Archive for March, 2009

Content Part III

At work last night, I came across a story that got me thinking: a national story about Earth Hour. We’d covered Earth Hour like crazy in the week leading up to it and it was a given it would have to go in the paper.

In Canada goes dark for Earth Hour, the reporter quoted from the official Earth Hour Facebook site, a blogger in Ottawa, a blogger in Halifax, a person who attended an Earth Hour event in Toronto, an Ontario electricity spokesperson, the Earth Hour website, a Canadian Tire store’s website, an online activity list for a school in Alberta and a woman named Evelyn.

So of nine sources quoted in the story (an impressive number on the surface), two were from apparent interviews and seven were from online research.

My opinion on this is just my own opinion — other editors and reporters obviously feel differently — but to me, this is bad reporting, for two reasons.

  1. It’s lazy. Instead of doing the legwork and setting up interviews, the reporter surfs the Internet. Quoting from blogs and websites and Facebook pages sometimes has its place, but to build an article mainly around that is lazy. Interviews are two-way streets, with follow-up questions and interaction, and are a much better way to collect information.
  2. It’s dangerous. If we as journalists are just quoting from websites and blogs, what in the world do we have to offer that websites and blogs don’t offer? Why don’t we just make a bunch of links for our readers and abandon ship?

(A note: the version that ran in our paper, with a photo from Ottawa, was shortened, partly for space reasons.)

Now, the Internet is no doubt an amazing tool for journalists (I find it so hard to imagine/remember what it was like when I didn’t have a Google query at my fingertips for any question). It provides so many more tools for finding sources and researching issues. But should it become a substitution for interview-based reporting?

My answer to that is no. A vehement no. And it goes back to the argument I made in the Content Content Content post: The most valuable thing news organizations have to offer is the original reporting, the information you can’t get anywhere else.

Maybe you could make the argument that news organizations could provide a role in writing stories based on Internet research because the reporter is still doing the valuable job of spending the time browsing the sites and condensing the information down to a 500-word story. But it is still just a regurgitation of information that is already out there and in my opinion, our time should be better spent bringing new information to the table.

Content (part II)

Further to yesterday’s post:

Beatblogging.org also wrote about Gazette Communication yesterday and today posted a Q&A with Steve Buttry. He talks about how he doesn’t know if the revenue side is undergoing the same radical transformation as the content production side. He also gives a bit more information about what the (former) reporters will be doing: “We are separating our content operation entirely from our product operation. Our reporters will be blogging, but they are going to be multitasking entrepreneurial journalists.”

And it’s going fast. April 6 is the target date for the transformation. There will be a lot of news organizations watching.

Content content content

In a post at the Knight Digital Media Centre (also posted at the Newspaper Project), Steve Buttry writes about how News businesses must think about content, not just products, to ensure their survival.

The most valuable thing news organizations have to offer hasn’t changed, even though all the bells and whistles have. The most valuable thing they offer is the original reporting, the information you can’t get anywhere else. On top of that comes the commentary and analysis, but you can’t have that without the out-on-the-ground reporting.

Some organizations that are making the belated push to go online are focusing more on all the gadgets and nifty features they can now use, and taking resources away from the newsroom to do this. They’re focusing on trying to make the Internet fit into their organizational structure instead of adapting the structure to the web.

The way Buttry and Gazette Communications are going about it is smarter. He quotes Mark Briggs quoting Tom Peters quoting Visa founder Dee Hock (that’s a lot of quoting!): “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.” The quote continues (just Buttry quoting Briggs quoting Peters here): “Every enterprise (and every individual) needs a formal … Forgetting Strategy. We must be as forceful and systematic about identifying and then dumping yesterday’s baggage as we are about acquiring new baggage.”

Then Buttry describes his forgetting strategy:

So I spelled out the forgetting strategy for our staff, listing some time-honored terms and concepts in any newsroom (starting with the word “newsroom”): reporters, editors, photographers, columnists, deadlines, story lengths, space, gatekeeper, story selection … This had to start with me forgetting and forgoing my title of editor.

Buttry chooses the term “conductor” instead. And goes on to explain how the news will be gathered and disemminated, through “stories, yes, but also bulletins, updates, tweets, liveblogs, photographs, videos, multimedia, graphics, source documents, databases, links and whatever other form is appropriate.”

This is the way news organizations have to start to think.

J-source

The Canadian Journalism Project (J-source.ca) is a handy place for news specific to our dear northern country.

It’s generally a more optimistic place to go, which contributed to me being a bit cynical when I saw this post: Good News in Bad Times. I thought, they must really be stretching to talk about good news these days.

But they’re not. The post goes through the Canadian-specific “upsides” to the generally bad news out there.

  • Commercial radio: revenues steady through 2008
  • Magazines: mass circulation publications might be suffering, but some targeting magazines are actually booming
  • Newspapers: community weeklies still doing well; many dailies still profitable (but tied to the sinking albatross of their debt-laden parent companies)
  • Television: specialty channels doing well
  • Canwest’s woes: going into bankruptcy and splitting the company could be good for journalism — “If bankruptcy eliminated a whack of long-term debt from Canwest properties, the newspapers and television stations would be making money.”

Today’s news (and it’s featured on J-source too) is the CBC bloodbath (800 layoffs). Not unexpected news. But not good news.

From print to screen

At The Guardian, Roy Greenslade writes about how news organizations and journalists have to get with the program.

This thought of his is a worry to me, too.

I have long argued that we will eventually move from print to screen. What worries me, however, is that the transformation is being threatened by the immediate economic crisis. I fear that the death of print products will lead to the demise of the related online platforms too.

A corollory to that: As print products panic in the face of this economic crisis, they’re throwing resources at the Internet, but still without a PLAN on how to do it successfully and profitably. Doing it haphazardly will only hurt them in the long run.

Newspaper Death Watch

I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked from my first project: Sharing the websites I like to visit regularly. So here’s another instalment.

Newspaper Death Watch is what it says it is — a chronicle of newspapers dead and dying. It just celebrated its second birthday yesterday (March 23) but it’s been a jam-packed two years.

For anyone interested in a chronicle of the woes of the newspaper industry (focused on the U.S.), this site has already done a lot of your research for you. Generally there’s one long post Monday-Friday but when there’s news breaking on the closure of a paper, there will usually be a post on Newspaper Death Watch. Plus there’s the ever-so-encouraging Layoff Log. And R.I.P. bar.

Occasionally, Canada’s problems get a nod. It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on the States, though, because I think they’re a step ahead on the imploding-newspaper scale. For a lot of papers down there, it’s too late. But for others (like my own) it’s not too late yet and if there’s lessons to be learned, we should be learning them. More on that later.

A media mea culpa

It will be very interesting, in a few years, when some academic goes back and does an in-depth study on what the media was reporting, and when, about the financial crisis.

It’s obvious that mainstream media didn’t see the crisis coming. Toronto Star business reporter David Olive published his own mea culpa yesterday (March 22) and we’ve all watched Jon Stewart rake Jim Cramer over the coals (right?).

So mainstream missed the boat. What about the blogosphere and its myriad voices? Bloggers and online-only news sites are supposed to provide a new diversity to reporting. Did they? I’m pretty sure they did, but the real quesiton is, how many people managed to save their savings because they were following a blogger or reporter who got things right (or who reported on an analyst or expert who got things right) before the rest of us caught on.