Category Archives: bcu

Decline in print and rise in online journalism: an interview

Once again I was asked by a student to answer a few questions about Online Journalism. Devina Morjaria is a final year student writing a dissertation regarding decline in print and rise in online journalism, one of my favorite subjects. There are a few good questions here and some not so bad answers.

 

1)   As an online journalist do you feel that there has been a decline in print journalism and rise in online journalism since the millennium?

The steady decline of print journalism begun in the late eighties, long before online journalism had a real expression. The problem is that that decline became more clear as digital journalism started to become more common and users had better access to the Internet. In my view, there is not a real correlation between the rise of one and the fall of the other. Print journalism was already failing before online journalism took its place in our everyday lives.

2)   Either way why do you think that this is the case?

I can only guess, but probably print was failing to deliver quality content for a long time. Besides, the widespread use of cable tv and rolling 24 hour news channels made the product less interesting, we got on the front pages what we saw live the night before. Online journalism made that problem even more acute, with users checking news more often through out the day, losing the morning paper or the evening news ritual. The print product is pretty much the same as it was 20, 30, 40 years ago, it is not well adapted to these new circumstances, therefore it needs to be re-thought and re-designed. But that is not really happening.

3)   What makes you more inclined towards online journalism than print?

Online journalism allows journalists and users to create/consume stories using different and new types of languages and features. Multimedia and Interactivity are two essential characteristics of this medium, and if we add social tools it becomes a whole new ball game. Access is also important, I can read/watch/listen news from thousands of news brands around the world. Geography is no longer a limit, but a parameter.

4)   Some say newspapers will be dead in 10 years time. What do you think?

I think many will be, unless they re-think and take the most of their natural news cycle and out of their support, paper. Magazinification of newspapers is an option, with more in depth analysis, more opinion, giving more space to good writing and relying on better visuals. They have to be more original and stand out from the ever shrinking crowd, and become stronger in their viewpoints and personality, instead of feeding readers with the same stuff the competition does. Less fast food, more gourmet. But this depends on the markets they’re in and on how much they can invest.

5)   Is the online sector currently facing any problems like the print sector?

From my experience, the whole industry is going through an identity crisis. Except for a few media groups, many don’t have a defined strategy to cope with the new demands the online brought. In the last years we saw journalists being fired left and right when there is the need for more people with more skills in the newsrooms. This affects not only the online production but also print. Good journalism is affected too, with not enough time for journalists to do their best. So quality goes down either in print or online. So, in a way, they both face the same problem, which is basically the lack of solid strategies, the short term thinking of media group boards, and the us vs them (print vs online) mentality, that is still all too common.

6)   Do you feel that for a print newspaper company to introduce an online section it invites a hit in sales in newspapers?

Well, you have to be online these days. Unless ALL your readers don’t use the internet you have to have an online presence. If both products are good there is the chance they will both benefit from it.

7)   What do you think about paywalls? Do you feel that they are necessary in today’s society?

Paywalls are a tricky subject, it works for some, but not for most. I believe original, unique, highly effective content can become a commodity, but not everyday news. Media companies gather and process information. Somewhere in the middle of that there are ways to make money, other than establishing a paywall. I think most of paywalls are useless and a shot in the foot.

8)   What is the online sectors main source of news?

Reality? Nowadays we see more international news, and more social network based information, but whatever is news (relevant for a meaningful number of people) gets online.

9)   Is there an increase in online advertising?

According to something I read recently, yes, but it’s a marketing logic: go sell your product where people are. That’s why news stands are in the streets, and we see thousands of posters, outdoors,leaflets and every other type of ads anywhere we go. And if people are online…

10) What do you think holds for the future of journalism?

The best times for journalism are yet to come and for me there has never been a better time to be a journalist than now. The full possibilities are still being discovered, and there are so many ways to transmit information and tell stories, with a better understanding on the part of the users, that have more rich and meaningful experiences consuming them.

_______________________

 

Please, disagree with me in the comment box. Thank you

Year Zero

Birmingham skyline
A Brummie skyline. This was home for a good part of 2010

Though all the reflections about the year are usually made in its last week, I’m only writing them down now. 2010 was an amazing but busy year, so busy I had to leave this post to 2011. Here are my thoughts on it.

The first half of the year I was in Birmingham doing the MA Online Journalism with Paul Bradshaw heading the course. It was probably the smartest thing I have ever done in my life because I got to learn new things and meet amazing people, my colleagues included. I blogged extensively about my time there and some of my experiments during the course with online journalism tools and narratives, so you can browse the blog for more info on that.

I still have a final project to wrap up the MA, and that is one of my priorities for this year. But I’ll talk about this later, because I think I’ll need your help.

In the second half of the year I’ve been working as an instructor – which is different from being a teacher – training journalists to face the needs of the online medium. It has been a rewarding experience, and I’m surrounded by talented, skilled people, with different expertise and with whom I’ve been learning a lot.

In between I wrote a few articles for Journalism.co.uk, a big one for a documentary magazine, worked briefly for a major newspaper defining their social media strategy

And this is the good stuff. Not that there’s anything bad to say about 2010, it was a hell of a year, but with so many things happening I neglected a few things, like this blog. And I kinda lost my mojo (not mobile journalism). I am a reasonable juggler, but not at a Cirque du Soleil level. I had lots of ideas and opinions, you know, the stuff I used to share with all of you and that made me “famous”, but I never got to find the time to post them. That was my biggest regret in 2010, but on the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t, because it made me look at the big picture and see that there are too many “changes” going on. Yes, the inverted commas are supposed to have a ironic effect (both in “famous” and “changes”). No matter how interesting my ideas were, two weeks later they would be outdated.

We saw the iPad craze amongst the media tycoons, which is nothing but a feeble attempt to transport the print logic to a digital device (again). That is not the way, sirs. We watched the Wikileaks effect in different times of the year, and the debate about what is journalism, and what is not. I can say that debate is not journalism, and that once again media focused on the accessory and not on the important stuff. Facebook became the T-Rex of the web, and still many think it’s foolish. Sometimes it is, but it also has big teeth, and it’s smart to be in good terms with it. All in all, instead of broadcasting the news and make their content more interesting and valuable, most media faced the internet like if it was 1999. We’re a bit more advanced than that.

But this makes me happy and more confident about the future. The good stuff will survive and the bad will deliberately jump off a cliff. Never the Darwin theories have been so well applied to an industry.

2010 was year zero, for me and for the future of journalism. Changes are happening in different ways and in different paces, in different places, but the wheels are moving forward. We just have to enjoy the ride. 2011 is going to be the year to do things, after all the learning and thinking, all the mishaps and dead ends. Today is always a good day to start. I just need to be a better juggler.

Just do it, and make it consequent. That’s my motto for this year. What is yours?

PS: by the way, I’d like to thank to all the people that I met this year and helped me move forward, I could have never done this on my own. It’s a long list, but you know who you are. And to those who have always been there for me, well, you know…

The blog, the MA and the future

This blog has been neglected. There, i said it. Call the Blog Protection Services and i might lose custody. The problem is that i have a reason for that. Several, in fact, but these are the ones that matter, and most of them sound so lame i won’t even bother to list them, like “time” or “i needed a break” or a “fresh perspective”.

As you may know, i’ve been doing the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, under the guidance of Paul Bradshaw, for the last nine months. Best thing i ever done in my life: not only i got to learn with one of the best minds in online journalism, but i also had a great time living in a foreign country, a first for me. It wasn’t a life changing experience or anything like that, but it ‘s damn close. Now that i’m back in Portugal i’m slowly recognizing the effects it had on me, and i’m in what i call a “hangover period”. You know, you wake up a bit disoriented, and wonder about what you’ve done the night before? No regrets in my case though.

But since i was busy as hell, i put the blog aside for too long. I have a list of posts i want to write, and i’m starting to work on them this week. I have stuff waiting to be posted since last year, but now i know how to do it better. So pay attention to the forthcoming posts, i’m back.

Meanwhile, i was doing this MA like i said. I still have one project to do during the Summer, and i’ll talk about it here soon, but you can take a look at what i’ve done in the last six months in this blog post Paul wrote about the assignments and experiments me and my colleagues did.A timeline, the spontaneous online coverage of the Madeira floods, a multimedia project, those were some of my relevant efforts.

I’m proud of mine – though i think i could have done so much better –  but my colleagues were great. Read the whole series of posts so you can have an idea of what we were doing. We got in touch with amazing people, and though sometimes the brits seem hard to reach, i met some of the nicest people ever related to journalism. Maybe i was lucky, maybe they were just polite, but what a difference! The small country blues hit me hard sometimes, but then i also realized that in Portugal we are not behind anyone, we have incredible people working in journalism and new media, the problem is that we don’t have many chances to grow. Well, we do, but no entrepreneurial attitude (i had a class on that), fortunately some people don’t think that way. But that’s for another post.

Anyway, i’m on a break now, doing this course in Porto, and then i’ll be working on my Summer project for the MA. And afterwards i may have a job that allows me to do lots of stuff on the side, and push the boundaries of journalism a little further. I have lots of ideas, so all i have to do is work on them, no matter if i stay here or change countries again.

The future is now, and there’s no better place than that.

PS: by the way, the reason why i’m writing english only posts is that writing both in portuguese and english is time-consuming and i’m a bit late, but i’ll try to go back to dual language soon.

MA Online Journalism – The Paranoia Timeline

One of the assignments i did for my Online Journalism module was a timeline depicting some of the major events that caused social stir across the world in the last 20 years. Some were real, some were just, well, paranoid behavior, hence The Paranoia Timeline. This is a description of the project – that stayed incomplete, still in a conceptual phase –  and the steps and views i have on it.

I would like to hear from you, about what can be done with archive journalism, with different narratives, and if you want to help me develop the timeline (it’s filled with mock content, and it’s maybe in the  5% of its full potential) let me know. I wanted this to be a collaborative project, with different people contributing with ideas, videos, text, pictures, graphs, opinions, so any help is more than welcome.

So you can have an idea of what is the spirit of  The Paranoia Timeline, here’s a small video i edited as a promo.



“Paranoia is a thought process heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion.” Wikipedia

The Project

In an attempt to explore new ways to report stories, I decided for this project to use a timeline as a platform to report on some events that had social impact in the last 20 years. The kind of aftermath these events had is not constrained to geographical levels, and they altered our everyday lives, and in some cases, our world views and personal experience.  Some of these events caused social hysteria or global discussion and forced governments to act in ways that affected the common citizen.

The Paranoia Timeline[i] is based in a type of journalism that I believe to be quite ignored by mainstream media, which is archive journalism. This type of reporting works with – as the name implies – with archive information and preexistent content, and my idea was to use available data and information to create a retrospective view on a few events that fulfilled the parameters presented before. Being the Internet the world’s largest archive, it was logical to work exclusively with online content, and reuse it to make something new, using computer assisted reporting and mashups.

Though the current result falls short of my initial goals, it is a prototype for a more involving experience, and I consider it to be a work in construction. What I’ll be defending here is a concept with a few examples using interactive tools, but I realize this is just a small sample of what it can really be: an immersive, ongoing project, with more interactive features, providing a journalistic approach to issues highly debated and prone to partisanship, many of them used by religious and political groups to spin their own ideologies to the general audience. The purpose is to create context.

Research

First of all, I had to look for the most reliable and customizable timeline creating tool available for free[ii]. After pondering a few options, I chose Dipity[iii], mostly because of its reliability and ease of use, but I must admit I preferred something even more powerful: Dipity still has some glitches.

The first question was how to pinpoint in importance and time the events for this timeline. At first I used my own memory and experience and then used other people’s to limit it to the most important and visible ones. Wikipedia is a great resource when it comes to sum up the most important events in a decade, so I looked up the decade entries, in this case the 90’s and the 00’s. It was a good starting point to find the candidates for this timeline, and, simultaneously, to have more links for my research.

But when it came to limit those events in time I had a problem: how could I limit the span of the importance of the events in public opinion? The best way I found was to use Google and their timeline tool.

By searching for peaks in the timeline created by Google, I could define exactly the period when the subject was widely discussed. Since Google also has the Google News Archive, with copies of pre-Internet newspapers, I also had a long run perspective for the subject at hand that could be used for historical context.

Other valuable resource was Archive.org. This website has an immense collection of media under public domain that can be used to illustrate some of these stories. I made a pastiche video using almost exclusively footage available there, with the exception of some stock footage available for free at a specialized website.  The video works as a promo for the website, and it should have included two interviews, but I wasn’t able to do any of them. Still, my idea was to create an audiovisual narrative for each subject of the timeline, like a mini documentary series, using both archive footage and actual interviews with experts. I also tried to use Google’s Newstimeline[iv], but it wasn’t embeddable I had to give up the idea of having a scrolling timeline with newspapers about the specific subject.

Data

I chose two subjects to investigate using data: the recent swine flu and the credit crunch. Both of them are rich in statistical information so I decided to do a death map for the flu[v], and a graph showing loan evolution in the United States since 2003, using Tableau.

The swine flu data came from Wolfram-Alpha[vi] that generated a rather reliable (after cross checking with other official websites) amount of data, with the number of cases and deaths per country. I had to make an option about which would be highlighted, but discrepancies in the logical amount of cases between countries made me go just for the death numbers. The conclusion that I got from the map is that swine flu was either more serious or reported in the developed countries. Traditionally considered Third World countries do not have many reports, which reflect the lack of structures to deal with the problem or how overhyped it was in the Western world. But France on its own had almost 3 million cases reported against 57 thousand in the United States, which led me to verify closely other sources. It seems Wolfram Alpha had the number wrong, there were only about 5000 reports, which proves that outliers in data are either new stories or just input errors.

For the credit crunch[vii], I researched the FDIC – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation[viii] database. They have a considerable amount of statistical data available for download. My idea was to chart the evolution of loans in the United States in the last years, and the main idea was that overall loans slowed down since 2009 but individual credits rose, meaning an increase in personal debt to cope with overall difficulties caused by the crunch.I selected the items that seemed more relevant and went for a simple line chart. My purpose was served.

Production

The timeline had to be embedded in a website, so I used WordPress as a platform. The timeline would provide links to the posts about each topic, and each post would have developed content besides the one already present in the timeline items.

I tried to crowdsource some of the work, using Google Wave and my own network of contacts, but it didn’t work. I also tried to use HARO[ix] network, but they don’t call themselves HASO for a reason (they don’t help students out). Taking all the responsibility for the reporting made me narrow down the content for this assignment to just a few events. I asked permission to use some works already created by other users, like the chart in the 2012 post and some pictures from Flickr. An issue stood out immediately: my idea was not to aggregate content, but to create new content from what I had found. But eventually I realized there are many works out there that fit the needs for contextualization that are so much better than what I could try to create.

So I focused more on the concept, and that’s why I have so many empty posts, like I said, it is a prototype that needs further development. That’s also why I didn’t use social networks, although their importance would be paramount in the future, to engage users into debating the subjects of the timeline.

Copyright and ethics

Using Public Domain material is not an issue, but we always need to read the small print in some of the Creative Commons available content. Not all allow transforming the original, so I had to make some options. Overall, it was quite easy to find audio and visual content to work with, and I have a long list of links to videos to assess. I asked for permission to use some visual elements, namely the 2012 chart, which was what I was looking for, kindly granted by its author.

The disclosure of the Paranoia Timeline as a non-conspiracy theory website also allows me to avoid one sided views and the usual partisanship that we find in other websites that address these subjects.

Innovation

What makes me look at my project as an innovative narrative for journalism is my idea that retrospective journalism should be made, especially now that we have easy access to so much archived content. The perennial quality of web content makes it easily available and thanks to the efforts of Google, even non digital content – old newspapers – is available, which makes it, in my perspective, an interesting and valuable journalistic narrative. Context is the keyword here, and I believe this is the most important objective of new narratives in a world of fragmented torrents of information. This could be also a premium feature for news companies.

This is yet far from finished, but I’ll be working on the project in the near future, and hopefully not as a one man band.


[i] TPT website http://www.theparanoiatimeline.com/

[ii] My blog post about timeline tools http://tinyurl.com/28erszn

[iii] Dipity timeline http://tinyurl.com/38zk5ug

[iv] http://newstimeline.googlelabs.com/

[v] Swine flu post http://tinyurl.com/39c282w

[vi] Wolfram-Alpha swine flu data http://tinyurl.com/39urc6d

[vii] Credit Crunch post http://tinyurl.com/24xb7ok

[viii] FDIC – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation http://www2.fdic.gov/SDI/SOB/

[ix] Help A Reporter Out – http://www.helpareporter.com/

Creating Timelines

Timelines can be a great way to tell a story. Since i’m basing my last assignment for the Online Journalism module in a timeline depicting the most important social scares of the last 20 years (and beyond), i researched a few (free) timeline creating tools that i’m considering for my project, while i don’t have a more customized option.

The features i need are the following:

  • it must be embeddable – i’m creating a website for this project and i need to embed my timeline there, as a center piece;
  • it must look good – this is hard since most free apps are not visually customizable, so i’m going for the  most visually appealing if it provides the remaining items;
  • i can be able to insert information , data and multimedia – click on the dot and there you have it, all the information and  videos, audio you need;
  • it must be reliable – i had some problems in my experiments with slow servers hosting the timeline.

After some Google digging, i found these tools – i already knew and used some of them – which are presented in no special order:

Dipity

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Dipity is a huge reference for timeline creators. Highly customizable, reliable, it offers four types of presentations, from the basic timeline to a map. A pro in the list, it can be RSS fed, like the one here, showing all the posts i wrote for my previous blog. It’s one of my top choices.

Simile

Simile is quite interesting when it comes to show simultaneous events. The problem is you need some xml skills to work with it and host it yourself (i prefer that, to tell you the truth). Gina Trappani wrote a post in 2007 explaining how to build a timeline with Simile, and even offered a xml creator interface, that was really nice of her 🙂 . I haven’t tested it properly yet, but i think that it can get the work done.

xTimeline

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I like xTimeline a lot just because of the way you can embed multimedia in the event’s description. But you can’t customize it much, it’s a bit ugly, and sometimes goes AWOL, can’t really understand why. But it has lots of potencial, although it hasn’t been seeing much development for some time now…

Timeline Tool 2.0

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This tool is quite interesting to create simple timelines. Although it’s not good for precision works, it’s self hosted and allows you to embed video, audio and images through a simple interface. I believe if we tamper with the source files we can customize it, but it’s a bit far from what i want, though i installed in my server and liked playing with it.

Timetoast

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Another great option. I havent signed in to try it out, mostly because i don’t like the black dots thing but besides that it’s a quite complete and competent tool. I really need to take a closer look.

Timerime

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Timerime seemed to be quite powerful but it’s too messy for my taste. Anyway, it can be amazing for some projects, especially if they have overlapping events. I like the style and the navigation, and if i can control the amount of clutter i’ll use it.

Good examples

While researching for this assignment i found a few websites using timelines in an amazing way. One of my favorites is the NYT Time Glider, a search engine based timeline that uses the NYT’s articles database: input a keyword and you’ll see the articles spread out or concentrated certain periods of time.

The other is one that i really enjoyed because it relates to one of the issues in myn own timeline. The GTD – Global Terrorism Database offers different visualizations of terrorism data using timelines. It’s an amazing resource.

What other tools and cool timeline websites do you know? If you want to help me out building my timeline just join the Wave, i’m on a deadline here, so any help is welcome.