The state of multimedia

For a long time convergence and multimedia were dirty words in many newsrooms – and that may still be the case for some.  But there is more evidence that journalists are simply embracing the idea that having more ways to distribute their stories can actually improve the quality of their work.

At the Broadcast Educators Association Convention in Las Vegas, a group of convergence researchers came together to talk about the state of multimedia.  Janet Kolodzy of Emerson College referenced a Pew Research Center report from March 2008 that indicated nearly half of all journalists now say working for the Web has made their journalism better.

But Kolodzy also warned broadcasters that “newspapers woke up in 2006, but TV is still somewhat somnolent. ”  Kolodzy went on to say that she’s seen much more evidence of “newspapers growing their own video sources vs. TV growing its own text and photos.”

The Pew research seems to support the argument that newspapers are putting more of an emphasis on the Web than their broadcast brethren.  Just 10% of those in local TV say the Web has the highest priority in their newsrooms, compared to 18% in local newspapers.

Ken Killibrew of the University of South Florida says that U.S. media are also falling behind European journalists when it comes to convergence.  He says many European publications are buying into the idea of the “news river.”

“We don’t live in a world where we put out newscasts and newspapers – we live in an ongoing stream of news,” says Killebrew.

How does that change things for journalists?  According to Killibrew it puts more of an emphasis on conversations with the audience and innovation in terms of news coverage.  He sees more use of Twitter and social networks among European journalists, as well as a belief in the “wisdom of crowds.”

He also says it can change the newsroom structures from teams to “cluster work,” in which a newsroom “works more holistically.”  For example, under this scenario, you might find a health reporter working with a business reporter and a sports editor to develop a story about the impact of a star player’s knee injury.

To learn more about what’s going on across the pond, check out the European Journalism Centre.

What’s legal online and off

With so many outlets for content these days, broadcast lawyers are busier than ever. Jerry Fritz, legal counsel for the Allbritton stations, says the vetting process for TV news is actually faster and better than it used to be because he can read scripts and watch video online before stories go on the air. But Fritz told a session at the RTNDA convention last week that some things are more complicated in a 24/7 news world.

Rewriting scares me. For the morning news, they’ll change “third degree sexual assault” to “rape” to save time. But one’s a misdemeanor and one’s a felony. I’m reluctant to let Web people rewrite sensitive stories I’ve already vetted.

One of the most common questions today is about using material from the Web, broadcast attorneys say. “A Facebook screen grab is okay,” said CBS attorney Andy Siegel. “YouTube video? I’ll take 10 to 20 seconds.” But CNN counsel David Viglante warned that videos set to music are problematic. CNN wanted to air videos produced by soldiers in Iraq but decided not to because many of them included popular songs and there’s no “fair use” exception for music.

If you do use something you found on the Web, Siegal said, remember that the original poster still owns the content. “Fair use is a defense, it’s not permission. And when you take something without permission, don’t put a ‘courtesy of’ tag on it,” he warned. “It’s a lie!”

The attorneys told a few hair-raising stories about questions they’ve been asked by TV journalists. For a story on airport perimeter security, one local reporter wanted to do a stand-up near an airport holding a fake automatic weapon. The lawyer’s response: “How much do you value your life?”

And then there’s the legal danger that might be lurking in your email in-box. Imagine you get an email alleging someone is involved in child pornography and it includes a link. If you click on the link, you’ve possessed child porn yourself. And if you forward the email to anyone–even your news director–you’ve distributed it. “There is no wiggle room in the law,” Vigilante said. “If you get an email about child pornography, don’t open it. Call your lawyer.”