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Tweeting the news

CNN’s Rick Sanchez has almost 90,000 followers on Twitter, making him one of the top TV news Tweeters in the US. His frequent posts are a mix of requests for feedback on the news, commentary and personal observations like this one yesterday:

i got to go slap on some make-up. be back in a jiff. hate this part.

I follow Rick, but I confess that I rarely read what he posts. Maybe that’s because there’s so little actual news in his feed. CBS’s Mark Knoller, on the other hand, is an essential read for me, providing a quick update on what’s happening at the White House every day.

It’s easy to find other national journalists who use Twitter by checking MuckRack, but many local stations are using the service, too.

Allison Watts, executive producer at WHAM-TV in Rochester, N.Y., calls herself a “Twittering Twit.”  She posts updates on breaking news and says she often gets tips and feedback from Twitter users in her community.

Reporters at the station use Twitter from the field. Last week, Watts says that reporter Rachel Barnhart Tweeted from court on the sentencing of a former police officer convicted of hit-and-run.

In a span of 30 minutes and 40 tweets, she painted a detailed picture of what it was like in the courtroom. It included everything from emotional statements from family members to the judge’s decision.

Other local TV journalists using Twitter include reporter Jason DeRusha from WCCO-TV in Minneapolis and assignment editor Misty Montano from KCNC-TV in Denver.  Who would you add to the list?

By the way, if there’s an online directory of local TV Tweeters, I haven’t found it yet. Let us know if you know of one.

How TV news reports audience decline

Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times posted a very short, but interesting tidbit yesterday.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication found that over the last nine years, newspapers and wire services wrote more than two thousand stories about the woes of print and television. Leading the way were the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Television, meanwhile, carried a total of 22 stories about the decline in news audiences.

Maybe TV has learned a thing or two from those sales guys who always say business is good – it’s certainly tough to foster confidence in an industry that’s routinely predicting its own demise.

Yes, the audience is changing its habits.  But what would be interesting to know is how much reporting has been focused on those changes and analysis of how traditional media can adapt. 

The more we can learn about serving today’s audience needs, the faster journalism organizations can rise to the challenge.  Let’s see more than 2,000 stories on that!

J-school requires iPhone

Why would the University of Missouri’s well-regarded journalism school make an iPhone or iPod Touch a requirement for all incoming students? My first guess was that Mizzou was making a new commitment to multimedia journalism and requiring an iPhone so students could learn to gather and post online news on the fly. But no.

According to the Columbia Missourian, the school has an entirely different motive: 

Brian Brooks, associate dean of the Journalism School, said the idea is to turn the music player into a learning device. “Lectures are the worst possible learning format,” Brooks said. “There’s been some research done that shows if a student can hear that lecture a second time, they retain three times as much of that lecture.”

Mizzou is going to record lectures and make them available free via iTunes  U. But students don’t need an iPod or any other Apple device to view them, so it seems the new requirement is basically bogus. And besides, the idea that students will use a smart phone or music player to review lectures has already been tried, with decidedly mixed results.

Five years ago, Duke University gave iPods free to all of its incoming freshmen to “foster innovative uses of technology in the classroom,” as Wired magazine reported. A year later, Duke scaled back the program.

Requiring J-school students to buy one specific brand of technology that uses proprietary file formats and is more expensive than many alternatives just doesn’t sound like a winning proposition to me. Requiring them to have a device that can capture audio and video for news gathering purposes would seem to make a lot more sense. 

New skillset for online reporters

No doubt about it. You need to be able to work fast and juggle multiple deadlines if you’re going to succeed in online journalism. But you also have to be adept at marketing, which used to be a dirty word in newsrooms–as Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, notes in this interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Local TV station goes hyperlocal online

WNCN-TV in Raleigh, NC is in a tough spot. The CBS affiliate, WRAL, is about as dominant as a television station can get and WTVD, the ABC shop in town is no slouch either. So this Media General station is trying something radical – setting out to own the local Web audience – even at the expense of its TV product.

TVNewsday recently wrote about the station’s “hyperlocal” efforts, which are now just a little more than a year old. I had a chance to visit WCNC last year as they were just beginning to cover “stories down to the sub-neighborhood level.”  Here’s what I saw:

• The station hired a number of Community Content Liaisons and then assigned them a geographic or content area, tasking them with getting to know the “movers and shakers” in those arenas and encouraging those folks to share story tips or actual content on a series of “Web channels” the station created. You can check out those Web channels at myNC.com.

• The station hired multiple “embed reporters” – journalists who are expected to cover the news, again based on geographic or content beats, and file to the station’s home page as well as the online channels. Their stories may also appear on the air, but according to Director of Content Nannette Wilson, “The goal is Web first.”

• The station is still putting on newscasts, but the news team has been shifting the focus to breaking news and updating news online. A case in point, during a Hillary Clinton campaign stop last year, VP News for Media General Broadcast Group Dan Bradley visited the station and spent the day watching what he calls the “Journalist 2.0” covering the Clinton event. “During Hillary’s speech, the embed reporter must have filed four Web updates while the other local TV reporters just waited for the news to begin; it was amazing to watch,” said Bradley.

General Manager Barry Leffler says the efforts are starting to pay off.

“This is all brand-new revenue for our station. We’re able to provide such highly-targeted demographics that we can charge a slight premium,” Leffler says.

The article offers some interesting discussion on how the station is capitalizing on free, user-generated content.

Whatever happens in the long run,  it’s just good to see a local TV news organization trying to innovate online.

J-schools revamp

At long last, journalism schools are changing what they teach in order to better prepare students for the media world that awaits them.  This fall, the University of North Carolina will launch what it calls a “new curriculum for a new century.” Journalism majors will still take required courses in news writing, ethics and law, but they’ll also have to take a course in audio-video information gathering.

Current UNC student Andrew Dunn says that’s a great start but it’s not enough:

What’s more important is that online concepts are effectively integrated with the standard core courses. With what I’ve seen with the J-school, that won’t be easy. Only a few professors have any clue about the Interwebs.

Complaints about clueless professors are nothing new. But a revamped curriculum should put them on notice that they’d better get up to speed, fast.

Columbia’s J-school is also revamping this fall, amid what New York Magazine calls an existential crisis over a “digitally focused curriculum designed to make all students as capable of creating an interactive graphic as they are of pounding out 600 words on a community-board meeting.”

…the push for modernization has also raised the ire of some professors, particularly those closely tied to Columbia’s crown jewel, RW1. “F*** new media,” the coordinator of the RW1 program, Ari Goldman, said to his RW1 students on their first day of class, according to one student. Goldman, a former Times reporter and sixteen-year veteran RW1 professor, described new-media training as “playing with toys,” according to another student, and characterized the digital movement as “an experimentation in gadgetry.”

Sounds like the new media-old media divide is alive and well at Columbia. But as the magazine points out, “The real issue, of course, isn’t whether the school can afford to change, but that it can’t afford not to.”

The state of “convergence” in America’s newsrooms

Researchers at Rutgers and Arizona State universities surveyed hundreds of broadcast and print newsrooms about their convergence efforts in 2008. According to an article in the Convergence Newsletter, they found that about half of respondents had some sort of “cross-platform partnership.”

What’s more interesting are the researchers findings regarding efforts and attitudes toward newsroom Web sites.

News outlets are going it alone in their Web efforts, even when that encroaches on another medium’s traditional turf. Almost 89 percent of the newspaper respondents said video – traditionally television’s bailiwick – was produced for their sites by print and Web staffs with no broadcast involvement. Eighty-two percent of the newspapers using newscasts on their sites report producing them with no broadcast involvement. Ninety percent of the TV respondents who said they used text stories from other than wire services on their Web sites wrote them without newspaper involvement.

In addition, the researchers found more evidence that newspapers are trying hard to take the “video advantage” away from television stations.

Almost 66 percent of the newspaper respondents said photographers for their newspaper shot video, more than 60 percent said reporters shot video, and 41 percent reported their papers employed videographers.  

What’s potentially more troublesome for the future of broadcast outlets is what the research uncovered about attitudes toward “working for the Web.”

Most respondents said they did work for both publication platforms. Print journalists, however, were nearly 10 times more likely than broadcast respondents to support the most pro-Web vision of journalistic work, which held that “essentially the whole staff is focused on the Web first.” 

Can someone tell us why?

Skills training is not enough

One of our core principles here at Advancing the Story is that you have to think differently about journalism if you’re going to succeed in a multimedia world.  Nikki Usher of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism obviously agrees. Writing in the Online Journalism Review, Usher argues that skills training is not enough for digital journalists. In fact, she suggests that many news organizations that are providing training are going about it all wrong.

Teaching journalists how to use digital tools without addressing their mindset is not productive, she says, citing the case of a newsroom executive who learned that the hard way.

This executive, after putting staff through training pilots, realized that multimedia literacy and a basic understanding of what it meant to work in a Web environment was what people needed – before they could go about learning the hardware.

So what training in multimedia thinking does she recommend? In brief, she says journalists need to:

  • Learn how the Web and multimedia goals will work within their own organizations.
  • Believe that they can contribute to the multimedia vision of their organization.
  • Make new connections across the organization to people who can help them think about how to make their work relevant to multiplatform content.
  • Understand that they no longer control the distribution of the content they produce.
  • Reposition themselves as leaders of a new conversation about the content they produce.

Newsrooms need to learn an important lesson too, Usher says.  “Silos, departmental rivalries, and departments that don’t communicate with each other cannot exist if multimedia initiatives are to succeed.”

None of this is to suggest that skills “boot camps” have no value. On the contrary, Usher says, “they do help journalists learn to see the potential of what these new tools can bring to the work they do.” But expecting skills training to transform your newsroom is an exercise in futility, if you don’t change the thinking first.

Six tips for convergence

How is newsroom convergence like a shotgun wedding?  Just ask the folks at Kent State University, where the campus newspaper, radio and TV stations share one newsroom and Web site.  The story behind the story is now online–a humorous and engaging look by professor Fred Endres at how the “wedding” was planned and carried out.

The hardest part–no surprise–was the “culture shift” of getting everyone into a multimedia mindset.  There were plenty of others bumps along the way, and the newsroom remains a work in progress, not yet fully converged.  But KSU’s experience offers valuable lessons for any organization planning a converged or collaborative newsroom.

  • Begin planning early. Kent State planned for more than a year before putting a stick of furniture in place.
  • Make the space open and flexible. It will increase communication and collaboration.
  • Provide multimedia tools, software and hardware tools to practice multimedia journalism.
  • Let staff [or students]  lead the way to convergence. It is their newsroom, and they need to be invested in the plan and the goal.
  • Commit resources – time, money, people — to a collaborative Web site, and try to make that Web site the core of the newsroom.
  • Set realistic goals. If you have a core group…who truly want to make it work, you’ve got a good shot at doing so.

As for equipment, the KSU team advises, “buy wise but don’t buy cheap.”  Among the gear they’re using: the  Canon ZR-930 mini-DV camera, the HD Canon HV30, and Audio Technica microphones (803 lav and 8004 handheld).

Software, on the other hand, can be both cheap and good. Most folks already know about Audacity, the free audio editing program.  But instead of Photoshop, KSU suggests Gimp, a free download. Need a field Teleprompter for script reads? Try the free CuePrompter.

Kudos to Kent State for sharing their lessons learned.  If you’ve gone down the same road and have other suggestions to add, please add a comment.