert — and the organization overall will be the better for it. Analytics, real-time and otherwise, serve among other things as data points for editorial decision-making; the message implicit in Newsbeat’s design is that, within a given news org, several people (often, many, many, many people) will be responsible for a brand’s moment-by-moment output.

Which is both obvious and important. News has always been a group effort; until recently, though, it’s also been a highly controlled group effort, with an organization’s final product — a paper, a mag, a broadcast — determined by a few key players within the organization. News outlets haven’t just been gatekeepers, as the cliché goes; they’ve also had gatekeepers, individuals who have had the ultimate responsibility over the news product before it ships.

Increasingly, though, that’s not the case. Increasingly, the gates of production are swinging open to journalists throughout, if not fully across, the newsroom. That’s a good thing. It’s also a big thing. And Newsbeat is reflecting it. With its newest tool, Chartbeat is self-consciously trying to help organize “the newsroom of the future,” Haile told me — and that newsroom is one that will be dynamic and responsive and, more than it’s ever been before, collaborative.

April 20 2011

16:00

Chasing pageviews with values: How the Christian Science Monitor has adjusted to a web-first, SEO’d world

Editor’s note: At the International Symposium on Online Journalism earlier this month, one of my favorite papers presented was by Drury’s Jonathan Groves and Carrie Brown-Smith of the University of Memphis. They’ve been spending a lot of time in the newsroom of the Christian Science Monitor to observe its transition from a daily print newspaper to a web-first newsroom with a weekly print edition. That transition required shifts in operations, in culture, and in the kind of journalism the Monitor produces.

Their full paper (pdf) is worth a read for its analysis of how those changes were made and what was gained and lost. But I’ve asked them to write a summary of their findings for the Lab. As they write, it’s up to you to judge how much this counts as a tragedy or a success for journalism.

We’ve seen a flood of innovations over the past few years in journalism on the web: from technology and the delivery of news to new forms of storytelling and reporting. But making those innovations happen has been neither fast nor easy. How do you manage meaningful change that sticks? That question drives our research.

Since October 2009, we have immersed ourselves in the Christian Science Monitor as it took the “web-first” mantra beyond platitudes and abandoned its daily print edition.

It was a difficult, wrenching process for many journalists used to the rhythm of the daily newspaper and concerned about the fate of the Monitor’s serious take on the news of the day. But the lessons learned along the way are valuable for any legacy news organization.

Like many newspapers, the Monitor faced a critical moment in 2008. Its national circulation had plummeted from 220,000 in 1970 to 52,000. Revenue was dwindling. And its owner, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, told newsroom managers the paper’s $12 million annual subsidy would be slashed to $4 million in five years. Such moments are fear-inducing and disruptive. They are also opportunities for meaningful change.

Monitor editor John Yemma and publisher Jonathan Wells developed a plan: Remove the shackles of the daily print edition, increase pageviews, and aggressively pursue online advertising. The paper also maintained a weekly print edition that allowed it to continue doing some longer-form journalism.

They set a clear five-year newsroom target: Drive pageviews from 3 million per month to 25 million. And they reached it.

Key to the Monitor’s transformation was having strong change agents who were able to challenge deeply embedded cultural assumptions and push the newsroom toward thinking about things differently — even if it sometimes meant ruffling some feathers. Leading the way were Yemma, managing editor Marshall Ingwerson, and particularly online editor Jimmy Orr, whose non-traditional background in the worlds of politics and blogging gave him a fresh perspective on the news ecosystem.

In news organizations we and others have examined, journalists are often skeptical of change efforts, especially when it alters the way news is gathered and disseminated. As one staffer we interviewed in December 2009 said of the web: “Hopefully, we can be in it, but not of it.” Monitor employees had strong ideas about the paper’s values. Here are excerpts from our interviews with three staffers:

The Monitor story before was a very particular kind of story. You always looked for a larger analytical story on any given news point. You just didn’t do the news story, you know. You always did something larger than that, and you always looked for, to be, you know, to be more analytical about it…

We talk about being solution-based journalism. We don’t go into the fray; we try to push the discussion in a new way that is productive…

…seeking solutions to problems, staying away from sensationalism, analysis and thoughtful kind of assessment of what’s going on rather than jumping to snap conclusions and going for, not so much a focus on breaking news, but more on understanding the reasons, the causes behind the news of the day — I mean, that’s what we aspire to…

Over the course of our study, Orr challenged staffers’ ideas about Monitor journalism, and many recoiled. He pushed for more blogs on the site. He encouraged pursuing items about Tiger Woods and other topics that many staffers felt didn’t fit with the original Monitor mission: “To injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”

The newsroom incorporated a four-pronged strategy:

  1. Increase the frequency of updating, writing several posts on a subject rather than one long story.
  2. Use search engine optimization to find key phrases that would improve a post’s ranking in Google.
  3. Monitor Google Trends for hot topics and sometimes assign stories on that basis, allowing the paper to “ride the Google wave,” as one editor put it.
  4. Use social media including Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr to reach new audiences.

In this process, the organization embraced emergent strategy, an idea some referred to at the recent International Conference on Online Journalism as “failing fast.” The Monitor took an iterative approach to innovation, trying new ideas, and dropping those that didn’t work. Over the course of the study period, the newsroom tried many forms of web content, including blogs, live webcasts, and podcasts. And managers weren’t afraid to halt those items that weren’t garnering traffic. Podcasts, a weekly Yemma webcast, and video didn’t generate the return they’d hoped for, so each was stopped or scaled back.

The strategy helped push web numbers to new heights. By July 2010, the site had reached its 25 million pageview goal. And though many staffers expressed concerns about the changes, success reduced tension. Several noted the greater traffic infused the newsroom with a new sense of relevance. “This revival has been a real morale booster for yours truly,” said one staffer who had been with the paper for more than 20 years. “For a long time, I felt like I was on a losing team. Not losing in the sense of — we had a strong product. But it didn’t have much reach.”

A key factor in the success was a new content management system designed for web publishing. It democratized the process of web production and made it easier for anyone to develop and post new content.

But work remains to be done. Though pageviews have climbed, ad revenues have not grown in corresponding fashion, and the church subsidy will continue to diminish. And the hard work continues, as one editor noted in January:

So I have to do it six, seven times (a day), you know — to think of stories that bring what I would consider our Monitor values to a topic that is not where we normally would have been, and we’re doing it because the public is interested in this topic. So, what do we have to say about it that’s interesting, or clearer, or sheds some new perspective on what’s going on here? And it’s hard. You know, we weren’t accustomed to having to be that instantaneously responsive, and we don’t have the luxury of saying, “Well, you know that story is really not for us.” And when we’ve got pageview targets that we’re all assessed to hit every month, you’ve gotta come up with something on what people want to read about.

Whether the Monitor’s transition can be categorized as a tragedy or a success for journalism remains difficult to gauge. “Riding the Google wave” is difficult for the serious, in-depth international news the Monitor has long been known for. But even the greatest journalism has little impact on the world when its readership is small and diminishing. And today, the Monitor is increasingly injecting itself into the national conversation.

March 04 2011

23:00

February 28 2011

15:00

“Like,” “share,” and “recommend”: How the warring verbs of social media will influence the news’ future

It appears that Facebook has settled on a central metaphor for the behavior of its 600 million users.

See an interesting article? Want your friends to see it too? Facebook’s offered up two primary verbs to bring action to that formless desire: “Share” and “Like.”

But the writing’s been on the wall for “Share” for some time. Facebook seemed to abandon development on “Share” in the fall. And on Sunday, Mashable reported that the remaining functionality of “Share” is being moved over to the much more popular “Like” button. (Clicking “Like” on a webpage will now post a thumbnail and excerpt of it on your Facebook wall, just as “Share” used to do. The old “Like” behavior made the links less prominent. It’s actually a pretty big deal that will likely lead to stories spreading more readily through Facebook.)

But I’m less interested in the details of the implementation than the verbs: sharing (tonally neutral, but explicitly social) has clearly lost to liking (with its ring of a personal endorsement).

There’s actually a third verb, “Recommend.” Unlike “Share,” it’s not its own separate action within FacebookWorld; it’s just “Like” renamed, with a less forceful endorsement. But it lives deep in the shadow of “Like” everywhere — except on traditional news sites, which have tended to stay far away from “Like.” I just did a quick scan of some of the web’s most popular news sites to see what metaphor they use to integrate with Facebook on their story pages.

“Share”: Los Angeles Times, ProPublica, Talking Points Memo, Reuters, ESPN, The Guardian.

“Recommend”: MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, New Yorker, Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Le Monde, El Pais, Newsweek, Telegraph, CBC.

“Like”: Gawker, Politico, Slate, Wired, Time, Wall Street Journal.

Both “Like” and “Share”: Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune.

Now, that’s an unscientific sampling. And, among those who use “Share,” some might have preferred the different functionality (although that difference has now disappeared). But looking at those names, it seems to me that many more traditional news organizations are uncomfortable with the “Like” metaphor that has become the lingua franca of online sharing. The “Likers” are more likely to be Internet-era creations; news orgs that existed 30 years ago tend toward the more neutral choices. (With a few exceptions.)

And that’s understandable: Newsroom culture has long been allergic to explicitly connecting the production of journalism and the expression of a reader’s endorsement. (Just the facts, ma’am!) And “Like” is awkward. When I click a button next to a story, does that mean I like the fact that “Tunisian Prime Minister Resigns,” or that I like the storyTunisian Prime Minister Resigns“? But there’s no doubting the appeal of “Like,” which feels like a vote when “Share” mostly feels like work.

Facebook hasn’t announced that “Share” buttons will stop working any time soon, and there’s always “Recommend” sitting there as a milquetoast alternative for the emotion-squeamish. (Although technically “Recommend” presents most the same problems as “Like” — it can still be read as a fuzzy endorsement.) But there’s a bigger issue here, as news organizations — many of them traditional bringers of bad news — have to adjust to an online ecosystem that privileges emotion, particularly positive emotion.

Emotion = distribution

I can tell you, anecdotally, that for our Twitter feed, @niemanlab, one of the best predictors of how much a tweet will get retweeted is the degree to which it expresses positive emotion. If we tweet with wonderment and excitement (“Wow, this new WordPress levitation plugin is amazing!”), it’ll get more clicks and more retweets than it we play it straight (“New WordPress plugin allows user levitation”).

For harder data, check out some work done by Anatoliy Gruzd and colleagues at Dalhousie University, presented at a conference last month. Their study looked at a sample of 46,000 tweets during the Vancouver Winter Olympics and judged them on whether they expressed a positive, negative, or neutral emotion. They found that positive tweets were retweeted an average of 6.6 times, versus 2.6 times for negative tweets and 2.2 times for neutral ones. That’s two and a half times as many acts of sharing for positive tweets. (Slide deck here.)

Facebook’s own internal data, looking at major news sites’ presence within Facebook, found that “provocative” or “passionate” stories generated two to three times the engagement of other stories.

Or take the Penn study by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman of The New York Times’ most emailed list. It found that “positive content is more viral than negative content,” but noted that it’s actually as much about arousal (speaking emotionally, not sexually) as anything. Content that you can imagine someone emailing with either “Awesome!” or “WTF?” in the subject line gets spread.

Social media as the new SEO

Here’s the thing: The way that news gets reported and presented is influenced by economic incentives. When publishers realized that Google search traffic was a big driver of traffic, you saw punny headlines swapped for clots of “keyword-dense” verbiage and silly repetitive tag clouds — all trying to capture a little bit more attention from Google’s algorithm and, with it, a little more ad revenue.

But I believe we’ll soon be at a point where social media is a more important driver of traffic than search for many news organizations. (It certainly already is for us.) And those social media visitors are already, I’d argue, more useful than search visitors because they’re less likely to be one-time fly-by readers. As people continue to spend outrageous amounts of time on Facebook (49 billion minutes in December), as Twitter continues to grow, as new tools come along, we’ll see more and more people get comfortable with the idea that their primary filter for news will be what gets shared by their friends or networks.

And that means a phrase like social media optimization will mean more than just slapping sharing buttons on your stories and telling your reporters to check in on Twitter twice a day. It’ll also mean changing, in subtle ways, the kinds of content being produced to encourage sharing. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing — just that it’s the natural outcome of the economic incentives at play.

Does that just mean more listicles? Maybe. But I’d argue that, on the whole, figuring out how to make people want to share your work with their friends generates a healthier set of incentives than figuring out how to manipulate Google’s algorithm. Providing pleasure — pleasure that someone wants to share — is not an inappropriate goal. And when you broaden out beyond “positive emotions” to the idea of driving arousal or stimulation — positive or negative — the idea starts to fall a little more neatly into what news organizations consider their job to be.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that news orgs should become engines of happy stories or only focus on the most outrageous or enticing news. Their mission can’t be channeled exclusively in that direction. I don’t know what it will look like for a quality news organization to focus on making more sharable journalism; it’ll be up to the very smart people who work at them to figure out how to do that while defending their brand identities. But I do know that the role of social media is going to keep increasing, and with it will come increased economic pressures to maximize for it. They may not “Like” or “Recommend” it, but I suspect it’s a fate they’ll all, er, “Share.”

December 09 2010

15:30

From Indymedia to Wikileaks: What a decade of hacking journalistic culture says about the future of news

The first time I ever heard the words “mirror website,” I was sitting at a debris-strewn desk, hunched over a desktop computer, on the second floor of a nondescript office building on East 29th in Manhattan. I’d recently started volunteering with the New York City Independent Media Center, an organization that would turn out to be one of the first “citizen journalism” organizations in the United States — though certainly no one would have called it that at the time. The IMC was in its third day of participant-powered coverage of protest actions taken against World Economic Forum (WEF) meetings in New York. It was less than five months after September 11; the city was cold and bleak, and people were tense. Really tense. And our website, NYC Indymedia, had slowed to a crawl.

“It’s going to crash,” I muttered.

“Don’t worry,” I was told. “We’ve got it mirrored on a bunch of backup servers. The updates from people using the Open Newswire won’t show up right away, but they will show up, and people will still be able to read the site.”

I wish I could say that the Indymedia site was crashing because we were — like Julian Assange — the targets of powerful governmental forces, but I suspect the website slowness had more to do with unexpected server load and a tenuous back-end infrastructure than with any sort of global conspiracy. Nevertheless, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was all going to be okay. Somewhere, a person who knew all about such complicated things like “mirrors” and “servers” was taking care of it.

I raise this old story from the prehistoric days of online citizen journalism because, when I read tweets like “the first serious infowar is now engaged, and the field of battle is WikiLeaks,” I think it’s worth taking a step back and trying to put recent developments in perspective. The battle over Wikileaks, and the journalistic questions that it raises, are genuinely new developments — but they’re new developments grounded in a few long term trends and a history stretching back nearly two decades. The impact of WikiLeaks on journalism is more an impact of degree than of kind; what’s happening isn’t entirely new, but it is happening on a greater scale than ever before.

I want to talk about two general trends I see shaping journalism, trends that are highlighted in developments at the leading edge of “journalistic hacktivism” over the past decade.

The Internet-powered introduction of new “objects” into the journalistic bloodstream

Collapsing business models aside, the primary change shaping journalism over the past ten years has been the introduction of strange new “digital news objects” into the traditional journalistic work flow. In the days of the coverage of the World Economic Forum by Indymedia, these new objects were first-hand citizen accounts, on-the-scene photos, and other forms of primitive “citizen journalism,” uploaded in real time to websites. Since 2002, we’ve seen these forms of first-hand eyewitness slowly be embraced by mainstream news organizations, from CNN’s iReport to The New York Times’ Moment in Time crowdsourced photo series.

Now we see news organizations struggle to integrate massive amounts of semi-structured data into their traditional workflow — some (though certainly not all) of it coming from non-traditional informational actors like WikiLeaks. Drawing on the pioneering work of media theorist Lev Manovich, Columbia professor Todd Gitlin has recently argued that

…the definitive informational metaphor of our epoch is the database. The database is not just a metaphor, in fact — it’s a certification of what knowledge looks like and how it is to be gained. A metaphor is a carrier, a condensation of meaning. A database is a heap.

While I don’t entirely agree with Gitlin about the political meaning of WikiLeaks (disclosure: Gitlin was my dissertation advisor), I do agree that the challenge traditional journalists now face is how to “come to terms” with the presence of these strange new objects. What journalistic status should we accord databases, and how should we manage them inside conventional news routines? Much like the first citizen photos from the scene of protests and natural disasters required journalists to rethink what counted as journalistic evidence, WikiLeaks’ slow-but-steady release of 250,000 diplomatic cables is prompting journalists to ask similar questions about what they do. The difference between citizen photos and databases is a difference in scale, and extreme differences in scale eventually become differences in kind.

So the presence of these strange new extra-journalistic news objects isn’t all that new. New “quasi-sources” have been hacking journalistic workflow for years. What’s new is the scale of the evidence that’s now bombarding journalism. The question of how to manage reader-submitted photos is a qualitatively different question than the dilemma of how to manage hundreds of thousands of leaked cables being provided by an information-transparency organization whose ultimate motives and values are unclear. Think of the State Department cables as a massive pile of crowdsourced evidence — only in this case the “crowd” is the U.S. diplomatic corps, and the first work of document collection and analysis has been done by an outside organization.

The long rise of the news geeks

In the case of both Indymedia and WikiLeaks, developments which have had a serious impact on the newsroom have been powered by what I like to call the “leading politicized edge” of the online geek community. It’s not surprising that, as leading hacker anthropologist Gabriella Coleman has noted:

Politically minded geeks bred during the era of cheaper PC’s, home-schooled programming, and virtual interactions chose to use Free Software for the implementation of the early proliferation of Indymedia centers. Mailing lists and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) — both widely available in free software versions at the time — were the main communication tools that facilitated conversation between dispersed tech-activists first establishing centers in different locations like Washington DC, Boston, London, and Seattle.

Ten years later, the story is largely the same. Today, working journalists are confronted by ideologies of “information liberation” and terms like “distributed denial of service attacks” (DDOS) and “website mirrors.” While these ideas and innovations have not been created within journalism, they impact the flow of information, and thus impact journalism itself. A few days ago I wrote that Wikileaks was “organized informational anarchism with journalistic consequences.” This new world of geek-powered information innovation requires an appropriate level of response from our centers of journalistic education and from our newsrooms

The occasional news-oriented hacker aside, it’s important for journalists to keep in mind that, despite some surface similarities, all denizens of hacker culture are not the same. Anonymous is not Wikileaks. Indeed, both Anonymous and hacker organizations are quick to point out that Anonymous and distributed denial of service attacks are not “hacking” at all. My tech-savvy friends who first taught me about website mirrors in 2002 were rather unique in the open source world; not everyone in that world cared much about either journalism or the World Economic Forum.

While it might be heartening to swell the ranks of journalism by drawing all advocates of digital transparency into our ranks, journalists need to ponder what aspects of these powerful online communities they want to embrace and what aspects they might want to leave behind. But they can only do that if they think historically about the path online journalism has taken over the past decade, and if they understand the way that today’s hackers and technologists are shaping our information flows.

(Many thanks to Gabriella Coleman for her comments on an earlier draft of this post.)

October 04 2010

16:30

Why diversity turns into conformity in online news: An interview with comm scholar Pablo Boczkowski

If you talk to any of the number of young academics who occasionally contribute to the Lab, it’s likely the name Pablo Boczkowski will come up sooner rather than later. Pablo was one of the first scholars to rejuvenate the hallowed concept of the “newsroom ethnography” for a new generation of scholars examining a new generation of news problems. He has inspired many younger journalism researchers, including me.

Boczkowski was kind enough to take some time to sit down and talk with me about his new book, News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance. Since Megan covered the general arguments of News at Work in a previous Lab post, I figure I’ll skip the chit-chat and just let you dive into the (lightly edited) interview. In it, I ask Pablo about, among other things:

  • how newsrooms have changed over the past 15 years
  • the two things he, as a qualitative scholar of news, would want working journalists to know
  • why it’s useful to study news in South America
  • how he thinks his work speaks to debates about the future of journalism

Some of Boczkowski’s most important arguments include:

On what consumers want: “When you sit down and talk to somebody, who is just a regular consumer…it’s very humbling, because you have a sense of, ‘Wow, that’s what people want.’ These statistics about how much time people on news websites, for instance, and what kind of content they use — for the most part, it’s about getting headlines.”

On the importance of the public: “It is impossible to avoid the public anymore. I mean, it’s impossible to avoid listening to the public anymore…The question is what to do when you have to listen to the public. In my own experience, what you hear is not a whole lot that you would like to hear, especially if you have certain ideas about the role of journalism in society, and the importance of that for democracy, and the way the public feels. It’s a little bit depressing. But that is not going to go away because you’ve stopped listening to people.”

On why blogs don’t affect the homogenization of news: “One blog is very different from the next. That is true, but if you look at how the demand for news is organized, the web is a winner-takes-all market. You have the highest concentration of attention of all media markets. The top ten players command not only a high share of attention, but an even higher share of attention than radio or print. What that means is that all these idiosyncratic websites that might give you one perspective that is unique, or might have one part that is not anywhere else, but the likelihood that a large fraction of the audience would actually pay attention to that is minimal. More consumers gravitate towards the top 10 to 20 sites.”

CWA: You began your research in the 1990s with what eventually became Digitizing the News. And the book you’ve written now, News at Work, covers the mid-2000s. I was wondering if you can draw a narrative thread between your first book and your latest one. Can you tell me a story, or is there an arc that ties Digitizing the News into your new book?

PB: The obvious one on the academic side is that Digitizing the News focused on the making of news with a very, very strong sense of technology. Those were the major concerns. This book has a bigger agenda. So while I still pay a lot of attention to the making of news, I also started to branch out into trying to understand what happens with the news when it’s already made — how it is consumed and circulated in society. It’s an extension of the other book towards the realm of news consumption.

The second extension is that while technology still figures in an important place in News at Work, the book also deals with issues of content and meaning.

The third extension of Digitizing the News is the extension of ethnographic space. Digitizing the News, actually, the research for that book started outside of the U.S., but I never included that part. I was also going to do a comparative study at that point. I didn’t get to this because I thought that people were more interested in change and innovation. Over time, my research became more focused on the more interesting comparative dimensions. So still looking at the U.S., but putting the U.S. into perspective and trying to understand what is going on in other parts of the world, because it is interesting in its own right and also because it helps us make sense of what’s going on in the U.S.. That’s why News at Work, in part, takes place in terms of the data and the story outside of the U.S.

Another fourth thread has to do with the fact that Digitizing the News was a book about change and about innovation. It’s also about the impulse to innovate, but the difficulty to do so within established news organizations that are highly traditional. They have been doing certain things for a long time, and it was very hard for them to change from within. News at Work takes place several years — it’s not a decade later, but the following decade.

When a lot of water has gone under the bridge, we start to have a sense of how things have unfolded over 15 years, and how things might unfold over the next so many years. And it tells a story that it’s less about innovation with all its difficulties and possibilities. It’s more about the lack of originality, the lack of change. And not because people want that, but because of the social dynamics and the practical dynamics that have made innovation difficult. It doesn’t matter what you want to call it, but something has made innovation very difficult to emerge.

CWA: You might say the even when innovation has occurred, it has often produced as much imitation as it has diversity. Is that a fair way to summarize it?

PB: Yes. I mean, the unintended consequences of trying to innovate sometimes are that you get a situation which is more conservative than what was going on before. Again, News at Work is really a story about unintended consequences. Digitizing the News is a story about what people tried to do and what happened. News at Work is a story about things that people have not tried to do, have not tried to accomplish, and it happened anyway. Because it happened anyway, and because it happened on the way to doing something else, it was very hard to eradicate because it has not happened by our own will. I think this taps into very deep social tendencies, in general, and particularly in the news industry.

CWA: A lot of the Lab’s readers are working journalists, and they might not pay much attention to the academic study of news. So if you wanted practitioners to take away one or two key points away from News at Work, what would you want them to know? If this is the only time they will hear Pablo Boczkowski talk about this book, what would be the two main takeaways that you would want working journalists to know?

PB: The first thing I’d want them to consider is that, ironically, in the age of the Internet, more news has become less news. So you need to figure how less can become more, instead. To me, it’s evident that the growth and the speed at which information circulates has created some negative consequences for news agencies, negative consequences for consumers, and negative consequences for journalists, because they don’t like how their work is going these days. Nobody has gone into the news profession to replicate other people’s stories and to basically rehash material that already exists.

The question is how to go into that situation so that it is a situation in which less is more. What the research on consumers clearly shows is that, yes, there is some appetite for news headlines and maybe leads, but for the most part, all people really want to read is headlines. And because all people want to read is headlines, you shouldn’t keep rewriting them, rewriting them. You don’t need to rehash them. I am convinced.

You know, I was absolutely humbled and stunned when I started to talk to consumers, the public. To me it was shocking, revealing. When you sit down and talk to somebody, who is just a regular consumer, and you get a sense of what news they like, what they don’t like, what news they want, what they don’t want, etc., it’s very humbling, because you have a sense of, ‘Wow, that’s what people want.’ These statistics about how much time people on news websites, for instance, and what kind of content they use — for the most part, it’s about getting headlines.

You know, it’s not going to make much of a difference if the headline is coming straight from AP or Reuters or if it’s a tweet. I don’t think it’s going to make much difference. One question that I repeatedly ask — it’s not in the books, but it really informed my thinking a lot — a question I routinely ask is imagine instead of having me in front of you, you have the main person of your preferred news site, the manager, the editor. If you would ask for one change on the design of the website, do you know what people said? They wanted an interface like the Google page results.

CWA: So just give them the headlines and a sentence at most.

PB: Exactly.

CWA: They didn’t want video? They didn’t want chats?

PB: No.

CWA: They didn’t want interactivity? They wanted the headlines?

PB: Yes, for the most part.

CWA: That is humbling.

PB: The consumers described their routines. They were strongly organized around the headlines and the navigation of the headline. That coincides with the amount of time people spend on these sites.

CWA: Which is almost no time at all.

PB: Not very high. It’s a fraction of the time they spend on print. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that, that at that time, they are doing other things. They could be in a conference call.

CWA: They are working. They are at work.

PB: Yes. Even in the evening, they’re doing something else. I watch soccer games now with the computer on my lap. I’m sometimes taking soccer stuff from the game on my computer, but that already means that I’m splitting my attention. So if you speak to someone who has to make key editorial decisions, if you spend your time just rehashing what others are doing, you’re spending very valuable resources in creating a product that doesn’t have the value added. It’s not appreciated to the same extent that the resources have invested in them. That doesn’t make much sense. I think it is painful for news organizations to realize that. News has become a commodity.

Spending a lot of resources and trying to make your commodity slightly different from somebody else’s commodity, I don’t think that’s going to work.

CWA: Now, in some newsrooms, to the degree this is known, the reaction has been, “Well, we need new things that will keep them on the site for longer,” right? “We need to have a chat with the editor. We need a slideshow. We need to have the reporters not only typing the story, but getting up in front of the camera. We need to make these print reporters into TV guys who stand up in front of cameras.”

Based on your studies of consumers, do you think that is a losing battle? Do you think that is more what journalists should be doing rather than rewriting headlines? Where would you take that conclusion?

PB: I don’t think making people available for chats or having a great video, given how much time it takes — I don’t think that’s a winning proposition either. I honestly don’t think so. What happens in seven years from now, when journalists start to perfectly understand where the consumer is going — I mean you’ve written about this. Journalists have a set of very mixed emotions. For the most part, they use the data not to inform, like people do in most other industries, but to tweak what they already think and to adapt their thinking. Based on what I see, I don’t think it makes any sense to keep rewriting your competitors’ headlines. It makes sense to place them in a particular way that maybe some of them can be given an editorial perspective and frame. But if it makes more sense than to redeploy all of your resources so that you have more original content, comments, opinions. One often needs to increase the coverage of content that draws a lot of attention, but it also means that changing news values, generally, so journalists don’t want to do that.

It’s also probably time to realize that the level of newsroom employment is way too high for the nature of the market. The other thing for a journalist is — it’s the same way it was humbling for me as a scholar that had me thinking for more than 10 years about journalists and the news and thinking about everything I could think about inside the box of the newsroom, therefore having an impact on society. Then when you start to talk to people, to consumers, to the audience, you realize, ‘Whoops, there is a lot going on.’

Another conclusion is that it is impossible to avoid the public anymore. I mean, it’s impossible to avoid listening to the public anymore. It is absolutely impossible. It’s impossible for scholars. I think it’s impossible for practitioners. The question is what to do when you have to listen to the public. In my own experience, what you hear is not a whole lot that you would like to hear, especially if you have certain ideas about the role of journalism in society, and the importance of that for democracy, and the way the public feels. It’s a little bit depressing. But that is not going to go away because you’ve stopped listening to them.

So what you do with that is a separate story. But it’s absolutely critical to start listening. I think listening to the audience goes far beyond tracking website traffic. The traffic metrics will only tell you a little bit. I did that in the book, looking at what stories sell the most in terms of clicks. But what you get by sitting down and really listening to news consumers, even if it’s a handful of them, is far more important.

Journalism has always been a very insular profession. That cannot be sustained any longer. There is a lot of value that is lost by not listening to the audience. You might not like what you hear. It might be depressing or terrible to hear, but you can’t stop that. It’s not going to go away.

CWA: I’m sure there will be commentators and commentators who hear you saying that there is more media and less news, who are going to say, “Oh, but how can you say that? There are blogs. There is citizen journalism. There’s niche websites popping up all over. How can he say there is less? There is a town that had one news outlet. Now it has 15.” I guess my question would be how would you respond to that sort of criticism?

PB: What I say in the book is that it’s more volume of information and frequency of examination, coupled with decreasing diversity of the content. On the supply side, there may be many, many, many more outlets than before. There is much more media than years ago. They have more options. They have new content all the time. But if you actually analyzed the kind of content that gets supplied, it is incredibly similar from one outlet to the next.

There was that study in Baltimore where they took all the local media in Baltimore across the range of television, radio, blah, blah, blah, for one week. What they found was that 84 percent of the stories that they analyzed had no new content. Some other venue had already covered it the first time when it appeared on the second. That’s 84 percent.

CWA: So even if there were some methodological difficulties in that study, which a few people I know have pointed to, 84 percent is still remarkably high.

PB: It’s huge!

CWA: Even if you allow for some critique like, ‘Well, maybe they didn’t look at enough people,’ 84 percent is still tremendous.

PB: It’s huge. I found the same in my study. On the supply side, you have many more places to get the news, but what you get is the same.

Now, when you say that consumers have blogs and this and that, they are very idiosyncratic. One blog is very different from the next. That is true. But if you look at how the demand for news is organized, the web is a winner takes all market. You have the highest concentration of attention of all media markets. The top ten players command not only a high share of attention, but an even higher share of attention than radio or print.

What that means is that all these idiosyncratic websites that might give you one perspective that is unique, or might have one part that is not anywhere else, but the likelihood that a large fraction of the audience would actually pay attention to that is minimal. More consumers gravitate towards the top 10 to 20 sites.

So, from a practical standpoint, there are outlets out there that have unique information, but do lots of people pay attention to them? No. So in terms of what happens to the supply of news, and what happens with the demand of news, on both sides of the equation, you have is an incredible loss of diversity because the large outlets tend to cover more or less the same stories.

CWA: Through monitoring and imitation.

PB: Exactly. That’s the main theme of the book. When people talk about the web, people talk about what is possible. They assume that what is possible will happen. Because it’s possible, therefore, it’s likely. What the book shows is that there’s a difference between something being possible and something being likely. We have to keep that in mind. There are a lot of things that are possible in life, but there are very few of them that are actually likely to happen. Given the current dynamics, both in terms of how journalists work and what the public does, it is quite unlikely that we will have a very diverse set of facts, even perspectives circulating in society for the average consumer.

I mean, yes, it’s a lot of noise, but there is very little difference in terms of meaning. There is a lot of volume, but it doesn’t make it necessarily very different.

CWA: The bulk of your research for this book takes place in South America. That’s still very unusual in media scholarship. What do you think we can learn by studying journalism outside the United States and the U.K.?

PB: There are several things. I will focus on one. There’s a very, very common explanation for the increase in journalistic similarity, and that explanation has to do with market concentration. We tend to call that the political economy explanation. It doesn’t have that name when journalistic practitioners talk about it, but it’s basically the same story.

The story is basically that this is all a result of the increased pressures of market variables and market logic in the profession. It has a lot to do with media companies operating on the market, and therefore having to compete with entities that are publicly traded across industries that have different logic. So newsroom managers will often say: “It’s not our fault. It’s the market.” It’s not really, “What can we do?” It’s the quarterly earnings or the pressure of the market; therefore, we have to downsize. It serves as a cure-all for the responsibility of the institution that people get news from. You can’t blame them. It’s happening to them.

The interesting case about Argentina is that, while there is a market component, journalists there enjoy a particular labor protection situation, whereby it is very difficult for news organizations for fire journalists. It’s very costly for news organizations to downsize very dramatically.

CWA: Unlike the United States.

PB: Yes. In Argentina, if you were to hire a journalist on a full-time basis, after a month, if you want to get rid of that person, you have to pay a lot of severance. So that’s number one. Number two is that most of the companies in Latin America are not publicly traded companies. They are family-owned enterprises for the most part. The media industry in the U.S. became publicly traded decades ago.

Now, of course, market pressure still exists. If you don’t sell or circulate, financially, there are consequences. It is less direct, especially for short-term dynamics. The cost for the news organization to expand or contract very rapidly is increased. Because those external pressures are mitigated to some extent, it is easier to bring to life what happens inside the newsroom as opposed to outside of it. It’s easier to see how they create a situation increasing monitoring, this increasing imitation, and how that transpired into the news. It happens even when these companies are not publicly traded. That doesn’t mean that in the case of the U.S., the fact that these companies are publicly traded and they shrink the news, it’s not important. Yes, it is, but it means that we have a situation in the U.S which is over-determined. The problems with journalism are not all about the market. It’s not all about debt. It’s not all about downsizing.

CWA: Some of the responsibility for this situation lies with the internal organization and management of newsrooms ultimately.

PB: Exactly. It’s exasperated by external market dynamics, but it’s not really what’s going on outside the organization. That’s a lack of taking responsibility by people inside the organization. That was the big advantage to having studied this outside of the U.S. Inside the U.S., it’s much more difficult.

CWA: In my own research in Philadelphia, the market is such a dominating factor in what I studied, and for other people who are probably doing primarily U.S.-based studies right now. I think it’s become even more difficult in the United States to disentangle the market from it.

PB: I think the consequences are far worse for journalists than for scholars because practitioners over-attribute. They say: “It’s all about the market. There’s nothing we can do. We’re just adapting to the new conditions.” That’s not true. There are lots of things that they are doing deliberately, with unintended consequence, that generate a lot of the outcomes that we see. So that to me was a plus that I had studied this outside of the U.S.

CWA: Obviously, the future-of-journalism stuff has become a major political and issue of public discussion in the United States. There are conferences. There are F.C.C. hearings. This is a public issue now in this country in a way that it has not been for a very long time.

So I guess what I would like to ask is: What would you say to the people who are engaged in this conversation? What can they take from your research? The big question is how to get journalism that is good for democracy. There are lots of ideas about how that type of democracy-building function of journalism can be maintained and strengthened. So, to the degree that you feel comfortable laying in on that debate, based on your own research, what would you say?

PB: That’s an interesting question. In terms of the research for this book in particular, I’ve been to one of these “future of journalism” conferences and I followed the others a little bit. My sense is that the discussion is poorly framed. It is framed in a very traditional way. In a traditional way, I mean framed like how journalism is framed. “We tell the public what the public needs to know. It doesn’t matter what the public wants. It doesn’t matter how the public reacts to it and make meaning out of what we tell them.”

Now, a lot of good has come out of that. But in terms of framed discussion, I think the relationship between journalism and the public has to be reframed. That’s a major element of this book. I made a conscious decision not to stop when I had figured out what was going on in the newsroom, but to then try to understand what happens then. The consequences of imitation shaping the news that we get. What happens? How do people deal with that?

The reason why this is so important is from a business standpoint. There is no business that can survive in a competitive situation, a competitive market, by ignoring the preferences and behavior of the consumer. So journalists could ignore that for decades because it operated, for the most part, in a non-competitive market. But that doesn’t exist anymore. What I hear when I go to “future of journalism” meetings, the discussion is framed entirely normatively: “This is what should happen.”

But, if you want realistic reform and real chances of something happening, you need to have normative conversations with grounded understanding of how people live their everyday lives. My sense that the power of journalism is extremely important for society, but it’s far more important to journalists than what it actually is the public.

A keen journalist really understands what the public does with the stories that they tell. It’s going to be extremely difficult to come up with a realistic reform strategy because these strategies, in my mind, have much less to do with the funding structures for journalism than with understanding how people live their lives and role that information has in the way that people live their lives. So it has to be about journalism and its public. It cannot just be about journalism.

Until we start having a real conversation about the inner workings of journalism, and the way journalistic organizations contribute and continue to contribute to its problems, it will be very difficult to come up with a real, workable solution.

September 28 2010

16:00

“The news we get is McDonald’s”: Communications scholar Pablo Boczkowski on imitation in the news

As journalists, and as users of the web, we have ample opportunity to be creative. There are tons of stories out there — many more than there are, at any moment, journalists to cover them. In fact, the most common worry you hear in our little future-of-news sphere has nothing to do with a dearth of stories…it’s that important stories might go uncovered.

Why, then, is there so much imitation — repetition — redundancy — in our professional media ecosystem?

Pablo Boczkowski, a communications studies professor at Northwestern, has literally written the book on that question. News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance explores the matter (more accurately: the problem) of redundancy. And at a talk yesterday at Harvard’s Kennedy School, part of the STS Circle series of interdisciplinary discussion, Boczkowski highlighted one particularly fascinating element of the book: the paradox that an increase in the volume of information available to us is occasioning a decrease in diversity of news’ content. We’re increasingly getting from news organizations, and producing, what Boczkowski calls “homogenized news.”

Boczkowski’s research, I should note, was limited to two mainstream newspapers, Clarín and La Nación — in Argentina. And its content analyses, which examined 927 print and 1,620 online articles, were conducted between 2005 and 2007, as was its ethnographic study of the newsrooms and consumers in question. So, grain of salt, etc.

Still, though, the study and its findings highlight a phenomenon we see implicitly, if anecdotally: a kind of group-think among journalistic brands, imitation and replication. “Pack journalism,” as it were, applied to content itself. As Pew’s State of the News Media report put it in 2006, “The new paradox of journalism is more outlets covering fewer stories.”

Boczkowski attributes this phenomenon to factors both structural and situational. While, in the past, news organizations were, for the most part, aware of their competitors’ stories only after they were published, the web allows news organizations to monitor each others’ content in real time. The increase of their online presence has occasioned a “lifting of the veil of opacity in the social field,” Boczkowski put it; news organizations now have a window into the workings of competitors that is pretty much always open.

And they’ve instituted processes to keep their gaze trained on those competitors. The papers Boczkowski studied have introduced a role in their staffs that they call the “cablera” (loose translation: “the cable guy”): someone who sits in the center of the newsroom, all day (lunch eaten at desk), and whose job it is to monitor the web, radio transcripts, cable feeds, and, of course, competitors’ websites. Constantly. The cablera then sends relevant updates, via IM, to staffers — resulting, Boczkowski said, in a kind of “constant bombardment” on all sides. And staffers, in turn — with the help of the information provided by the cable guy — are expected to produce six to eight stories a day, in addition to updating the existing ones as needed.

It’s an environment, in other words, that lends itself implicitly to story imitation — as, really, a matter of pure pragmatism. Creativity requires time; the brand of “churnalism” (or, more recently, “hamster-wheel journalism“) that the studied papers seem to expect of their reporters, Boczkowski argues, drives content replication — and, thus, homogenization. Add that to the cultural incentives toward imitation — essentially, there’s a downside risk in missing a story that competitors have, without a countervailing risk for being repetitive — and you have an environment the encourages cross-outlet homogeneity. And, conversely, discourages creativity, enterprise, and innovation.

Which is particularly unfortunate, Boczkowski said, because — in addition to the obvious structural problems that encroaching homogenization creates for and among news organizations — audiences want variety. Particularly now, when the web allows readers to create for themselves a self-selected buffet plate of content to consume, redundancy seems…redundant. “You get everything from the same wool,” Vanina, a 40-year-old teacher, lamented to Boczkowski during an interview. She sensed “something monopolistic” in the news, she told him…which led in turn, she said, to a sense of claustrophobia and confinement. As Boczkowski put it yesterday: “The news we get is McDonald’s.” Sure, we might get some local variation among publications…but “the underlying principle, and the underlying food, is more or less the same.”

September 20 2010

17:30

In a hamster-wheel world, is there room for journalistic creativity? Evidence from The New York Times

The essential question facing newsrooms today is this one: Does more speed and more content come at the cost of creativity? Does the “hamster wheel,” as described by Dean Starkman in this month’s Columbia Journalism Review cover story, reduce journalists’ capacity to move stories forward instead of playing catch-up online? And does the demand for speed and the hunger for clicks come at the cost of thoughtful editing and crafting of stories?

This question is at the core of my (almost written) dissertation — when news is made in an online newsroom, what happens to the invention process? But it is my contention, after having the privilege to spend five months, day-in and day-out at Business Day at The New York Times, is that even though many journalists there often feel like wire reporters, many also feel that writing a story five times actually makes their work better.

But that division in sentiment is not the heart of the argument. My sense so far is that there are five factors that encourage creativity in newsrooms even at a time when journalists are producing more with less.

— Newsrooms, recognizing that news is everywhere, need to differentiate their content.

What makes a story in The New York Times business section — even if it the third time it is written by a staffer — different from the same story in The Wall Street Journal? The hope and aspirations by editors, at least, and the goal expressed to me by the close to 50 journalists I interviewed on the business desk, was that the intention of every story was to provide “added value” — something that other newsrooms wouldn’t have.

Most journalists referred to the news that everyone else has as “commodity news” — the news that you can get anywhere. But if newsrooms are to survive, newsrooms as they produce multiple iterations of the same story throughout the day must provide something different than their competitors. This challenges the journalist further to provide a different take, and the most successful journalists will be able to distinguish their content. Those who win that battle will also win the click battle, eventually.

— Newsrooms that still have a print cycle have to pause and think about the day ahead.

If print newsrooms are to remain competitive, there is necessarily a point at which journalists must think about what’s going to be in the paper. If a developing news story has been up on the web all day for readers, newspapers won’t maximize their return by just plopping that story into the next day’s paper. At The Times, the story in the print paper was viewed much more as a “second-day story” — even if the event had taken place the same day the story was written. A few staffers said that The Times in print was become more like a daily news magazine than a daily paper, giving people a step back from the daily hubbub of the news to provide a deeper and richer story.

Take, for instance, a Goldman Sachs earnings report. In the morning, it might be a routine earnings story with the numbers. Over the course of the day, a reporter might differentiate that story with different questions asked to bigwigs at Goldman, different snippets of life from the trading floor, and perhaps proprietary reporting gleaned from sources, or even takes on the earnings from academics. At a certain point in the day, the rewriting of the story stops and it becomes time to look for the big picture — there has to be enough that people who haven’t been following the story all day have enough to understand the story, but there will be a larger tale, perhaps about the broader significance of the numbers, or what larger trends at the bank might mean, or other take-outs that make the story different from competitors.

And don’t forget: This final print story is the final story that ends up online.

— Speed only applies to certain kinds of stories.

Only certain stories lend themselves to the kind of developing coverage that would require multiple rewrites. Hearings on Capitol Hill might lend themselves to something like the attention of a live-blogger plus the attention of a reporter tasked with covering the take-out stories as they develop, from pre-written statements to the actual question and answer period. On the day Apple’s iPad was introduced, I saw multiple stories being written as the story developed — and the attention of everything from a live-blog to all-hands on deck with Twitter and The Times’ Bits blog. These stories require constant updates because something new is happening as the day develops. There is more to add to the story. And determining which updates are worth including is the careful task of editors and reporters who must again decide where added value comes in.

But it is my thinking that newsrooms, even those with increasingly limited resources, also understand the importance of pacing and managing staff. A newsroom that has everyone devoted to playing catch-up will not have the substantive stories that will distinguish their news from all the other products out there. Thus some reporters have to be taken off the breaking news bandwagon — this may be for particular days, or it may be that some reporters simply do not have to do regular breaking news. This is one way to keep coverage fresh and inventive. A newsroom that can figure out how to allocate resources will be a newsroom that continues to remain creative and one that ultimately will keep readers coming back.

— The audience does want more, now more than ever. And journalists can listen, too.

Presuming a developing story will go through multiple iterations, it is reasonable to suspect that audiences will be checking back. Or that since the audience is fragmented, there are different audiences checking in at different points of the day. Shouldn’t we have something for audiences that choose to follow the story over the course of the day? And shouldn’t we have something for audiences that choose to read just once, say at 3 p.m., instead of the moment that the news is breaking? My thinking is that the audience wants more from journalists because journalists can provide more; the voracious news consumer (and ultimately the news consumer who will be most valuable when news organizations switch to paywalls or meter models) will be checking the site frequently. And for those drop-in audiences, people who maybe check once in the morning and once in the evening, don’t they also deserve something new?

But there’s another element here: Developing stories also are also the ones, I’ve observed, to be most likely to be open to comments. Though not all journalists have gotten the hang of reading comments or monitoring Twitter, they are definitely reading reader email as it comes in. And this audience feedback provides journalists with new opportunities for direction for stories, and a sense of how their stories are being received in a way that they never could have had before. This sense of instant feedback on a story’s progression has the opportunity to shape reporting. This is still early in its development, and at this point most likely to affect reporters who can monitor Twitter and check comments as part of their regular routine. But I see great opportunity for audience feedback shaping developing news in the future.

— Speed also means more attention has to be devoted to more than just the text of the story.

If a story is going to be big enough to merit multiple rewrites — if it is a developing story all over the web — you better hope that the story isn’t just text. The room for creativity does depend on the capacity of newsrooms. At The Times, the newsroom is privileged to have an amazing staff of web producers, graphics folks, photo staff, and videographers who can create a multimedia package to go along with a developing story to make that story stand out. But the lesson is true for newsrooms that do not have the same depth of resources as The Times (which, it must be said, often can’t do everything it wants, either).

There are other ways for stories to become more than just stories. Without multimedia, reporters even as they go about collecting their moment-by-moment updates, can also be engaged with conversations on social media platforms. This is an adjustment for reporters, and it certainly adds another layer to the concern about speed and burnout, but it inspires, as I noted before, creativity — and it adds further interest to the story. I have seen reporters working on intense deadline pressure on competitive stories use social media to enhance their work — extending the story beyond text. For those looking for some inspiration, check out what Michael de la Merced, Brian Stelter, and Micki Maynard (who has since left the paper) have been able to do on big stories.

So am I setting up an unfair example?

Certainly you could argue that a place like The Times is an outlier and an unfair place to start talking about creativity under pressure. But I don’t think that The Times is doing anything that other newsrooms aren’t, except for perhaps the amazing multimedia opportunities. The Times is still in fierce competition to distinguish coverage, reporters are still writing multiple times during a day on developing stories, and the challenges on journalists to do ever more are common to all newsrooms. But I see incredible opportunities for the hamster wheel to produce even better journalism — it just might take some time to figure out.

June 17 2010

21:03

Why Can't Journalists Handle Public Criticism?

Why do so many journalists find it so hard to handle public criticism? If you're an athlete, you're used to it. If you're an artist, critics will regularly take you down. If you are in government, the pundits and now the bloggers will show no mercy. If you're in business, the market will punish you.

In all these cases, the seasoned professional learns to deal with it. But over and over today, we encounter the sorry spectacle of distinguished reporters losing it when their work is publicly attacked -- or columnists sneering at the feedback they get in poorly moderated web comments.

Clark Hoyt recently concluded his tenure as the New York Times' "public editor" (a.k.a. ombudsman) with a farewell column that described the reactions of Times journalists to his work. It seems the process of being critiqued in public in their own paper continues to be alienating and dispiriting to them. Journalists typically, and rightly, see themselves as bearers of public accountability -- holding the feet of government officials, business leaders and other public figures to the fire of their inquiries. Yet, remarkably, a surprising number of journalists still find it hard to accept being held to account themselves.

One passage in Hoyt's column jumped out at me as a fascinating window onto the psyche of the working journalist today:

Times journalists have been astonishingly candid, even when facing painful questions any of us would want to duck. Of course, journalists don't relish being criticized in public any more than anyone else. A writer shaken by a conclusion I was reaching told me, if you say that, I'll have to kill myself. I said, no, you won't. Well, the writer said, I'll have to go in the hospital. I wrote what I intended, with no ill consequences for anyone's health.

"If you say that, I'll have to kill myself"? Even in jest, the line suggests a thinness of skin entirely inappropriate to any public figure. "Journalists don't relish being criticized in public any more than anyone else," according to Hoyt. Yet the work of journalists so often involves criticizing others in public that it is something they must expect in return. Surely they, of all professionals, ought to be able to take what they readily dish out.

A Culture Problem

I would argue that the difficulty American journalists have with hearing or responding to criticism lies in the profession's pathological heritage of self-abnegation. We say, "To err is human," right? But journalists too often work inside an institutional culture which says to them, "Be inhuman." Do not have opinions -- and if you do, for God's sake don't share them. Do not attend protests or take stands on issues. Do not vote; or, if you do, don't tell anyone whom you voted for.

The "good soldier" journalists buy into this acculturation. They suppress their own individuality and perspectives. They subsume their own work into the larger editorial "we," and learn to refer to themselves as "this reporter" instead of using the personal pronoun. When something goes wrong with the system they are a part of, when the little piece of journalism they have added to the larger edifice comes under attack for some flaw, they count on the edifice to protect them.

But no longer. Reasonable criticism of news coverage can now be published as easily online as the original reports, and the public expects media outlets to respond. Many editors and reporters understand that a new approach to accountability simply makes sense. So the institutions have begun, haltingly but significantly, to open up.

But many individual journalists find themselves at sea when called upon to explain mistakes, defend choices and engage in discussions with their readers and critics. Nothing in their professional lives has prepared them for this. In fact, a lot of their professional training explicitly taught them that all of this was dangerous, unprofessional, bad. They grew up thinking -- and some still think -- that the professional thing to do, when questioned in public, is (a) don't respond at all; (b) respond with "no comment -- we stand by our story"; or if things get really bad © your editor will do the talking.

Unfortunately, this means that the typical blogger has more experience dealing with criticism -- measuring a reasonable response, managing trolls and restraining the urge to flame -- than the typical newsroom journalist. That, I think, is why we regularly see the kind of journalist freakout that the New York Times' James Risen visited upon us (and very quickly apologized for).

The syndrome I am describing here, of course, is already a relic of a previous era. Most young journalists entering the field today have a very different relationship to their own work and the public. And many of the older generation, which I am definitely a part of now, have either learned to make their way through new waters, or kept their own steady course and even keel in rough seas.

But every newsroom has some ticking time-bombs, people ready to explode in a torrent of ill-considered invective. When they do, I think we can try to show some understanding. The next time you see some seasoned journalist lose his bearings when called upon to discuss or defend his work, chalk it up to inexperience, not stupidity or rudeness.

June 10 2010

14:00

Linking by the numbers: How news organizations are using links (or not)

In my last post, I reported on the stated linking policies of a number of large news organizations. But nothing speaks like numbers, so I also trawled through the stories on the front pages of a dozen online news outlets, counting links, looking at where they went, and how they were used.

I checked 262 stories in all, and to a certain degree, I found what you’d expect: Online-only publications were typically more likely to make good use of links in their stories. But I also found that use of links often varies wildly within the same publication, and that many organizations link mostly to their own topic pages, which are often of less obvious value.

My survey included several major international news organizations, some online-only outlets, and some more blog-like sites. Given the ongoing discussion about the value of external links, and the evident popularity of topic pages, I sorted links into “internal”, “external”, and “topic page” categories. I included only inline links, excluding “related articles” sections and sidebars.

Twelve hand-picked news outlets hardly make up an unbiased sample of the entire world of online news, nor can data from one day be counted as comprehensive. But call it a data point — or a beginning. For the truly curious, the spreadsheet contains article-level numbers and notes.

Of the dozen online news outlets surveyed, the median number of links per article was 2.6. Here’s the average number of links per article for each outlet:

Source Internal External Topic Page Total BBC News 0 0 0 0 CNN 0.3 0.2 0.7 1.2 Politico 0.7 0.2 0.6 1.5 Reuters.com 0.1 0.2 1.4 1.7 Huffington Post 1.1 1.0 0 2.1 The Guardian 0.5 0.2 1.8 2.4 Seattle Post-Intelligencer 0.9 1.9 0 2.8 Washington Post 1.0 0.3 2.0 3.3 Christian Science Monitor 2.5 1.1 0 3.6 TechCrunch 1.8 3.6 1.2 6.6 The New York Times 1 1.2 4.6 6.8 Nieman Journalism Lab 1.4 13.1 0 14.5

The median number of internal links per article was 0.95, the median number of external links was 0.65, and the median number of topic page links was also 0.65. I had expected that online-only publications would have more links, but that’s not really what we see here. TechCrunch and our own Lab articles rank quite high, but so does The New York Times. Conversely, the BBC, Reuters, CNN, and The Huffington Post are not converting from a print mindset, so I would have expected them to be more web native — but they rank at the bottom.

What’s going on here? In short, we’re seeing lots of automatically generated links to topic pages. Many organizations are using topic pages as their primary linking strategy. The majority of links from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters.com, CNN, and Politico — and for some of these outlets the vast majority — were to branded topic pages.

Topic pages can be a really good idea, providing much needed context and background material for readers. But as Steve Yelvington has noted, topic pages aren’t worth much if they’re not taken seriously. He singles out “misplaced trust in automation” as a pitfall. Like many topic pages, this CNN page is nothing more than a pile of links to related stories.

It doesn’t seem very useful to use such a high percentage of a story’s links directing readers to such pages. I wonder about the value of heavy linking to broad topic pages in general. How much is the New York Times reader really served by having a link to the HBO topic page from every story about the cable industry, or the Washington Post reader served by links on mentions of the “GOP”?

I suspect that links to topic pages are flourishing because such links can be generated by automated tools and because topic pages can be an SEO strategy, not because topic page links add great journalistic value. My suspicion is that most of the topic page links we are seeing here are automatically or semi-automatically inserted. Nothing wrong with automation — but with present technology it’s not as relevant as hand-coded links.

So what do we see when we exclude topic page links?

Excluding links to topic pages — counting only definitely hand-written links — the median number of links per article drops to 1.7. The implication here is that something like 30 percent of the links that one finds in online news articles across the web go to topic pages, which certainly matches my reading experience. Sorting the outlets by internal-plus-external links also shows an interesting shift in the linking leaderboard.

Source Internal External Total BBC News 0 0 0 Reuters.com 0.1 0.2 0.3 CNN 0.3 0.2 0.5 The Guardian 0.5 0.2 0.7 Politico 0.7 0.2 0.9 Washington Post 1.0 0.3 1.3 Huffington Post 1.1 1.0 2.1 The New York Times 1 1.2 2.2 Seattle Post-Intelligencer 0.9 1.9 2.8 Christian Science Monitor 2.5 1.1 3.6 TechCrunch 1.8 3.6 5.4 Nieman Journalism Lab 1.4 13.1 14.5

The Times and the Post have moved down, and online-only outlets Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Christian Science Monitor have moved up. TechCrunch still ranks high with a lot of linking any way you slice it, and the Lab is still the linkiest because we’re weird like that. (To prevent cheating, I didn’t tell anyone at the Lab, or elsewhere, that I was doing this survey.) But the BBC, CNN, and Reuters are still at the bottom.

Linking is unevenly executed, even within the same publication. The number of links per article depended on who was writing it, the topic, the section of the publication, and probably also the phase of the moon. Even obviously linkable material, such as an obscure politician’s name or a reference to comments on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, was inconsistently linked. Meanwhile, one anomalous Reuters story linked to the iPad topic page on every single reference to “iPad” — 16 times in one story. (I’m going to have to side with the Wikipedia linking style guide here, which says link on first reference only.)

Whether or not an article contains good links seems to depend largely on the whim of the reporter at most publications. This suggests a paucity of top-down guidance on linking, which is in line with the rather boilerplate answers I got to my questions about linking policy.

Articles posted to the “blog” section of a publication generally made heavier use of links, especially external links. The average number of external links per page at The New York Times drops from 1.2 to 0.8 if the single blog post in the sample is excluded — it had ten external links! Whatever news outlets mean by the word “blog,” they are evidently producing their “blogs” differently, because the blogs have more links.

The wire services don’t link. Stories on Reuters.com — as distinguished from stories delivered on Reuters professional products — had an average of 1.7 links per article. But only 0.3 of these links were not to topic pages, and only blog posts had any external links at all. Stories read on Reuters professional products sometimes contain links to source financial documents or other Reuters stories, though it’s not clear to me whether these systems use or support ordinary URLs. The Associated Press has no hub news website of its own so I couldn’t include it in my survey, but stories pushed to customers through their standard feed do not include inline links, though they sometimes include links in an an “On the Net” section at the end of the story.

As I wrote previously, Reuters and AP told me that the reason they don’t include inline hyperlinks is that many of their customers publish on paper only and use content management systems that don’t support HTML.

What does this all mean? The link has yet to make it into the mainstream of journalistic routine. Not all stories need links, of course, but my survey showed lots of examples where links would have provided valuable backstory, context, or transparency. Several large organizations are diligent about linking to their own topic pages, probably with the assistance of automation, but are wildly inconsistent about linking to anything else. The cultural divide between “journalists” and “bloggers” is evident by the way that writers use links (or don’t use them), even within the same newsroom. The major wire services don’t yet offer integrated hypertext products for their online customers. And when automatically generated links are excluded, online-only publications tend to take links more seriously.

June 07 2010

16:00

Quick, name three biz-side staffers at your news org

Really great piece by Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos, about why he sold the company to Amazon last year. But one paragraph stood out to me, both in its Orwellian creepiness and potential usefulness. He’s talking about the challenge of being a rapidly growing company adding lots of new employees:

I’ve noticed that at company happy hours, you don’t see as many employees from different departments hanging out with one another.

To address that, we’ve begun tracking employee relationships. When employees log in to their computers, we ask them to look at a picture of a random employee and then ask them how well they know that person — the options include “say hi in the halls,” “hang out outside of work,” and “we’re going to be longtime friends.” We’re starting to keep track of the number and strength of cross-departmental relationships — and we’re planning a class on the topic. My hope is that we can have more employees who plan to be close friends.

Kinda creepy, right? Why does Tony Hsieh care who I’m drinking beer with after work? Feels like an externally enforced Facebook for the workplace, except you can’t click “Ignore” on the awkward requests.

But that said, purely from a data-gathering perspective, wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of information about news organizations? To be able to see how much the reporters and the ad-sellers even know each other’s names? Or how much the marketing department knows the news staff whose work they’re tasked with marketing? Or heck, how much the arts critics and the sports guys hang out together? So many of the relationships between the parts of a traditional news organization are wrapped up in ancient doctrines that may have outlived their usefulness; it would be fascinating to see how those relationships stand today and how they’ve evolved.

May 07 2010

20:00

Say what you will about Newsweek…but don’t forget about their Tumblr

The Awl put it best: “For sale: Perennial runner-up weekly publication in dying media segment. $0 or best offer. Includes funny Tumblr.”

The Tumblr in question? Newsweek’s. Yes, Newsweek’s. The “foul-mouthed” and “Gawkeresque (old Gawkeresque)” cousin of newsweek.com — the site that, in response to this week’s news of the magazine’s sale, announced: “Look, We Don’t Want to Seem Ungrateful, But if We Are to Be Acquired by Any Latin Superstar, We Kinda Hope It’s Shakira”…tagging the post “Culture,” “Journalism,” “Us,” and “Our Hips Are Exceptionally Truthful.”

Like the best Tumblrs, the site is random and trenchant and funny and unapologetically idiosyncratic. But what’s most striking about it, for our purposes, is that the Tumblr is all those things…while also being very much a vehicle of “the Newsweek brand.” It’s not just that the bright-red Newsweek logo is the first thing that catches your eye when you visit the site; it’s also that, more significantly, much of the Tumblr’s content is curated from Newsweek’s primary web offerings. Yesterday, it reposted this pearl of wisdom from a comment on the parent site (with the note that “sometimes the Newsweek commenters just crack us up”): “About ten years ago I heard someone from the homosexual lobby say that the only music genre they had not infiltrated was country music! Immediately after that Leann Rhimes did a duet with Elton John and now, here we are.”

Indeed. While “the Tumblr and its sense of humor and things like that are probably slightly different from the general Newsweek audience,” acknowledges Mark Coatney, Newsweek.com’s projects editor and the Tumblr’s creator and producer…it’s not that far afield. Today, for example, the Tumblr features long(-ish) excerpts from Newsweek pieces about the Palin/Fiorina endorsement and the outcome of the British election. “I feel like I have a pretty good idea, organizationally, of what the Newsweek sensibility is,” Coatney told me. “That might be slightly different from mine, but I try to hew closely to that.”

When traditional media latch on to new forms

The Tumblr’s fate is, at the moment, as precarious as that of its parent magazine. But it’s worth noting that, even as Newsweek, as a magazine and a website, got a reputation for mediocrity and stagnancy — and even as, yesterday, all the familiar they failed to innovate truisms came out in full, schadenfreudic force — over at the outlet’s Tumblr, innovation (and experimentation, and engagement and conversation) were actually taking place. Just on a small scale.

“The nice thing about management is that they’ve been very much like, ‘Experiment. Do whatever you want. Don’t embarrass us too much. And see how it goes,’” Coatney says. The institution gave agency to one of its members to experiment with something he cared about; it gave him leave not only to leverage his expertise, but also simply to have fun as he leveraged. The groking and the rocking, rolled into one.

Which is a small thing, but a rather profound one, as well. “The problem with the magazine industry,” Evan Gotlib wrote (in a post quoted on, yes, the Newsweek Tumblr), “is that they all too often latch on to new technology (Let’s make an iPhone app! Let’s build a Facebook fan page! Let’s create print ads with RFID scan technology! Let’s start a Tumblr blog!) without understanding the REASON behind that beautiful technology. It’s not a strategy; it’s a last gasp tactic.” The secret sauce of the Newsweek Tumblr, though, is the fact that it wasn’t part of a strategy at all. It was simply an experiment, given the freedom (from commercial pressure, from corporate overlordism) to develop organically. As Coatney puts it: “It was kind of nice not to have any expectations around it.”

Another way to put it: the Tumblr, as part of an overall approach to institutional media, suggests the power of the personal — the idiosyncratic, the unique — in journalism. The site is aware of the institution whose brand it bears, but isn’t overwhelmed by it. On the contrary: The Tumblr has “made us able to put our story out there and talk to people in a way that I think is hard for big media companies to do,” Coatney says. But it’s flattened the conversation, putting Newsweek — the Media Institution — and its readers on equal footing. And it’s made the Media Institution more responsive to its users. The Tumblr — and, in particular, the ability to see what posts people comment on, reblog, etc. — ”gives me a good sense of what people respond to,” Coatney points out. So “you get that immediate feedback.”

The problem of scale

Which isn’t to say there aren’t tensions between the personal and institutional in even something as unassuming as a Tumblr. Scalability can be a challenge, for one thing. In the same way that a Twitter feed with 1,000 followers will have, almost de facto, a different voice than a Twitter feed with 100,000 followers, a Tumblr that gets too big — Newsweek’s has about 8,000 followers right now — could lose its power, and its voice, and its quirk. “It’s a real concern of mine,” Coatney says. “Because part of the value of this is that you’re able to talk and respond to and reblog people. If I see something that I like from somebody else, I try to comment on it and point it out. And if suddenly there are a million people talking all at once, I’m not sure quite how to deal with that yet.” (Then again: “If we get a million followers, I’ll happily try to figure that out.”)

Another challenge is the perennial one: commercial appeal. The Tumblr, on its own, isn’t easily monetized through online ads or other traditional methods of money-making. Right now, the site gets about 1,000 visits a day, Coatney notes — “not really a volume in which many advertisers are going to be interested.”

Still, from the branding perspective, the Tumblr represents a mindset that is scalable. Whatever Newsweek’s fate — and whatever responsibility it must take for that fate — the outlet currently has an example of innovative thinking under its institutional umbrella, one that serves as a reminder of what the best journalism has always understood: that there’s nothing wrong with a little whimsy. “In the end, we use Tumblr not because it’s a great way to connect with our readers (though it is that), or because we believe this or something like it is a part of a new way forward for interaction between publishers and audience (though we think that too),” Coatney writes. “We use Tumblr because it’s fun and while, you know, you can’t eat fun, or trade it in for fistfuls of dollars to fund serious journalism, we believe there’s a value in doing things we like simply because we like to do them, and that hopefully our fellow Tumblrs will too.”

May 04 2010

21:15

OurBlook Roundup: Journalism Will Survive in Digital Age

OurBlook.com is a website that gathers opinions from today's top leaders in the hopes of collaboratively finding tomorrow's solutions. It is funded by Paul Mongerson, a retired CEO who has a long history of philanthropy in the journalism world. In December 2008, those of us who run the site launched a future of journalism interview series. To date, we have collected over 100 interviews with well known journalists and new media experts.

When looking for similarities between the interviews, there's an underlying sentiment that newspapers have a lot of catching up to do. Many experts also expressed the belief that, in terms of their internal culture, newspapers seem to have a hard time adapting to change. The good news, however, is that all believed that journalism will survive in one form or another, and that there will always be a need for trained journalists.

Below are some of our findings and the best quotes from the interview series.

Future of Journalism Interview Series Findings

blook.jpg* Newspapers are still searching for business and editorial models that are sustainable in this new world of media. Outlets that cling on to their old methods of doing things will die.
* The idea of newspapers charging for their websites was once looked down upon, but is now becoming an accepted strategy. Additionally, as online advertising changes, and banner ads are quickly becoming passé, experts are urging newspapers to explore non-traditional revenue streams such as online games or web apps.

* Hyper-local is gaining acceptance. As a result, harnessing the power of citizen journalism has become a key goal for many media outlets.

* The role of journalists and the skills necessary to succeed have changed. This has caused many industry insiders to ponder the future of journalism's culture and ethics.

* One-way storytelling has given way to a two-way (or multiple) conversation between the journalist and the audience. Tools like Twitter and Facebook have become incredibly important in this new context.

* TV news is beginning to experience the same changes and chaos as print journalism, causing many to panic.

Best Quotes from Future of Journalism Series

"I believe this is both a difficult and exciting time in journalism. The old paradigm is dying. The monopoly/ologopoly that news organizations once enjoyed is breaking apart. Amid all the disruption, something new is being born. The new paradigm is more democratic and comprehensive than the old one. The key is to make sure that it has substantive journalism." -- John Yemma, editor, Christian Science Monitor

"To date, newspapers have, for either the strangest or most inexplicable reason, chosen to either downplay or ignore their strengths: Reporting and writing. Newspapers have a virtual monopoly on those two attributes. 'Aggregating,' and its tedious synonyms, is not reporting nor is it writing; it's cutting and pasting." -- Bruce Austin, professor and chair, Department of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology

"Giving away information for free on the Internet while still charging 50 cents to $1 for the print version of the paper was one of the most fundamentally flawed business decisions of the past 25 years. Newspapers told their paying customers that the information truly had no value. They told their paying customers that they were suckers. Why would anyone pay 50 cents for something he or she can get for free? This poorly conceived and obviously flawed strategy has helped put the newspaper industry into its current financial condition and hastened the demise of many publications." -- Paul J. MacArthur, professor, Utica College


"What I find unique is that publishers have gone online and said 'actually, we sell content.' In the 200-plus years of printing newspapers...they never sold content once. They sold advertising...The problem with that one trick pony, as it is right now, is that this sort of 'wantiness' of investors to invest in a company whose primary raison d'être is to sell banner ads, is not all that great...People involved in online marketing know the banner ad is not the future of online advertisement or online marketing." -- Mitch Joel, author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and founder of Twist Image

Bob Garfield on Journalism, Advertising, and Future from OurBlook.com on Vimeo.

"We are going to lose a horrifying amount of experience, judgment, talent and the culture of journalism which has, for the most part, made it a very ethical enterprise. Not only are we losing the accumulated judgment, wisdom, experience, knowledge of tens of thousands of journalists, we are losing their sense of how to stay relatively pure." -- Bob Garfield, co-host, "On The Media"

"I'm not convinced that video and audio...'multimedia'...are going to be newspapers' salvation. They're fine to have, as supplements to written stories with good graphics, powerful photos and useful database information. But video and audio take real time...five minutes of video is five minutes...and people can scan text so much faster. We'll always want to see the spectacular video or some special moment captured in sound. But if that would save newspapers online, then TV websites would be thriving...and they're not." -- Charlotte Grimes, Knight Chair in Political Reporting at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University

"When the U.S. media look at the changes in media consumption trends, naturally enough, they tend to focus on the United States. This is terrifically misleading. Newspapers are thriving in countries such as India and China...I say to my friends and colleagues: You should feel blessed. You are part of a revolution in how information is distributed far greater than the invention of the printing press, and certain to have more far-reaching effects." -- Thad McIlroy, author and founder, FutureOfPublishing.com

"My belief is that newspapers, in their traditional form, can still be enormously popular. And if newspaper publishers largely reject the web, and go back to basics, they can decrease their operating expenses and generate enough display advertising to return to profitability...I think it's been the mainstream newspaper industry's embrace of new editorial formulas and approaches that has been leading to its demise." -- Adam Stone, publisher, Examiner community newspapers in Putnam and Westchester counties in New York.

"Now, with online advertising in cyclical decline, news publishers of all kinds...newspapers and magazines but also online-only news organizations...see that it's hard to support a news department with only the advertising revenue stream." -- Gordon Crovitz, former publisher, the Wall Street Journal

"The consolidation of media in the broadcast age also changed the sociology of journalism by turning it into much more of a profession for educated people and, at its highest levels, an extremely powerful and prestigious position. I think an increasing portion of the audience for mass media, especially at the young end of the demographics, is turned off by the self-importance of highly visible mainstream journalists (as demonstrated by the success of media parodies like the Onion and 'The Daily Show'), and resent the inability to talk back in any kind of meaningful way...Members of the Millennial generation in particular find the pomposity and stuffiness of traditional media less engaging than the give-and-take of social channels."-- Rob Salkowitz, author and founder of MediaPlant

Amy Gahran on Future Journalist from OurBlook.com on Vimeo.

"Regardless of the newspaper, I think one of the most important things they should consider is nurturing talent. Are you a local newspaper? Ninety percent of your income from print adverts targeted at people in the area? Then you should be looking for the local citizen journalists who sit next to their police scanner and report on the drug busts and local fires. Assume you will have to invest in improving their writing skills, be relaxed about them publishing elsewhere, and pay them enough money to make it worth their while to give you the first option on material. If they could afford to, they would be on the scene at these fires and such." -- Brian McNeil, contributor, Wikinews

"Social media are becoming part of journalism, another transmission system, that all journalism must be involved in, in much the same way that aggregation is now a component of journalism. Journalism is more than narrative now. It is more than storytelling. It always has been, but professional journalists didn't always see it. Journalism is shifting from being a product...to being a service...how can I help you answer your questions." -- Tom Rosenstiel, director, Project for Excellence in Journalism

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today's top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow's solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, "Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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