Tag Archives: journalists

Media convergence: Can it work in smaller media markets?

For a time when I worked at the Longview News-Journal in the mid-1990s, the area NBC-TV affiliate, KETK, had a news studio in the basement of the News-Journal building. Given the longstanding antipathy between newspaper and TV reporters, it was strange to see the full-color NBC peacock and the call letters “KETK” emblazoned on the side of the red brick newspaper building. But the LNJ had empty space in its basement, and Tyler-based KETK needed a studio for its Longview reporters and production team, so the arrangement benefited both parties.

Photo illustration accompanying the Nov. 5, 2010, story about the partnership between the Longview News-Journal and KETK-TV.

During that same time, the newspaper and the TV station had another arrangement. The LNJ published KETK’s daily weather forecast, along with photos of the station’s meteorologists, and the anchors on KETK’s 10 p.m. newscast promoted the major stories that would appear in the next day’s News-Journal. This partnership lasted a year or two, and then faded out. KETK moved its studio to another Longview office building, and its call letters and the peacock came off the side of the News-Journal building.

I don’t recall a lot of dismay among newsroom reporters and editors about the News-Journal’s arrangement with KETK. Though we liked to make fun of the anchors and reporters on all three area stations, we could see the benefit of having our stories promoted on the nightly newscasts. None of us realized that the partnership between the News-Journal and KETK was an early example of media convergence; I doubt any of us knew what that was.

According to Dailey, Demo, and Spillman, as cited in DeMars (2009), the arrangement between the News-Journal and KETK was an example of the two lowest levels in their convergence continuum model: cross promotion and cloning. The LNJ promoted KETK’s weather and meteorologists, and KETK promoted the LNJ’s major stories.

The New Media City on a Hill

What once was old is new again

That was then, this is now: On Nov. 5, the News-Journal and KETK announced a partnership that goes further than just cross promotion. According to identical stories on the News-Journal and KETK websites, “You’ll see Longview News-Journal reports and staff featured on KETK and FOX 51. You’ll also see KETK and FOX 51 news team members in the Longview News-Journal and its partner newspapers” (Wesp, 2010, para. 5). This new affiliation would fit into Dailey et al.’s third and fourth levels of convergence: “coopetition” and content sharing.

Here are the definitions of Dailey et al.’s five levels of convergence activity, as cited in DeMars (2009):

  • Cross-promotion: Partners promote each other’s stories. For example, the TV station promotes stories that will be in the next day’s paper on its 10 p.m. news.
  • Cloning: Partners copy each other’s content, as in a newspaper publishing a local TV station’s weather report.
  • “Coopetition”: The partners both cooperate and compete with each other in the pursuit of news.
  • Content sharing: Partners “share repackaged content and sometimes even budgets” (p. 205).
  • Full convergence:  “The partners fully share in gathering and disseminating news, with a common goal of using each medium’s unique strength” (p. 205).

Some level of cooperation between newspaper and TV stations in smaller markets is becoming more common. Earlier this year, The Tyler Morning Telegraph joined forces with local TV station CBS 19 in a similar partnership. Morning-Telegraph reporters and editors appear on CBS 19 newscasts, and CBS 19 reporters write short stories for the paper.

Media convergence and the bottom line

In fall 2003, DeMars (2009) surveyed nine newspapers and 17 television stations in smaller media markets in Texas. Out of those, seven newspapers and 10 TV stations were working with other news media. A majority said their convergence efforts had been positive. Most said their primary reason to experiment with convergence was to better position themselves in the market; providing better service to the market was a close second. It seems that the glue holding these partnerships together is economics: the partners believe these arrangements will save or perhaps even make them money.

DeMars (2009) also conducted an ethnographic case study of convergence in Quincy, Ill., where one company owned the paper, the local NBC-TV affiliate, a cable-only Fox affiliate, local broadcast radio stations, and a website. He concluded that during the two years the newspaper and broadcast outlets worked together, the parent company benefited financially because of reduced costs. The quality of news-gathering didn’t suffer and, because all the media outlets were owned by one company, personal relationships and social networking were able to overcome the biases that print and broadcast journalists held about each other.

Finally, DeMars (2009) outlines three trends that he thinks will determine the future of convergence:

  • The addition of mobile media, including smart phones and now the iPad and similar devices, into the converged media mix.
  • New competition from Google and Yahoo! as they and other sites create and distribute local content.
  • The continued growth of citizen journalism through websites, podcasts, blogs, and video.

Economic pressure trumps technological advances and altruism

The findings of Keith & Silcock (2009) were somewhat different. They compared two examples of media convergence: The Arizona Republic’s partnership with KPNX-TV in Phoenix – both owned by Gannett Co. Inc. – and The Tampa Tribune’s partnership with WFLA-TV and Tampa Bay Online, also owned by the same company, Media General. Keith & Silcock did one round of interviews in 2002 and another three years later. While the Tampa arrangement hadn’t changed much, the partnership in Phoenix had. Having multimedia editors and a videographer working out of the paper’s newsroom didn’t turn out to be profitable. Newspaper circulation and television ratings didn’t go up. This confirms the suspicion that many media analysts have:

… that convergence has been as much a result of economic pressure as [of] technological advances and altruistic attempts to provide news in multiple ways to time-starved audiences. If the nation’s largest newspaper company, Gannett, cannot figure a way to make money from substantial, daily acts of convergence by a television station and newspaper under common ownership – one of the factors that usually promotes convergence (Quinn, 2005) – what does that suggest about the longevity of convergence partnerships between partners owned by different groups? (p. 226)

So, once again, does it all come down to money? Does the success or failure of convergence depend on how much it can cut media companies’ losses or boost their profits? I think the answer is a qualified yes. In the past couple of decades, most media companies seem to have mastered the science of losing money. They don’t need to adopt yet another way to generate red ink. But they can’t see a clear way ahead.

They are like the blind men in the fable who stumble onto an elephant and are trying to determine what it is. One man grabs the tale and says, “It’s like a rope!” Another blind man grasps one a massive leg: “No, it’s like a tree,” he says. A third seizes the elephant’s writhing trunk: “You’re both wrong. It’s like a snake,” he says. Each is right about the part of the elephant that he holds in his hand, but none of them has a clue about what an elephant really is. Media analysts, media owners, media scholars, and journalists – none of us – know how to successfully deliver news in the new media environment. We may grasp part of the new media “elephant,” but we can’t yet see the whole.

References

DeMars, T. (2009). News convergence arrangements in smaller media markets. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 204-220. New York: Oxford University Press.

Keith, S. & Silcock, B.W. (2009). Beyond the “Tower of Babel”: Ideas for future research in media convergence. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 204-220. New York: Oxford University Press.

McLellan, M (2010, Nov. 15). Key to culture change: Unlock the middle. News Leadership 3.0 [Web blog]. Retrieved from http://www.knightdigitalmediacenter.org/leadership_blog/comments/20101114_serious_about_culture_change_work_the_middle/

Wesp, M. (2010, Nov. 5). KETK & Fox 51 to partner with Longview News-Journal. KETK Website. Retrieved from http://www.ketknbc.com/news/ketk-fox51-to-partner-with-longview-news-journal

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Journalism: The journey continues despite the potholes and perils of new media

Journalism. Journey. Two very similar words.

“Journalism” comes from “journal,” which is, according to Dictionary.com, “1. a daily record of occurrences, experiences, or observations. … 2. a newspaper, especially a daily one.” “Journal” in turn originated during the mid-14th century; it came down through French from the Latin diurnalis, meaning daily, Wikipedia says.

Journey” is “1. a traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; trip. … 2. a distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling,” according to Dictionary.com. It is derived from the Latin diurnata, which means a day’s time.

So both journalism and journey come from the same Latin root, which seems appropriate. Good journalism takes the audience on a journey through the story. The journalist who crafts the story is essentially a mapmaker, laying out the route so that readers/listeners/viewers can follow it through to its destination. Good journalists draw clear maps with understandable directions, so that readers/listeners/viewers can follow the path and avoid hacking a new trail through thickets of unnecessary and confusing words or images.

This week’s readings are all about the journey that the field of journalism is taking through the still alien landscape of new media. None of us on the journey really knows where we are going, though more and more journalists – and those invested in turning a profit from journalism in the new media age – are offering maps of their own design. Some of the paths on the map look promising, but the destination remains unclear.

Every place has a story

Clark (2010) got me thinking about this, with her pitch for “location-aware” storytelling. She says:

Maps are powerful tools. In fact I’ve come to believe that the best journalism is like a map. It shows where you are in relation to others; it provides a sense of topography and can show the best path forward. Whatever the purpose is of a particular piece of journalism – breaking a story, investigating corruption, giving voice to the voiceless – when the job is done well, a new place in this world emerges or new understanding of a familiar one is gained. Effective storytelling helps citizens and communities discover where they are (sometimes by examining who they are). From there, they can better decide where they want to go. (para. 9)

She makes a compelling case for crafting stories that, using new media and location software, have lots of information about a place embedded in them. Clark describes “harnessing the fleeting but powerful investment that people have in a place when they are physically in it” (para. 24) through geotagging software and communication tools such as Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla. But rather than being overwhelmed by digital data about a particular place, journalists can filter and present relevant data and stories.

I see a world where narratives are draped on a landscape, and the news of a region is not just about what’s new. Place provides an alternative organizing principle for journalism, prompting questions about what forces – economic, political, environmental, cultural, personal – shape one spot in the world. (para. 26)

Using geotagged data and stories and new media devices such as smart phones, reporters can reconnect people to place.

 

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler

 

I find this very intriguing. I work at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, which is on the site of Camp Fannin, a base set up by the U.S. Army in 1942 to train infantry for World War II. After the war ended, the base was decommissioned and the federal government gave the state of Texas the base’s 1,000-bed barracks hospital and 614 acres for a tuberculosis hospital. Thousands of people with TB were treated there from the late 1940s through the 1960s. As the number of people with TB shrank because of new, more effective drugs, the state gave the hospital authority to treat other diseases of the chest.

 

Camp Fannin World War II Veterans Memorial

 

The hospital and its clinics joined The University of Texas System in 1977, and eventually became what it is now, an academic medical center with clinics, a hospital, and a biomedical research facility. So there are layers upon layers upon layers of narratives draped all over this specific piece of East Texas. It would be fascinating to point a smart phone at the Biomedical Research Center, for example, and learn that it was built in 1986, close to the site of Camp Fannin’s original barracks hospital, and that a new $11.3 million research wing was completed in 2005. You could also find out how much federal and private grant funding the center received last year, and see a profile of a particular scientist who specializes in lung disease research.

The really real versus virtual reality

My only concern is that, once again, people will be staring at their digital devices rather than observing the real world around them. So, will they really be more connected to that specific place? Yes, if they use that information to better understand the history of the place and put it in a broader context. No, if they just focus on the information coming out of their digital devices. Theoretically, a virtual reconstruction of an important moment in the history of a place could be more compelling than the place itself.

The results of Huang’s (2009) study of how youths from 15 to 30 get their news show just how compelling news presented on digital devices, particularly the Internet, can be. Surveys and interviews for the study were conducted in 2007, just as the first iPhone was being released, and most of the youths at that time found mobile digital devices such as smart phones too expensive and too complicated. Most of the youths preferred to get their news on the Internet. At least they say they are interested in news. They want to keep up with current events and they trust established news organizations. But they want to be able to access news anytime and almost anywhere. They want to control what news they access and how they access it. They don’t want day-old news from newspapers, especially when that news tends to be boring and depressing. And the TV newscast format is dated. However, with the Internet they have almost instant access to the latest news in an attractive and entertaining format.

The newspaper, as a social entity, has largely lost its roots among young people. … True convergence, based on the findings from this study, needs to be realized on the Internet. It is very likely that the “paper” part of newspapers will gradually become a nostalgic concept, and TV and radio will be assimilated into online news presentations. Enriching rich media on news websites to truly converge TV and the Internet is the future for the younger generation. (p. 118)

My sentimental journey

 

My morning ritual

 

I think the map of journalism’s journey through new media that Huang presents is plausible. Even though I grew up reading a daily newspaper, I now get so much more of the information that I need from the Internet. Maybe it’s taking this New Media class, but I already feel nostalgic reading my Tyler Morning Telegraph and Dallas Morning News every day. And I’m stopping my subscription to the print version of The Wall Street Journal because, again, I can get everything I want and need from the online version. I feel as if I’ve surrendered to the inevitable March of Progress, sad and guilty. I’ve tossed aside my trusted and well-creased paper map in favor of the latest digital GPS system. I just hope it doesn’t lead me astray.

Daniels’ (2009) study tries to determine if one converged news organization has taken the right road. He finds that convergence works well with enterprise stories and sports stories, because the print and TV media use their different resources effectively. But the arrangement doesn’t work as well with breaking news. Other non-converged news organizations seem to do as well on those stories. So the journey to full convergence continues, with the knowledge that it can work.

References

Briggs, M. (2009). Building a digital audience for news. In Journalism Next, pp. 310-334. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Clark, K. (2010, Summer). Journalism on the map: A case for location-aware storytelling. Nieman Reports [Online version]. Retrieved from http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reportsitem.aspx?id=102425

Daniels, G.L. (2009).On linkages and levels: Using theory to assess the effect of
converged structures on new products. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.),
Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 164-181. New
York: Oxford University Press.

Huang, E. (2009). The Causes of Youths’ Low News Consumption and Strategies for Making Youths Happy News Consumers. [Article]. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(1), 105-122. doi: 10.1177/1354856508097021

What is newsroom culture? And why should anyone care?

During the 20 or so years I spent working as an editor and reporter at two small daily papers in Texas, there was one ritual that seldom varied. One or more reporters and/or editors would gather around the newsroom television to watch the local evening news. The purpose was to make sure the TV stations hadn’t scooped us, that tomorrow’s paper would have all the important news that readers had seen on local TV the night before.

WNBC-TV news anchor Chuck Scarborough, right, with co-anchor Lynda Baquero at NBC Studios in Manhattan.

Well, that was the stated reason we watched the newscasts. However, it was also an opportunity for us to smugly note how many of the stories on those newscasts had been published in that day’s paper. What would the TV reporters do if they didn’t have us to get their stories for them, we’d ask. They just rip their stories from our headlines, we’d say. The irony that we were doing exactly the same thing – watching their news broadcast for any stories we might have missed – escaped us. It was (and probably is) part of the newsroom culture in newspapers to disparage TV reporters and their stations. We were just expressing our cultural solidarity by reaffirming our superiority as print journalists.

This week’s readings focus on newsroom culture and how it can advance or hinder journalists’ innovative use of the Internet and their willingness to work with journalists from other media in a convergent environment.

The Jetsons

Steensen (2009) examines the cultural forces that prevent new Web-based technology from being fully exploited in newsrooms, as well as the factors that influence the development of innovation in online newsrooms. He is concerned with “the firm grounding of theoretical abstractions in empirically based newsroom production studies, rather than the technological determinism and utopian prophesies that marked earlier new media research” (p.821). In other words, despite the amazingly rapid creation and transformation of the Internet – which was almost unknown to the general public until the 1990s – we’re not living in the media equivalent of the world of “The Jetsons.”

How innovations develop

In his review of literature on innovation, Steensen (2009) argues that the way to investigate innovation is by examining “the interaction of structural influences” and the actions of individuals (Slappendale, 1996, p. 109)” (p. 823). He cites work by Boczkowski published in 2004:

(Bockzkowski) identified three factors as important in how such innovations develop – all focusing on the structural characteristics of the organizations: the closeness of the relationship between the print and online newsrooms; whether the online newsroom reproduces editorial gatekeeping or finds alternative work cultures; and whether the intended audience is represented as consumers or producers, as technically savvy or unsavvy (Boczkowski, 2004, pp. 171-172). (p. 824)

Steensen conducted an ethnographic study of dagbladet.no, a Swedish online newspaper that launched an online feature section in 2002. He conducted four months of ethnographic observation of the newsroom – as well as extensive interviews – over a three year period. I was fascinated by his study and his insights about issues of autonomy and democratic leadership. He contends that a theory of innovation in online newspapers has to include “newsroom autonomy, work culture, the role of management, the relevance of new technology and innovative individuals” (2009, p. 821). Steensen says the factors that influence innovation are both integrated and complex, and they often depend on the actions of individuals. Each newsroom work culture is unique, and an approach to innovation that works in one newsroom may not work in another one.

Newspaper newsroom

Filak (2009) discusses newsroom culture and how it has been and continues to be an impediment to change. Eighty percent of newsrooms have a defensive culture, Filak says, citing a 2001 study by the Media Management Center at Northwestern University. “Defensive cultures resist change and eschew collaboration outside of their cultural group” (p. 118). As a thoroughly indoctrinated former member of newsroom culture, I think Filak is mostly correct: journalists tend to be defensive and so they create a defensive culture.

However, there are concrete reasons for this. Many citizens have an “us versus them” attitude about the media and its representatives. They belittle journalists – sometimes to their faces – and disparage the job that they do, while at the same time consuming articles written by the people they profess to despise. Journalists are like cops: many of them grow defensive and cynical because they deal with people every day who they know are lying to them about something. Journalists also tend to be outsiders; they see themselves as observers, not necessarily as active participants in the world around them. And then there are the people who let you know that your story has ruined their lives. Few journalists have been spared this condemnation.

Journalist as ‘confidence man’

Finally, for many journalists, there’s that uncomfortable feeling of guilt that maybe you have ruined someone’s life. In The Journalist and the Murderer (1990), Janet Malcolm strips away the platitudes that journalists hide behind, such as their stated dedication to ferreting out the truth and the public’s right to know. She bares the journalist’s soul.

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. (Malcolm, 1990, p. 3)

When the article is published or the story airs, the subject of the story realizes that his story has not been told; the journalist has instead told her interpretation of the subject’s story. Malcolm contends that what really upsets the subject is the deception the journalist uses. The journalist who seemed so sympathetic and supportive while interviewing or shadowing the subject as he went about his daily life was just feigning compassion to get the story.

Filak (2009) discusses several theories that have been used to study newsroom convergence, where print and broadcast reporters and editors are trying to work together to survive and thrive in today’s complex and confusing media world. He describes social identity theory, which argues that each individual is defined by the groups that he or she belongs to or identifies with. Then he outlines three different models that can be applied to newsroom culture:

  • decategorized contact model – individuals’ awareness of their group identity fosters group-based biases;
  • common in-group identity model – previously competing factions are encouraged to create a common in-group; it’s no longer “us” versus “them”; it’s now “we.”
  • mutual intergroup differentiation model – rather than breaking down boundaries between groups, you emphasize the positive aspects of each group and promote interaction to reach a common goal.

Filak favors the mutual intergroup differentiation model because it lets individuals play “to their strengths while advancing a common goal of information gathering and storytelling” (p. 129).

Today journalists in all media are having difficulty finding their footing in the shifting sands of news delivery and consumption. How will news and information be delivered? Who will decide what is news and what information is needed? Who, if anyone, will pay for this information or for the analysis of this information? Answers to these questions remain elusive, and it’s hard to see what the “new normal” will be in this field in five or 10 years. But Steensen and Filak offer insight into how we might be able to figure it out.

References

Filak, V.F. (2009). Culture, conflict, convergence: A theoretical discussion of group-based identity and bias reduction in a converged newsroom. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 117-134. New York: Oxford University Press.

Malcolm, J. (1990). The journalist and the murderer. New York: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc.

Steensen, S. (2009). What’s stopping them? [Article]. Journalism Studies, 10(6), 821-836. doi: 10.1080/14616700902975087

Journalism: What Value Does It Have, Anyway?

Unlike the readings from last week, week seven, these articles did not require the literary equivalent of a machete to slash a way through pages and pages of impenetrable prose in order to arrive at the sacred temple of understanding. This week’s readings were relatively straightforward. Yet they still left me feeling bewildered, not knowing which way to go, in a metaphorical sense, and despairing of ever finding my way.

The more I know about the wonders and miracles of the new media and its Internet connections, the less I seem to understand. There are so many shiny bells and whistles and distractions, all clamoring for my attention. And it seems the shiniest ones with the latest technical gadgets are often the least important. For example, watch the video promoting Flipboard for iPAD. Note how the guy using Flipboard is so intent on seeing what his friends have sent him to read or view on his iPad, that he ignores them when they walk up to him.

My bewilderment began with the article by Legrand (2010) on how to make videos more interactive. Some of his suggestions are quite simple, such as allowing viewers to comment on a video and then responding to their comments. But others involve building a virtual studio in Second Life – a virtual reality site – or using wikis or a “collaborative mindmap” (???) to ask for help from potential viewers when preparing a video interview. It seems the ways to interact with your audience are limitless, but the time you can devote to mastering them is not.

And will the content that is communicated matter to anyone? So much of the focus in new media is on the channels of communication, not the content. There’s also a tendency, I think, to “dress up” the content to make it as dazzling as the channels it’s flowing through. Scandal, gossip, and titillating revelations lend themselves to bells and whistles. The danger is that the “information” or “news” may be the new media equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes: when you look at it closely, there’s nothing there.

Social movement organizations and alternative media

Photo of the 1976 Philadelphia Bicentennial Celebration, by Jim Ryan

No one talks about all the time spent perfecting how your content is presented and communicated, how it looks and sounds. We only have so much time, and time spent creating a stunning presentation is time not spent creating meaningful content.

Stein (2009) discusses how – and if – social movement organizations (SMOs) are using the Internet to communicate their messages to potential supporters and donors and to receive feedback from these audiences. In her research, conducted from February through May of 2006, Stein doesn’t mention social media, per se. Rather she focuses on how the SMOs’ use their websites to interact with their audience.

[C]ommunication scholars have suggested that the internet can serve as an important resource for social movement communication, providing movements with communication opportunities not available in the mainstream media or alternative forms of movement media. Social movements can use the internet to bypass mainstream media gatekeepers or repressive governments and communicate directly with their constituencies and the broader public. (2009, p.750)

Stein (2009) cites research that equates movement media with alternative media, in that the goal of both is social change and the undermining of the power structure.

Logo of The Rag, an underground newspaper in Austin, Texas, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

When she mentioned alternative media, I thought of The Rag, an underground newspaper that operated in Austin in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was definitely alternative media, featuring news coverage and commentary on the Vietnamese War and the peace movement, as well as civil rights issues, student freedom issues, and the ‘60s counterculture.

And it was influential, as I know from my own experience as an Austin High School student at the time. Some college-age kids tried to sell The Rag on the Austin High campus one day and were summarily escorted off the property. It was a subversive newspaper, and the Austin power structure at the time didn’t like it. The Rag was published on cheap newsprint and the layout wasn’t very attractive; it was very old media. But its content could motivate people to action, and that is the point of social movements.

The results of Stein’s analysis of a random sampling of websites run by national social movement organizations in the United States reveals that most aren’t taking full advantage of their websites’ potential. While most do provide information about their social movement or cause, only about one-third frequently use their websites to coordinate actions and mobilize their supporters. Just one-third commonly use their websites for fundraising and resource development. And almost half frequently link to other organizations and resources that support or benefit their causes. Very few use interactive techniques or encourage dialog on their sites, or allow for creative expression from their supporters. It may be that they lack the resources needed to fully exploit Internet technology, or their goals and strategies may not fit this technology. For example, some SMOs may not feel that computer-mediated communication is the best way to build trust and reinforce the commitment of its members.

Social movement organizations and social media

This research was done in early 2006, before Twitter and before Facebook was open to the general public. I wonder how the SMOs are using social media to communicate and inspire their followers. Social media seem very well-suited to organizing people, promoting feedback and dialog, and keeping people in touch with what is going on. And a Facebook page or Twitter account doesn’t cost anything to keep up, except, once again, time.

Finally, Wilkinson (2009) attempts to outline what “our field” – journalism – is, and what unique value it brings to the world. Sadly, much of what he discusses implies that it’s not really worth all that much, and other fields are rapidly invading “our” territory. He examines four professions that are content providers and manipulators in the new media world: art and architecture, law, medicine, education, and government. These areas are developing their own “media specialists” (full disclaimer: I am a media specialist in the medical world). “Practitioners in these fields are also creating messages for mass audiences. By creating content with entertainment and information value, using digital technologies and delivery systems, we have entered a period of social and economic Darwinism” (p. 99). I fear this evolutionary struggle will result in survival of the most entertaining – in other words, the news and information decked out in the trendiest media fashions. And that is probably not a good thing.

Then Wilkinson composes two daunting lists of qualities and expertise that a journalist needs today. No one could possibly master all of these skills well enough to do the associated tasks. And, again, the focus is on the form the information takes, not the information itself. But the form is useless without the content. Wilkinson throws journalists a sop, when he says, “The tools of journalism are the critical thinking and interpersonal skills – dealing with people that journalism educators have championed since the beginning” (p. 110). The problem is that fewer and fewer people seem to understand “critical thinking.” They don’t use it to evaluate the information they receive, so how can they value it in others?

References

Legrand, R. (2010, Aug. 17). 10 Ways to make video a more interactive experience

[Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2010/08/10-ways-to-make-video-a-more-interactive-experience-229.html

Stein, L. (2009). Social movement web use in theory and practice: a content analysis of U.S. movement websites. [Article]. New Media & Society, 11(5), 749-771. doi: 10.1177/1461444809105350

Wilkinson, J.S. (2009). Converging communication, colliding cultures: Shifting boundaries and the meaning of “our field.” In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 98-116. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tyler Morning Telegraph publishes editorial on Page One — ABOVE the masthead

In an almost unprecedented move, the Tyler Morning Telegraph — a newspaper with a very conservative editorial stance — published an editorial in the Sunday, Oct. 3, paper chastising Texas Gov. Rick Perry for refusing to meet with any newspaper editorial boards during his current campaign for an umpteenth term.

That the Tyler paper would take Gov. Perry to task is pretty amazing. What is truly stunning is that they did it with a long editorial at the very top of Page One, above the paper’s masthead. And they signed it, from Publisher Nelson Clyde and Editor Dave Berry on down to City Editor Megan Middleton. Click here to read the editorial.

I’ve lived in Tyler for almost 20 years, and as far as I can remember, I have never seen an editorial that was above the masthead. For those of us who are current and former journalists and newspaper people, this is a HUGE deal. As a friend of mine at the paper said, it’s the print equivalent of shouting.

 

Gov. Rick Perry at work

 

Gov. Perry apparently feels that he no longer needs the “old media,” so he doesn’t have to submit himself to the hard questions that newspaper editors and publishers sometimes ask. This year, the hard questions likely would have centered around how he plans to deal with a state budget deficit estimated to be from $18 billion to $21 billion.

An editorial above a paper’s masthead carries a lot of weight because of its prominent position. It’s hard to achieve that level of prominence on a Web page. Maybe you could have the editorial or a really big story drop down over the Web page and open up right in front of you, like some of the really annoying Internet ads do. But, in general, Web pages are full of flashy images and bells and whistles, so it’s hard to identify the  most important story on each page. The print edition is unambiguous; you know the most important article on Page One is the editorial.

Blogs: Black Market Journalism or New News Product?

While reading these three academic articles about the role and evolution of Web logs – more commonly known as blogs – I was struck by how dated they seemed. The oldest article, by Robinson, was published just four years ago, and the other two articles were published in 2008 and 2009.

Yet four years can seem like decades in the world of the Internet and new media. Murley (2009) was the only author to mention Facebook, because it didn’t exist in 2006 and was just taking off in 2008.

Whether reading about blogs as a form of postmodern writing (Robinson, 2006) or as a way to allow new voices to take part in a mediated discussion (Murley, 2009), this all seemed like old news to me. I felt that I was reading about blogs’ past, not how they function now, or how they may function in the future.

And that made me wonder about the relevance of the traditional academic publishing process when compared with the speed at which new media evolves. In the academic milieu, researchers typically measure and analyze data one year, submit their paper or book chapter the next year, and see their work published the following year.

By that time – two or three years after the data were collected and analyzed – the research question or problem may be irrelevant to current new media issues. It may provide insight into the history of new media, but it won’t help us understand new media now or predict its future.

The “j-blog”

Robinson (2006) sets out to analyze the “j-blog” – any blog written by a mainstream journalist. She conducts a textual analysis of a number of j-blogs with three questions in mind:

  1. Do these blogs uphold the standards of traditional journalism?
  2. How are truth, independence, credibility, and authorship established in these blogs?
  3. How do journalists “negotiate and (re)interpret traditional news frames and journalistic authority in the online medium?” (p. 69)

She cites numerous examples of “news repair,” when bloggers or their readers attempt to correct what they perceive as errors in previous blog posts, the mainstream print or broadcast news product, or other blogs.

In addition, she discusses the postmodern nature of blogs. Even journalists who blog may change the original information or opinion they posted in light of other bloggers’ comments or new data, she says.

Robinson concludes that blogs are a new form of journalism, and that they are postmodern, presenting multiple truths and “various interpretations of the day’s news, ‘unfiltered’ and ‘unedited’” (p. 79).

Yet journalists will only go so far, she says. They conduct news repair by criticizing blogs by non-journalists that fail to meet journalistic standards. They let readers change the content of the blog, but then link to other sources that provide different information or opinions, Robinson says.

Blogs’ effect on news coverage

In 2010, it seems safe to say that blogs – whether written by journalists or not – have changed the way mainstream journalism organizations cover the news. These organizations now are forced to cover events that would not have been news or that they would not have been aware of a few years ago.

The recent flap over an African-American Department of Agriculture official who appeared to make racist remarks in excerpts from a videotaped speech at an NAACP banquet is one example of that. The story was picked up by a conservative blogger and quickly spread over the Internet, forcing mainstream news media to cover it.

Disappointingly, these media initially did not fully investigate the story, which led to a lot of embarrassment when an airing of the full video showed the official telling a tale of personal redemption from racism. We will see if this incident gives mainstream media – or bloggers, for that matter – any pause the next time a politically inflammatory story runs wild on the Internet.

I wish I had Robinson’s faith that readers can distinguish between traditional news stories by mainstream media and the opinions and unsupported observations of an independent – or, more often, politically biased – blogger.

Too many otherwise intelligent people appear to believe almost anything they read on the Internet if it comes from a legitimate-looking website or blog. I hope this changes over time, and that readers become at least as skeptical of blog posts as they are of their own government.

Sweetser, et al, (2008) take up this issue of credibility, examining if journalists and public relations practitioners who use blogs think they are credible. They conclude that those who use blogs frequently think blogs are more credible than those who rarely use blogs.

They cite research that shows bloggers find blogs highly credible, while traditional news outlets are only moderately credible. And bloggers think other bloggers’ bias and lack of professional affiliation makes them more credible, not less.

An extension of work

Sweetser, et al, conclude that professional communicators use blogs as an extension of their work. According to their analysis, journalists tend to use blogs interactively, writing blogs and dialoging with their readers.

However, public relations professionals are more likely to monitor blogs about their organization and industry, rather than write their own blogs or actively engage with readers. This may be because media organizations have pushed journalists to blog, while PR professionals have been warned about the dangers of blogs and blogging, Sweetser, et al, say.

As a former journalist and current PR practitioner, this makes sense to me. For a journalist, the back and forth of blogging is not that different from having readers comment online, in letters to the editor, or by phone on a story.

But PR professionals have to be sure that blog posts cannot be used against the organization or company they represent. On the other hand, monitoring blogs that concern their field or industry can provide useful information.

I think PR professionals are becoming less wary of online interaction with customers or the public. The popularity of corporate Facebook pages seems to indicate that, even if the effectiveness of corporations’ use of social media remains questionable.

Murley (2009) gives a brief overview of the development of blogs and their historical, pre-Internet roots. He says their most important contribution to the media landscape “has been their ability to infuse new and different voices into the mediated discussion” (p. 245).

He notes that blog use is different in other countries, with higher percentages of Chinese and Japanese reading blogs compared with residents of the United States.

Blogs: The future or a fad?

Murley also points out the dangers of either miscalculating blogs’ effect and reach or devaluing them as a fad. They may be a fad, in that some other form of Internet communication may take their place, but the personalization, participation, and connection of this kind of communication is not going away.

As I read these three articles, it seemed to me that one issue continues to be hashed out in the blogosphere: the issue of control.

Who has control: the mainstream media, which still generate the vast majority of the news bloggers comment on or add to; the bloggers themselves, some of whom are powerful enough to generate news on their own; or the readers, who ultimately will determine what kind of news they want and who they trust.

Mainstream media appear to be losing control of the news and bloggers seem to be gaining some power, along with readers/consumers of news. This may be good news if you’re a postmodernist who doesn’t like hegemony, but it will be a scarier and more chaotic world if there is no “news authority” to at least provide some guidance about which sources are credible.

References

Murley, B. (2009). Web logs: Democratizing media production. In A.E. Grant & J.S. Wilkinson (Eds.), Understanding media convergence: The state of the field, pp. 234-238. New York: Oxford University Press.

Robinson, S. (2006, January). The mission of the j-blog: Recapturing journalistic authority online. Journalism: Theory, practice, and criticism, 7, 65-83.

Sweetser, K.D., Porter, L.V., Chung, D.S., & Kim, E. (2008, April). Credibility and the use of blogs among professionals in the communication industry. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 85, 169-185.