Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Internet IS the newsroom: Why ONA’s focus on tech is a good one

Note: This is response to this month’s Carnival of Journalism prompt, which asks what the criteria should be for this years Online Journalism Awards (OJA).

In math to most students’ annoyance, writing down the correct answer is only good for partial credit, how you got there is really what matters. That principle should be true when it comes to judging criteria for the OJA.

The OJAs should focus on journalism that expands the boundaries of journalism and does so online, the final frontier.

The Pulitzer Prize rewards amazing journalism. Knight-Batten, News Challenge and other events award and grant funds for amazing technological advances in the field of journalism. OJA should award people doing brilliant journalism with the most amazing technology.

Twitter doesn’t win for creating it’s product which helps journalists so much. Nor does Twitter win for creating Twitter for newsrooms. Those are great things, but they are just tech that enables good journalism. At the same time The Los Angeles Times wouldn’t win for the same story that the they won their pulitzer, simply because they used some new tech along the way.

Both technology and journalism have to be at work here. In this way I am defining journalism as informing citizenry in order to affect change.

I think Carrie Brown-Smith and Lisa Williams both already did an excellent job answering this post and their sentiments closely match my own so I try and add another concept; the Internet is the newsroom.

The connections, research and filtering potential of the Internet provides an even more rich experience for an enterprising reporter. I’ve always found that the reporters I most respected were barely in the newsroom at all. If the Internet is your newsroom then you can simultaneously be in the newsroom and the field at the same time. It is this capability that will enable some really impressive journalism.

Steve Fox points out two people that are at the forefront of this idea, Andy Carvin and Nick Kristoff, specifically their coverage of the Arab Spring. I agree, but what I also see is two people just starting to see the potential that lies ahead.

Recently, on the way to the Knight Civic Media Conference I had the pleasure of passing through Chicago’s infamous O’Hare airport. As is common for that airport we encountered horrific weather and had our flight cancelled. Looking at the massive line of people trying to rebook with United, a line that was in the many hundreds, Ben Ilfeld and I decided to grab food and a beer.

We enjoyed the crazy weather, the tornado warnings, mediocre sushi, and some pretty excellent beer and did so quite peacefully. Soon afterwards we plopped down next to the giant line for United customer service, which had grown even longer, and opened our laptops. We tethered them to our phones and in five minutes we had booked ourselves on the 6am flight to Boston on Southwest. We also booked ourself a super cheap motel. We did this in about 5 minutes. While waiting on the cab line to our motel we heard of all the horror stories of the United passengers who had been through the line. Most of them got rebooked, but rebooked 1-2 days later, the earliest United could re-route them. For us that would have meant missing nearly the entire conference.

I see the same thing with journalism now. Innovative technology used at the right time in the right way can enable fantastic things. For us, we got to Boston to see some amazing people win Challenge grants, for journalism it is making the world a better place.

Where the hell is the innovation in journalism?

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Where the hell is the innovation in journalism?

(And I will give the Center for Civic media some credit here, you + Knight are on fire this year)

Start by blaming me. I’m a technologist working on technology for journalism. I have not changed nearly enough.

But lots of people talk a lot in our budding new media space; not a lot of people are creating really innovative stuff.

One of the big problems is not taking a big enough step back from the daily grind of reporting, writing and interacting with communities. What is it all about? The nice thing about tumultuous periods in an industry and no standard definitions is that you can create them.

So…

Stop worrying about the past and what you “should” worry about, and think about what would be amazing for humanity and for journalism in particular.

Here is what I see.

No understanding about our own publications. Who reads them? Why do people read them? What do they expect to get out of reading the news? What do you want people to get out of your publication? And please no canned J-School BS answers, think about this seriously.

It is not essential that everyone read the news all the time. Nope, sorry, it just isn’t. What each American, let alone what each human should know is not obvious. Let’s stop pretending that if we all just read The New York Times the world would operate fluidly. But when an issue really effects you and you don’t know about it, that’s a problem. Which means it is a problem that we should be focused on solving.

We need more complex interaction than comments. Using the same tools we have been using for a decade is not going to move us forward quickly. Much as Jeff Jarvis and my co-founder have written recently about the anachronistic nature of the article in the modern media landscape it can be said that our current tools for interaction are starting to feel just as out of place. None of this interaction is revolutionary. We tell stories and have conversations in real life. What can the internet and modern telecommunication technology do to evolve this, or revolutionize it?

Online to offline is more than just for coupons. People read the news at work, that’s just how people behave currently. Does this mean that news is inherently tied to a desk in an office? That could be the case, but I doubt it. What online innovations will make consuming news outside the office more useful and prevalent. And more than that what will news sites offer that pushes people to interact and offline with their communities more. Informing your audience is just not enough.

There are lots of great innovations finally starting to emerge, but I want to stoke the flames of the fire. I know the Knight foundation does, with its continued refocusing on innovation.

So think big and keep changing, because it will be a long time before we figure it all out.

Image Credit: Chris Murpy (via Flickr)