Best of multimedia 2008

Here’s one year-in-review list you won’t want to toss out with the empties on New Year’s Day.  Poynter’s Regina McCombs has posted links to multimedia projects you may have missed and they’re well worth exploring.

Her categories include map-based storytelling like the Iowa tornado coverage we mentioned here, as well as interactive graphics, video interactives and “games for smart people.”  One game I particularly like is Minnesota Public Radio’s “You be the judge” feature that lets users decide whether challenged ballots in the undecided Coleman-Franken Senate race should be accepted or thrown out.

I also loved the AARP “Best of 1968” interactive, subtitled “the year that rocked our world.”  It might not be wise to admit this but I scored “groovy” on the pop quiz.  Ah yes, I remember it well.  [Anyone who can name the musical that last line comes from should probably take this “50s facts” quiz.]

Happy New Year.

TV news tops, but Web a close second

The Pew Research Center’s annual look at where people get their news shows TV still dominates, but online news consumption continues to grow.  In fact, newspapers are no longer the second most common source of news for Americans, they’ve dropped into third place.

According to Media Post Publications, TV claimed “70% share in 2008–but that’s down from 74% in 2007, and a peak of 82% in 2002.”  A closer look at the demographics raises a concern for TV newsrooms, too – for adults 30 and under, TV and the Internet are now tied as primary news sources.  And here’s something else for TV stations to worry about:

Although print newspapers–especially big metro dailies–appear to be locked in an irreversible long-term decline, newspaper Web sites have had big increases in audiences. In October 2008–the last month for which data is available–newspaper Web sites attracted a total of 68.97 million unique visitors–up 64% from 41.96 million in October 2004.

So why aren’t we seeing similar results for TV news sites?  Could it be that TV stations continue to minimize the importance of the Web in their newsrooms?  To be fair, it may be that the big metro newspapers, despite layoffs, still have larger editorial staffs than their TV counterparts, so they have the content available to create more robust Web sites.  But TV stations need to figure out how to capitalize on the Web, and they need to do it fast.

Editors still needed

Finally, some good news for journalists.  It turns out they can’t be entirely replaced by computers.   Not for lack of trying, you understand.  But Gabe Rivera, the brains behind the technology news aggregator Techmeme.com, now admits,  “Automated news doesn’t quite work.”

Instead of relying exclusively on algorithms to decide the mix of headlines on the site as it has since its launch in 2005, Techmeme now employs one human editor, Megan McCarthy.  Rivera says the algorithms still do most of the work but he expects McCarthy will have a pronounced impact.

The news will just get faster and more interesting. Obsolete stories will be eliminated sooner while breaking stories will be expedited. Related grouping will improve.

Rivera says the experience of introducing direct editing has been “a revelation.”

Interacting directly with an automated news engine makes it clear that the human+algorithm combo can curate news far more effectively that the individual human or algorithmic parts. It really feels like the age of the news cyborg has arrived. Our goal is to apply this new capability to producing the clearest and most useful tech news overview available.

So what’s McCarthy’s job title?  Not yet determined, but Rivera is leaning toward “news maestro,” because of her role in “conducting the symphony of voices that flow through Techmeme each day.”

News mixed with Facebook

newsmixerIt’s being called a “game changer” for commenting on the news.  Graduate students at Northwestern’s Medill j-school have developed a Web site that marries news content with a Facebook app to let users have their say about news stories.

News Mixer takes content from the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette and allows users to log in via Facebook Connect and comment in three different ways: by asking a question about the story, posting a “quip” in a sidebar, or writing a letter to the editor.

The project was funded by the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge and it’s the brainchild of Medill professor Rich Gordon, who says his goal was to improve online discussions of the news.

Nobody has been particularly happy with the remarks appearing in comment boxes or thinks they further public discourse. By creating a site with richer opportunities for interactive comments, we hope to improve the quality of online discussion that takes place around local news content.

According to Northwestern, a New York Times editor, Aron Pilhofer, believes News Mixer has a lot of promise for the media industry and says there are “bits and pieces of it I’d like to steal right now.”

As it happens, anyone can “steal” the idea because the software is open-source and available now on the students’ Crunchberry Project blog.

What information do you trust?

According to a new survey, online news is widely considered just as credible as newspapers and TV news.  In some countries, including the United States, it’s seen as even more trustworthy.  But the survey found that blogs, as opposed to online news sites, are almost universally distrusted.

The study, by the research and marketing group TNS, asked more than 27,000 people in 16 countries to rate a variety of information sources on a scale of 1 (don’t trust at all) to 10 (trust completely). The US was one of just three countries where online news was more trusted than television: 38% for online vs 33% for TV news and 34% for newspapers. The other two countries? France and Italy.

Those numbers may be disappointing, but blogs get much more negative reviews.  Only one person in 10 in the US and around the world said they trust what they read on blogs.  TNS vice president Don Ryan calls that “heartening.”

Online blogs clearly have no real accountability.  Although they may be a great source of entertainment and a useful source of information and reviews they are clearly highly subjective.  The move of traditional news media into the online space has ensured that the trust of traditional media has spread into to online-only sources too.

Still, the news media are far from being the most trusted source in the United States.  According to the survey, that distinction belongs to recommendations from friends, which 48% said they trusted.

A separate study also released this week looked only at where Americans turn for news.  The results: local TV remains the main source of news for most Americans, followed by cable, local newspapers and network TV.

According to the Gallup survey, for the first time since 1995, significantly more Americans say they turn to cable news networks daily than say they turn to nightly network news programs. Cable news was one of only two sources to show a substantial increase in audience.  The other one is no surprise: Internet news showed the biggest jump with 31% of Americans now saying it’s a daily news source. That’s up almost 50% since 2006.

But the audience for most other news sources, including NPR and national newspapers, is holding steady.  At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, that’s pretty good news in these grim economic times.

Training the new journalist

Hundreds of new journalism graduates are either out looking for jobs right now or soon will be following December graduation ceremonies.  At least as many experienced journalists are also out pounding the pavement for work in the wake of layoffs across the country.

NPR’s Alex Cohen sat down to talk with with Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, Neil Henry, about what the future may hold for the journalism profession and journalism education.

How can journalism survive?

The most controversial element of the interview involves Henry’s assertion that more journalists will need to be entrepreneurs.  He suggests they won’t work for traditional media companies, rather they will be in business for themselves.  Unfortunately, when Cohen tried to press him on whether this would result in “journalism for hire,”  Henry really avoided answering the question.  However, he did say UC Berkeley’s j-school is working with the business school to develop courses that might help journalists make money outside the corporate journalism structure.

Still, it’s worth thinking about.  Obviously, there are some journalists who have gone out on their own to produce news content and profit from it, while seeming to uphold journalistic standards, but there aren’t many.  And several who have done it eventually seem to operate on much the same old economic model as journalism always has (i.e. Huffington Post with its Blackberry ads and outside investors).

So, how feasible is Henry’s idea?  Can journalism survive and thrive without the infrastructure created by big media companies?  Or will it have to?

Protect your personal brand

Who you are is just as important as what you know when it comes to getting and keeping a job.  Who you are is your personal brand, says consultant Terry Heaton, and journalists should take it seriously, especially when they’re just starting out in the profession.

A young person applying for a good job may be dressed to the nines, appear intelligent and mature, and leave a great impression, but if that person’s MySpace or Facebook page (or YouTube video) reveals a different person, it can (and does) cause problems. The issue is which represents the person’s brand, the interview or the identity projected on that person’s web page?

If you’re just beginning to build a personal brand, Heaton suggests that you pay close attention to “people of influence” in your social or professional networks, because they’re the ones who will spread your reputation.  “Get to know them. Remember them. Help them. Stay in contact with them. This strengthens your brand.”

Among Heaton’s other top 10 tips:

  • Talk about what you do. Share your experiences and maybe even provide tips as part of your social networking. Everything you do, especially if it’s negative, reflects on your brand.
  • Be a good person, not an ass. People are watching, and the last thing you ever want to do is prove yourself a jerk through your behavior while your intentions tell you you’re really a good guy.
  • Devote some time each day to the study of your craft, and this is especially true for young people. You don’t have to pretend to be an expert when you really are one.

I’ve never been a big fan of the concept of branding, which has always felt a little phony and manipulative to me.  In the advertising world, the goal of branding often seems to be to get consumers to want something based only on a recognizable name–and who cares if it’s overpriced junk as long as they buy it?

But what if you think about a brand as a personality type?  You know these folks, right? The party animal. The starched shirt. The loudmouth.  But their professional reputations may be entirely different.  Haven’t you ever seen someone behaving in an unexpected way outside of work and thought, “Who knew?”

Those moments may be rarer in today’s networked world, as the personal and professional inexorably blend.  So the advice to build and protect your individual brand makes a lot of sense.  But it’s really not that different from what parents have told children for generations about how to behave in any public setting.  As a friend’s father used to tell his teenage sons, “Remember whose you are.”

Multimedia journalists only at WUSA-TV

It’s the first major market station in the country to do away with all of its two-person reporting teams.

Under a new agreement reached this week with its labor unions, WUSA, Channel 9, will become the first station in Washington to replace its crews with one-person “multimedia journalists” who will shoot and edit news stories single-handedly.

The change is also coming with cuts in salary.  According to the Washington Post, WUSA’s multimedia journalists will earn 30 to 50 percent less than reporters at the station have in the past.  Salaries will top out at around $90,000 a year.

The changes are scheduled to take effect in early 2009.  At least one veteran reporter, Gary Reels, has accepted a buyout from the station rather than deal with the new requirements.

Top gifts for journalists

A colleague emailed this week to ask if I have any gift suggestions for a friend of hers who’s about to start graduate studies in journalism.  Well, of course I do.  But I decided not to send her a list.

No, I’m not playing Grinch at this time of year.  I figured if one person was asking about gifts for journalists, other people might have the same question.  So I pulled together some of my favorite tools of the trade and journalism-related books and videos and made shopping easy by creating a Journalism Store, stocked with these “must haves:”

  • A pocket-sized, lightweight video camera. The Flip runs off two AA batteries, records in .avi format and exports via a built-in USB.  The new HD version, the Flip Mino (that’s right, HD) has a rechargeable battery.  Kodak’s HD competitor, the Zi6, is more expensive, but has a much bigger LCD screen.  All three are affordable, super-portable, and simple to operate.  Most of our YouTube videos have been shot with the basic Flip.
  • A digital voice recorder.  I use an Olympus that I’ve had for a few years.  The newer model is the WS-311M.  Add an inexpensive lav microphone and you can capture audio that’s plenty good enough for a podcast.
  • A do-it-all cell phone like the Nokia N95.  I’ve already written about how some news organizations have turned it into a palm-sized live truck. For what it’s worth, I definitely would have included Apple’s iPhone if  it were available through Amazon.  It’s not.

There’s plenty more, including solar backpacks and classic journalism movies. Check it out, and let me know if there’s anything on your wish list that I should add to the virtual shelves.

Data for digging deeper

The Los Angeles Times has quietly built a huge online resource that gives users the opportunity to explore information on their own.  The data desk holds the results of 38 projects and more than 730,000 records: databases, lists, maps and rankings, both local and national.

Most of the entries are under politics–from donor lists to election results.  Others are hyperlocal–LA’s dirtiest pools and top dogs, for example.  But several might be worth replicating in other areas, perhaps as student projects.  A map of red light cameras, for instance, or the “where the boys/girls are” map based on census data.  One project you might just want to link to is a very cool “commute calculator” that figures out the annual cost of your daily drive.

(Thanks to Cyberjournalist.net for the tip.)