Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

AAJA 2010: Digital Reporting Tools and Techniques

August 5, 2010

3:56pm: Here we are at the Digital Reporting Tools and Techniques panel, helmed by the esteemed Olivia Ma of YouTube, Jennifer 8 Lee of the Knight News Challenge and David Sarno and Jon Healey of the LA Times.

3:57pm: We’re talking about free tools available in the cloud. Scribd is getting a lot of conversation right now – Lee, who used to be with the NYTimes, says Scribd is interested in partnering with news orgs so they’ll let you customize your Scribd browser. “Even though it’s being powered by Scribd, it’s your brand all the time.”

4:04pm: Comic Sans should be banned from Powerpoint. WORD!

4:06pm: Use Listorious to found a connected network of people who are interested in or write about a specific topic. If you follow these groups, it’s another kind of heat map about what communities say about certain topics, says Soren.

4:07pm: When a keyword is meaningful to you or relatively unique, you can use Twitter alerts (which sort of works like Google News Alerts) to get updates on “Particularly useful for discrete events you are covering for a limited time period. You wouldn’t want to follow “music”, but maybe you would follow “MGMT”.”

4:09pm: And the Powerpoint crashes just before the YouTube maven begins talking about her tools. She goes on anyway, introducing YouTube Direct, and YouTube Moderator, which “are meant to help news organizations engage with their audiences.” Trivia: YouTube staff doesn’t use the term ‘citizen journalism’ and prefers ‘citizen reporter,’ since “journalists” are professionals or have specific training/experience. “Citizen Reporters” can document, provide real value in terms of showing what’s happening, even if they can’t put it in a broader context. Example: Kayaking in the Street during Nashville Flooding

4:14pm: YouTube’s been partnering with various news organizations to help them engage their communities and get the community involved. PBS’  ‘Video Your Vote”, CNN’s YouTube Presidential Debate. YouTube Direct is partnering with ABC7 in the Bay Area, inviting audience to upload video of stories happening in their communities. They’re starting to see momentum in getting the community to show their stories and getting them told. Editors and producers get a moderation panel to review the submissions and approve it for their own page.

4:16pm: YouTube Moderator is a product that lets news orgs crowdsource, host video of newsmakers, and then let audiences rank questions or the responses up or down. (This is totally new to me, I have no idea how it works yet but I want to find out.)

4:19pm: Now the panelists are talking about how awesome the ProPublica data crowdsourcing has been. I second that. “Every journalist should have a peopledex, that you can consult, so if you start building it now, you can recall it for many different purposes,” said Sarno.

4:21pm: Jennifer 8 Lee’s turn to talk. Her “five tools to remember” for digital future: Ushahidi, Kickstarter, Tableau, DocumentCloud, and DavisWiki, which is the most successful local wiki in the country, if not the world. One out of every seven people in Davis, California uses DavisWiki. You can find lost pets, do I need a roomate. (DAVIS WIKI IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF THE FUTURE OF CONTEXT. See earlier post.)

4:24pm: “Communities, when given the right tools and the right platforms, can inform themselves,” said Lee. Knight’s given the Davis people a tool called “localwiki”, to help other communities get this platform and start using it.

Ushahidi: A crowd-sourced mapping platform that came out of Kenya, where people were reporting their rapes and other violence. Got a lot of publicity in Haiti, in which needs for water or medical help were getting mapped on Ushahidi. Free, open-source. WashPo used it for #snowmaggedon last year.

4:27pm: Ascendancy of raw material as a form of real journalism. WikiLeaks, for example. The threat to journalism is not big brother, but little brother. The threat is that the individuals that surround us can report really well. So use tools like Document Cloud, to give people access.

4:28pm: You could do a six month investigation about use of force in schools, or you can show them a 30 second video of a teacher beating a kid in a school. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a video’s worth 10,000 words.

4:30pm: The reporting process is becoming public. Instead of hoarding information and dropping a massive investigation, we now report it out one part at a time, let people weigh in and help inform or shape the next chapter, then report the next part. It’s a journey. (I love the quest narrative.)

4:32pm: “Governments are all excited about opening up their data, or putting data sets online, but raw data is actually really ugly,” said Lee. Where it becomes valuable is when it’s visualized. When you can play with it or see it in various ways, that’s where it becomes interesting.

4:36pm: “Ask your audiences more for their participation. The more news orgs value that, more of the audience will feel ownership,” said Ma. Use computers to build a human network. The more you use your human/social network, the more likely your sources are likely to come to you.

4:43pm: Lee, to a questioner- Are you asking, what are the other problems that need to be solved, in the suckiness of the current news organization? One of the things we’re really interested in at Knight right now is how publishers can effectively use Facebook. The other thing we’re interested in in is mobile.

OK that’s all for this panel. I hope I didn’t miss anything huge.

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AAJA 2010: Present/Future of Online News

August 5, 2010

“This is the most exciting time ever, to be in journalism. More people are consuming more content in more ways than ever.” -Mike Allen

This morning’s conversation featured Manav Tanneeru, wearer of many hats at CNN.com, Dave Morgan, Executive Editor of Yahoo! North America, Mike Allen of Politico and John Bracken, Director of New Media at Knight Foundation (Knight is one of Tribune’s generous benefactors, and we love Knight. Shoutout.)

Create Content with Value, Cause It’s Competitive Out There

The success of Politico (which started with 30 employees and is now nearing 200), is based on the premise, “What if we did a paper with only interesting stories?” The changing habits of consuming news (less loyalty to the major papers, brands) has been a benefit.

“Traffic is one of the attributes we consider, we don’t even tell our reporters our traffic because we dont want them to value that above our audience. We’re not there to serve a mass audience,” said Allen. “Think about ‘if i didnt write this story, or made this video, would I read it?” It’s amazing how many things in our news orgs dont meet that test. Before you invest time producing something, would someone email this, blog about it, would i book segment based on this? If you’re hitting a couple of those, you’re breaking through and creating value for your audience.”

Yahoo’s thinking about original content as well.  It’s aiming to change the content they provide. “Yahoo is traditionally a good aggregator, but if all we’re doing is distributing great partner content, then we’ll be replaced,” said Morgan. The company’s web strategy is moving more toward reporting for the audience and not just hosting the audience. A lot of people can do commodity information – score of the game, who won the election – what do you add to that? What is the unique content you provide.

“Everyone can do their job on a laptop, which means anyone else can too. If we can’t do it shorter and sooner, someone else will and should. That’s the great part about the way people consume news now, it’s almost completely a meritocracy. it used to be if you were the Miami Herald, LA Times, you had a guaranteed audience. We don’t have guaranteed time with the audience anymore,” said Allen.

It’s Not All About the Pageviews
Remarkable ideas are remarked on, remarkable content moves up. It’s wrong for traditional companies to think, how can I move up in search rankings instead of, what can i do to make irresistible content?

When we get too obsessed with what people want to know, are we shortchanging them on what they NEED to know? There’s little interest in non-US news in the US, but the world’s more connected than ever. Will there still be outlets to provide the important stuff that the audience isn’t naturally hungry for?

SEO Today

“In the foundation world, we get grant applications that say, our web traffic is this, this number of Twitter followers, etc… What are web metrics that matter? What does that really mean?”

If you’re a reporter you should not be thinking about SEO first, but still, everyone in the newsroom should have general understanding of core principles that allow something to be elevated. CNN chooses slugs very carefully, Daily beast used tags in URLs, etc.

Future Considerations

If you’re starting something, you’re a lot better off to start in niche because you have a more obvious revenue stream. You have a specific audience to target, i.e. Politico’s focus is on serving Washington insiders.

The two major considerations of Politico as they head into the future:

1.) Sideways traffic, and how to maximize it. (Audiences don’t go to homepages as much as specific story pages, much of the readership consumes content without typing in politico.com)

2.) Fewer people with desktops/laptops – how to move to mobile.

Generally, part of our task is to think about the holes being created at the same time all this exciting change is happening. “When there’s a news gap, it’s very significant. The newspaper has been the closest thing we have had to a community forum, and when that goes away, what replaces it?
Is the frame we have for local news still appropriate for the digital age? How do we carry it over to the web, when people are going to their own places for news?” said Bracken.

Local news is an area most ripe for innovation.. using tools already available is empowering. But news experiments won’t fill all holes. If Brooklyn was reported with just blogs and Twitter, there would be huge gaps in its portrayal. How do we dig deeper?

“If youve arrived at a winning model, enjoy it because it’s already changed.” -Yahoo!’s Dave Morgan

California

August 4, 2010

Why does this guy have a star on the walk of fame, and other burning questions, coming up this week.

I’ve returned to California for the first time in a long time for the national Asian American Journalists Association convention. We Asians (and Stiles) will be convening here through Saturday, getting some quality training in and talking about the future of news, which is one of my all-time favorite topics besides chili cheese dogs, Mad Men and Harry Whittington. Come back for some #newsfuture posts and assorted photos. I’ve unintentionally engaged in a Twitter war to tweet the shizz out of this conference, so my blog will be an extension of the 140 character updates.

My fellow Texans also happen to be in California this week. Lawmakers are partying an hour south in San Diego, for a lawmaker convention (far fewer Asians, but rife with opportunity for drunk driving arrests!)

#newsfuture

April 16, 2010

Stiles, Reeve and I went with boss Evan to Texas Tech University in flat, windy Lubbock this week for the first stop in the Texas Tribune College Tour. The day included a civic engagement fair, a debate between two statewide candidates (who traveled to Lubbock together, actually), and an afternoon session on the future of journalism featuring us reporters. It reminded me that I forgot to post my notes from a much meatier future of journalism panel, the one at SXSW in Austin last month. So, to recap:

THE PANEL:

Andrew Huff, editor of Gapers Block, a digglike, crowd-sourced zine in Chicago

Jeff Jarvis, media futurist, professor, blogger at BuzzMachine.com and author, “What Would Google Do?”

Brad Flora, WindyCitizen.com

Jeremy Zilar, blog specialist at the NYTimes

Adrian Holovaty, web developer, WashingtonPost.com, co-developer of web programming language Django (which we use for the TT) and creator of EveryBlock.com.

BIGGEST CHALLENGES AHEAD

Jarvis: Biggest challenge is getting ourselves out of old models – the page based, product based world. Because we’re now in a screen based, process based world. Content curation is as important as content creation.

Engagement is a challenge (the belief that if news is that important, it will find me), efficiency is a challenge (we’re still way over bloated).

In an ecosystem of overabundant creation you need more help finding stuff. Everything should get turned on its head. Don’t operate under “old industrial age assumptions”. Turn those upside down to rethink what we do, how we do, how we communicate and collaborate.

Flora: Staying above, rising above the noise floor has value for future. We aren’t there yet in the physics of how the internet works right now such that the re-writer (content farms) get much more SEO than a curator who provides links. Challenge for news organizations is to keep staying ahead of content farms “stealing” search results while still providing original information is tricky. Newspapers will likely fall back on personalities – people who are able to bring a cult of personality to work are getting more attention, visibility.

Holovaty: Biggest challenge is the business model. But another issue is our current/traditional reporting process. Journalists gather all kinds of information that they just “throw away.” All the data, all the input collected during the reporting of an issue is typically just compressed into one big blob of text, when we simply write a story about it. It’s rarely “how can I take this data and do cool things with it”?

“I’m really interested in journalists who are actually taking all this data we mine and treating it with respect,” Holovaty said. He wants to see more publicly accessible databases. and more people taking the data, and then doing a story based on the data.

“We struggle with how to teach data as news. Should journalists learn computer programming? Not necessarily. But journalists should know how to communicate with developers just as they know how to communicate with photographers. There’s a wealth of stuff there, we’ve got to get at it, plumb it better, help audience get at it,” said Holovaty.

HOW TO RISE ABOVE WHEN AUDIENCES ARE DROWNING IN NEWS?

Pull it together, piece it together in an interesting way that can convey information to citizens. Windy Citizen is essentially just a front page for Chicago that can point people to the good stuff. Crowd power is used to recommend good bits of information to others. Readers/consumers are smart. Give people a way to leverage that knowledge and contribute back, weigh in on things. How can we encourage the community to better create, and get them to curate… Top stories and who’s linking to them, such that evetything’s really related.

Other suggestions: Crowdsourced wikis, wiki-based reporting structure, rethinking how we use data to create millions of watchdogs.

“We aren’t storytellers anymore,” said Jarvis. “That’s a one-way perspective to look at things. It’s not my story to tell you… we are story enablers.”

The panel argued collaborative forms are better. While many of us can be gatherers of information, editors, and marketers/distributors, the place journalists add value where distribution’s going on already is by adding deeper reporting, context and vetting.

BUSINESS MODEL FUTURE

JARVIS: The NY Times won’t die, but Boston Globe might. Newspapers should just move into the future. Newspapers are being replaced by an ecosystem, not a single company. News will become the providence of many different players who are supported by many different business models. “One becomes many,” Jarvis said. Bloggers can and have been making revenue. Optimize that by saving money, improve what you’re selling to advertisers and creating networks. Hyper local advertising is a building block. Jarvis envisions some measure of publicly-supported journalism that the market won’t meet, “the broccoli journalism”. He projects that a hypothetical market for journalism in the future, which will be a mix of publicly-supported, commercial and individual models, is an ecosystem worth about $45 million annually. “We will have an equivalent number of journalists, who are more answerable to the community, closer to community,” Jarvis said.  ” The amount of waste in the current structure still gargantuan.”

Build networks. The marginal cost of news online is zero. Journalists should add unique value. We need to ask ourselves –  how do you combine people who create good content/stories with people who can sell?

Yo Ladies

March 29, 2010

Thanks for the feature, Kim!

So, back when Kim Daniels and I were both at Belo, she at corporate, overseeing blog products and more, me at the TV station, we were both frustrated by fighting inertia to move news delivery into Web 2.0. Now we’re both getting to do all online products, me at The Texas Tribune and she over at Yo Ladies, a female-centric web source she started not-too-long ago.

Kim actually remembered me (probably cause I was calling her all the time to make little fixes to my CSS on my old blog, Political Junkie), and did a quick interview for her Yo Ladies feature this week.

I love how she promotes it with a shout out to NASCAR. Word!

Contextualizing Context

March 15, 2010

Some great thinkers in media are leading what I’ll call the “context movement”, a push toward giving audiences more satisfying, better understanding of the worlds in which they live instead of  simply presenting ephemeral, episodic stories as journalists always have. As the daughter of immigrants, helping provide better entry points for news is near and dear to me. I’m also a fervent believer in this because Texas Tribune founder John Thornton imagined the TT as an attempt to do what the movement talks about — provide knowledge, not news.

I first heard Matt Thompson talk about context at the 2008 Reynolds Journalism Institute dedication at the Missouri School of Journalism (Go Tigers). The principle then became crystallized when Thornton said the context void inspired him to start the Tribune. We have some great examples of projects that move toward that goal, but after this morning’s panel I feel an even stronger need to try and rethink what we prioritize, how we organize information, and how we share it. If you missed the panel, I’ll try my best to provide some Cliff’s Notes. The conversation is continuing online, so please weigh in in this space or at the Future of News site if you’re interested.

THE PANELISTS

Matt Thompson, NPR and formerly of the Knight Foundation; Jay Rosen, author of PressThink and professor at NYU; Tristan Harris, CEO/Founder of Apture.

The Liveblog, by Poynter’s Steve Myers.

THE PROBLEM

We receive more information than ever, and a lot of it is ambient and unsatisfying. Take health care reform as an example. “Most of the news is ‘episodic’,” says Thompson. You hear a little about the excise tax, Stupak, reconciliation… the torrent of information is hard to keep track of. Then, new torrents of headlines come at us all the time. We ASSUME that over time this will cohere into real knowledge. Eventually you hear enough about public option that you understand a little. Mounting evidence indicates that when you’re faced an ever growing flood of headlines it’s not useful.

“Suppose your laptop continually received new updates that you didn’t have software for,” Jay Rosen said. News is much the same way; designed to provide constant updates to a larger narrative that doesn’t exist or isn’t currently provided by news producers. Audiences actually need systemic, not episodic information. Need an intellectual framework for episodic news to make any sense.

Incidentally, systemic knowledge (Wikipedia entries, “Top 10 things you need to know about [blank]”) is actually easier to provide than the episodic stuff. One news organization boiled down every health care system in the world into four types. That helped people understand what we have in U.S. and what we want to change it into. If you look at health care on a broader level,  you can distill it so it’s more understandable.  We need an intellectual framework for themes and situations and debates in the news. That’s what context means.

WHY CURRENT NEWS FORMS LACK CONTEXT

The current news system is an artifact of an earlier era of industrial production that has passed. But the web allows us to fix some of the problems.

Because journalism is structured around the single story, it’s not accommodating to help people have more meaning, more context.  But that’s a function of the old ecosystem. In prior platforms, we couldn’t give background due to limits on time or space. So we learned to produce news with updates. The ecosystem was not conducive because reporters were producing for primary time-specific models.

There’s also very little reward for providing context if you’re a journalist. News reporters see it as doing something “extra”, providing “more info”, instead of making the background – the topic page or whatever you want to call it – the main draw and the incremental stories the side dishes. The journalism system – newsrooms, reporters – compete not to equip readers with more understanding but to break news. Metrics on “success” as organizations are also skewed because they measure how many people watched, how many clicked, not more understanding.

Also, as reporters become experts, they begin to ID with most sophisticated users on their beats and then lose contact with people who are still starting out with a subject or entering late.

“EPISODIC NEWS” DOES NOT FIT OUR TIME, OR OUR TECHNOLOGY

“Episodic news is bass ackward,” Thompson says. As reporters, we map out our beats, we actually understand issues systemically so we know what’s important. Then we dribble out all we know in stingy little bits (news stories). We do this bc audiences still read these episodic bits. But also because we were bounded by old media platforms. Newspapers and broadcasts were bound by time. Newspapers had to expire, and broadcasts were here now and then gone later.

For first time we have a medium that’s capable of supporting systemic and episodic information at one time. We’re not constrained by time.

WHAT ATTEMPTS AT CONTEXT LOOK LIKE NOW

The “nut grafs” are the most common attempts at context in mainstream news right now, and it’s largely a product of the old page-based models of news (there’s only so much room to fit in the background info, so let’s wedge it in.) The result is a sprinkle of systemic information stuffed into our episodic stories. In the health care example, it might be a paragraph explaining what reconciliation is in the middle of an episodic story about the latest tussle of the House and Senate bills.

Other news organizations are providing topics pages (the TT has more than 250 of them plus extensive candidate and elected officials directories).  Thompson argues this is still not the best way to do it because most topics pages are largely automated collections of links that still don’t put all those links into context. Google’s tried to automate contextual information with Living Stories and it’s proven how hard it is.

“I worry that our approach to providing context is mirroring on the web how it looked in other media [and not optimized for the web],” said Thompson.

CONTEXT WORKS

Systemic organization of news benefits the reader, but also benefits producers of information. Your information becomes more valuable, desirable and useful as your desire for a framework becomes stronger. For example, This American Life’s “Giant Pool of Money” episode dared to start at a very basic level and explain the global financial meltdown in a way people could understand.

Journalists who did the Giant Pool of Money project were also confused when they started, then went on a journey of discovery. The people involved with financial systems did the explaining, and the journalists connected that explanation into a way that made sense. Afterward, it makes following the financial crisis with far more ease. If you understand the background, it helps you better understand the experience. Enriches you overall.

The web also rewards news providers who provide context. People are far more likely to re-visit the wikipedia page or the topics overview a year after a news event. Thompson’s “The Money Meltdown” site pulled together the best links to explain the financial crisis. Matt posted it on his blog and in one month, 50,000 unique visitors came along and looked at it 75,000 times. It speaks to a desire. It’s all about pulling together links, in some cases. What’s difficult right now is automating it. Link barns as topic pages aren’t working.

If you imagine reorienting staff around creating context as is rewarded by wikipedia, the web is set up to reward it, so what are we waiting for?

CURRENT PROBLEMS WITH CONTEXT

Lack of perceived demand. What good is a long explainer on something when no one is requesting the explainer genre? Rosen’s test-driving ExplainThis.org, allowing people to “demand” what they want to know that journalists can help respond to. “The press does not belong to professionals in journalism. It’s ours,” says Rosen. ” The more people who participate in the press, the stronger the press will be. But professional journalism was never optimized for public participation, it was optimized for efficiency on the old platforms.”

HOW TO ACHIEVE CONTEXT?

Wikipedia specializes in background knowledge. NYTimes specializes in investigations and updates. Why are they separate services? Why aren’t they the same? It makes more sense to provide context just as you’re coming into a story halfway through its development, like the health care debate.

Wikipedia is structually inspiring to us. Instead of bifurcating the story into a bunch of components, Wikipedia was pulling information together. Wiki works really well over time. It’s often the first choice people go to for news a year after something’s been in the headlines. Currently we present it as “more information”. The consumer doesn’t necessarily want “more information”. We want to present the minimum you need to understand a subject, and then develop that as your need for more increases.

As you read earlier, topics pages presented as “extra information” are the new vogue.  Where context peddlers want to head is actually flipping the model. The context should be the foundation. The systemic stuff should be what you can access first. The episodic stuff is what should be the more info. We “ghettoize” topics pages on our sites, by creating a topics section. When the public just finds just a random collection of links on a so-called topics page, “the quest for context everywhere is set back,” Thompson argues. What would a site look like if it were structured around systems instead of stories? The essential stuff is what you need to know is first, and as your knowledge expanded you got day-to-day headlines.

Journalists may think, we’re doing so much and now you want to provide context!? Think like an engineer. Make it an imperative to do work you can re-use to provide context. You can use that subduction plates info graphic again and again with every story you write about earthquakes. It’s redefining the notion of “today” value. You’re writing something TODAY that’s only appending something that’s already valuable. Engineers don’t do work they can’t re-use. Do work you can use next time.

If we reorganize the telling of stories around a quest for clarity and beat reporters weren’t just covering their beats but revealing something we need to know, and we saw news coverage not as series of updates but as a giant story, that would be on the way to where we want to get.

CALL TO ACTION

Our imperative as journalists is that we understand this systemic framework ourselves. We should devote as much value to expertise as we do to the latest news. We should also sell and market context. What happened five  minutes ago is great, but “10 things you need to know about health care” is more useful. We need journalists thinking that way more commonly. As participants in the news system, we need to demand that. We should say, we don’t understand this topic. Build stuff on your own for topics you don’t understand. Find the best links, pull them together. The web rewards context. The pieces that provide it become seminal pieces rewarded by search engines over time. Start with the users and their need to participate in the news and have a handle on the world.

Thanks for the great panel, guys. I hope this summed things up okay. Let’s keep the conversation going.

SXSW Odds and Ends

March 14, 2010

It’s my first year to formally attend SXSW Interactive (previously I only attended the film part of the Film/Interactive/Music fest and then crashed the evening interactive parties to mix with interesting tech people). Spare observations so far:

1.) You can’t walk fifteen feet without someone trying to hand you a.) a Zone energy bar or b.) a Monster energy drink.

2.) Microsoft really can’t catch a break here. People snicker when the Bing promotional folks try to offer free rides or talk up their product, the “It’s All About the Browser” presentation only introduced Internet Explorer 8 to be nice and Stiles won’t even go into the Silverlight “lounge” (one of many sitting areas around the convention center to recharge your phone and chillax) for fear it’s seen as implicit approval of Microsoft.

3.) Why do I keep seeing people wear sunglasses indoors?

4.) There are parties galore, but the sponsored, please-present-your-badge elements are turning bars that are considered fratty or dumpy or otherwise lame ANY OTHER DAY OF THE YEAR into faux-elitist locations. FAIL.

5.) So far the only journalism panel I’ve attended is one called “Media Armageddon: What Happens When the New York Times Dies”, in which The NYTimes’ David Carr played the role of traditional media punching bag to Daily Kos’ Markos Moulitsas’ fist. For a stretch there, they tussled while two other panelists and a moderator sat there. Carr sounded far more reasonable. Both wound up agreeing on most points. But overall, what a sorry, wasted opportunity for a good panel. That moderator did not organize or direct that conversation in any discernibly interesting or productive way.

Behind the Lens

February 18, 2010


Originally uploaded by thetexastribune

Spent birthday morning at a TribLive event. It was the third in our conversation series that features various political or policy movers and shakers in Texas. Because my job is now far more multi-faceted than before, I run the production end of TribLive instead of doing the interviewing.

After the events are over, we process them and put them up as full 40 minute videos and put them on our site, later we’ll put them on iTunes as podcasts.

It’s actually a fun change of pace, since I didn’t sit behind the camera before in TV, but love to shoot photos and video when I get the chance. Our intern, Caleb, caught a pic of me gesturing to Justin, who was on the second camera, to check with Todd, who was at the sound booth, on our levels.

Which brings me to the team. I said it yesterday at the fourth annual Hu-Moritz-Castro three-way birthday party and all say it again. Without the work of our all-around multimedia ninjas Todd and Justin, the Tribune’s multi-platform presence would be a shell of what it is. Many thanks, boys. Pleasure to haul around equipment, troubleshoot uploads and wildly gesture during TribLive events with you.

Journalism Next

February 6, 2010

Spent the last 36 hours in and around Arlington, TX, home of the JerryDome and University of Texas at Arlington, Stiles’ alma mater. We talked about journalism nonstop for hours; I’ve never considered or discussed journalism with that length or breadth since maybe college, and back then I wasn’t in class that often so maybe I’ve topped myself.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon with the staff of UTA’s student paper,  The Shorthorn, giving a short talk and then training (Stiles on computer assisted-reporting, me on multimedia/video). This morning we took part in back-to-back panels at a Society of Professional Journalists Career Conference for students and young professionals, where we talked convergence journalism (one of my fave topics, as you know). Apologies to the students who had to see us twice. Goodgod.

The Hu-Stiles traveling roadshow often starts with this piece from CBS’ Jeff Greenfield, which is a great introductory explanation of what convergence is, and what it means. (So much for CBS understanding the sea change though, they still don’t allow their videos to be embedded elsewhere so I had to link you instead of show you the story on this page.)

The bottom line is, distinctions between print reporters, TV reporters, radio reporters and others are quickly melting away. We’re all hybrid, multi-platform journalists now – or should prepare ourselves to be – and students should embrace it or be left behind. “It’s the cost of admission these days,” said our fellow panelist, CBS11 web editor Kent Chapline.

Here’s a sample slide… and the full audio from one of our panels is available thanks to a forward-thinking future journalist named Brooks, who is also a Plano Senior High grad. (Go Wildcats.)

My favorite part of Stiles’ slide is “don’t be evil”. He can better explain it, but this is something we both feel very strongly about as journalists. Being evil, to us, means hoarding information because you can. Not connecting audiences to the best resources because you only want them to be on your website. Not telling certain stories because it’s difficult or not sexy or doesn’t tie to revenue goals. That’s evil. Not allowing your video to be embedded other places is evil. Not linking out to other blogs and helpful sites is evil. Not using open source and free journalism tools like Google Docs and Flickr or Audacity because you only want to use your own stuff is silly, and if it’s keeping good info from viewers and readers, it’s evil. Using social media solely to push your own stuff and not have a conversation is not quite evil, but it’s a poor use of social networks.

We, as journalists, are information sharers. In a time when information is everywhere all the time, we oughta be information finders and sorters and filters – people who help provide greater context, explanation, digging – to help news make better sense to people or help it better connect to their worlds. We can’t do it if we believe other finders and sorters and diggers out there aren’t worthy of linking to or promoting or teaming up with. Don’t be evil.

Emerging from the Hole

November 4, 2009

I’m not a parent, but I feel like a team of us at The Texas Tribune just birthed a baby. We launched early Tuesday morning, and to follow the metaphor, we know the hard work is just beginning.

Together, we worked 12 to 18 hour days for something like two and a half weeks straight. The developers were given 90 wireframes of designs and features to code, and only three to four weeks to code it. We didn’t outsource the work to Bangalore, and we are a site run on all custom systems – from our content management system, down to the widget all staffers have on their laptops in order to link stories to “TribWire”.

By the wee small hours of launch, my eyes looked like roadmaps, it was Tuesday but I thought it was Thursday, my emotional bandwith ran so low that I would start crying spontaneously, and all of us survived on food being brought in to us so we wouldn’t have to leave the building in order to eat.

I realized how removed from the world I became when someone told me there was a Michael Jackson documentary coming out, and I’d never heard of it before.

The site is now live, and the incredible response we collectively received from the national press and tech geeks and smarmy lobbyists and people who don’t even like politics has been enough to induce tears — this time, the happy kind. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked, but the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. We mean it when we say this has purpose.

Those of us who graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism know Walter Williams’ creed well. It begins like this:

“I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.”

Ever since the day I graduated from college and started working in journalism, I’ve observed the slow whittling away of the public service part of what we do in order to meet the high stakes demands of turning a profit. Our founder, John Thornton, who started the Tribune as his personal form of philanthropy, decided that you can’t serve both God and mammon. That journalism plus business equals business, and in starting and being a non-profit-by-choice we can throw every dollar we raise straight back into the product and our mission – journalism that matters.

This whole experience has been nothing short of a series of small miracles. In my personal life, had this not come along, who knows what Stiles and I would have had to sacrifice in order to be in the same city. In my professional life, had the Tribune’s Evan Smith and Ross Ramsey not called, I may have wandered out of this craft that I love. On many, many fronts,  I am so grateful. We’re exhausted but exhilarated.

More than 1,000 people crowded an Austin bar last night to celebrate our coming out. I cried (again) when I saw my friends who I’ve missed seeing so much. Thank you a million, gazillion times for supporting this financially, intellectually and in spirit.

Finally, I think y’all know that part of the reason I love my new job so much is because I get to mess around a little and exercise creative freedom as much as there’s time in the day. Our site developers are so awesomely geeky that I used my little pocket Canon to catch some moments in the early morning hours before launch. Here’s to the boys.