Category Archives: ideas

Comment is free, adding value is hard

When I was training journalists from one of the biggest media groups in Portugal in the wonders of online media, my favorite strategy to take a break during sessions was to launch debate. And none was so prolific as the discussion about article comments.

The divide was strong, and the general feeling was of frustration: all publications were understaffed, so there were no real comment moderators; most of the comments were nothing but personal disputes between commentators, agressive rants towards journalists, personal opinions on unrelated issues; grammar was a nightmare, the language was fowl; they complained about the usual patrons that tried to pass as experts but were far from it. Hell, they even had poetry posted in the comment box. And it was awful.

So, why have open comment boxes? Most agreed it drove audience numbers up: when one of the group’s websites decided to shut down the comments, visit numbers slumped. The comment box was the poor man’s social network, fed by negativity, stupidity and hatred. Management decided to profit from it by making the feature available again, even though it casted an ugly shadow below the byline. Freedom of speech was also debated.

While I was catching wind for the next bit, I listened to their personal frustrations towards this or that specific commentator. I started this game called “who’s commenting”, in which – with the available data – we would find who they really were. Shock and awe ensued, since the people that were harassing them for months -even years – were not quite what they expected.

Journalists and commentators had little respect for each other.

I said that in a everyway communication environment there are risks, and they should be handled to steer away from damage and into added value. They replied :”How?”

How to find value in the free manifestation of the common citizen, perched on his device delivering his two cents of personal spew, mostly uninformed, irreflected and useless? No wonder we love social networks, those personally crafted echo boxes where we can hide dissent with a click of a button.

This question is raised again in this Journalism.co.uk’s post that starts off with the decision of Reuters shutting down comments throughout their website. And they’re not alone:

Other news organisations have done the same, including the Chicago Sun-Times which described comments as “an embarrassing mishmash of fringe ranting and ill-informed, shrill bomb-throwing”

There are arguments in favor, though:

“It’s a very contentious issue. It’s something people feel very strongly about. My argument is if you have a website at all, why wouldn’t you give people the ability to comment on your content?”

The ecosystem has changed: opinon shifted from comment boxes to social media posts. The engagement arithmetic of links from external blogs or users replies to the articles became derisive. And publishers are no longer in control, either by this new logic or by negligence. Understaffed, remember?

We can never hope all our readers are smart, engaged people. But we shouldn’t dismiss most of them as solitary loons that use the comment feature as a soapbox for their diatribes. Thus, it’s up to publishers, and must be weighed section by section of their websites.

My non biliary two cents on this is if you don’t have a system – and the people to implement it – that doesn’t monitor and reward the best commentators, forget about open comment boxes. They are distracting and useless, and make intelligent readers nauseous.

If you do, allow (restricted) time for the article to be commented on and let the author join the discussion. Many don’t, and they should participate in the same way they write their stories: based on facts and in a impartial, non personal fashion, ignoring the trolls. No fight is worth picking in a comment box.

Get those pesky commentators out of the online anonimity and offer them a tour to your newsroom, enact live forums where they can be face to face with their targets. Make them show up or shut up.

Of course, this last suggestion is a bit idealistic, not to say impossible. But leave your comments below.

Interactive: Des Moines Register’s game like feature story

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The Des Moines Register recently produced an interactive feature called Harvest of Change. Designed with Oculus Rift in mind, the newspaper partnered with Gannet Digital to “to tell the story of an Iowa farm family using emerging virtual reality technology and 360-degree video.

The first of this five part series makes the user explore the farm to find icons that tell fragments of the story and unlock extras through special objects hidden in the scenario.

It wasn’t a thrilling experience for me, and though they add a 360º video to download, its 1.2 gb are taking too long.

Update: After downloading the file, we can watch a 360º video intro that will lead us to the farm setting and instead of pics  – like we have in the Des Moines Register website – we have videos. The navigation is a bit buggy though, and it sent me back to the intro more than once.

Probably the full series will be worth it, and this is definitely a great effort to bring virtual reality into news games and storytelling. But after unlocking all the photos and going through all the icons I can’t remember the story.

Was I too focused in the goal that somehow forgot to learn? This is a risk with this type of narratives. It must have some sort of challenge to be engaging:

“Games are about decision making, about consequences of actions. And while you are playing, you are picking up facts, pieces of the puzzle, learning tactics, because you have to, and want to, in order to progress to the next level.”

News as games: Immoral or the future of Interactive Journalism?

Maybe we’ll meet the farm boss in part 5. Until then, let’s stroll around and see what we can find.

desmoines2b

Best of me

 

I just updated my “Best of” page with these links. Check them out.

Is this a journalism job?

Are you a student? Contrast this to your course. Are you an editor? Do you have/need these skills in your newsroom?

There are some journalism job ads that could be asking for  Superman rather than for old plain Mr.Kent, but this one seems to be reasonable enough, if not only for the impression it gives that someone has a strategy.

Candidates should describe their success conceptualizing and building news apps, data visualizations, and interactive graphics. If you are a visual storyteller, someone who sees the narrative in numbers, and thinks in code, this is your opportunity to make a mark. Expect your journalism skills to be as important as your programming skills.  This editorial position will ask you to tell stories differently and inspire others to do the same.

The work will require advanced experience with HTML5, CSS, JavaScript (jQuery); an understanding of responsive design and proficiency with interaction design and user interfaces; familiarity with mining and manipulating data and Web scraping. Light Ruby or Python helpful.

The goal:

Create storyboards, wire frames, page layouts, prototypes, emails, landing pages and other Web assets and deliverables needed during project development.
•   Publish interactive graphics, data visualizations, news apps, multimedia and other digital content with an excellence that matches the reporting it supports.

Basic requirements:

  • College degree
  • Minimum of 2 years programming experience
  • Advanced command of HTML5, CSS, JavaScript (including jQuery)
  • Light Ruby or Python for data mining, Web scraping
  • Comfort with data analysis
  • Understanding of responsive design
  • Familiarity with Final Cut Pro and Adobe InDesign

For most journalism students and editors that I know this could be a job offer for astronauts. But it is not. Mindy McAdams puts it right:

This is a very reasonable list, in my opinion, and the ad copy is good overall. It is not the kind of “computer jesus” job description that Sean Blanda blasted in 2008. What’s the likelihood that the McClatchy Company (which publishes 30 daily newspapers) will find a perfect person to hire? I’m not sure. And will the salary be good enough? Washington, D.C., is an expensive area to live in.

Those concerns aside, what does this list say to journalism educators? And to journalism students who love design?

Is this a job for a person who has a degree in computer science? Absolutely not. You will not learn those skills in a computer science program.

I have this problem when people ask me what I do. I say “digital content producer” which is a mouthful of nothing. Sometimes I sprinkle it with “multimedia/interactive” but it sounds empty and a bit esoteric and neither potential employers nor civilians get it. I do a bit of HTML5 and CSS3 coding, deal well with video and audio, know how to write for the web, can design and create interactive multimedia narratives, and possess other assorted skills that can come handy for the high expertise environment of the digital world. A jack of all trades, master of none.

In my last appearance before a journalism students audience I did my informal poll and asked them in which medium they wanted to work in. TV and print got a full room of arms raised, radio had a few, but the internet – the medium they use more than any other – had none. It’s hard to change the game when the future players don’t know about the new rules.

Is this a journalism job? Hell, yes.

My advice for students: try to learn these skills and you’ll do fine, someday (maybe not here in Portugal).

My advice for editors: consider why you’d never put out an ad like this and understand why your business is tanking.

 

Snow Fall: o futuro e os meios de produção

 

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Snowfall, New York Times, 2012

 

Tem-se falado bastante da reportagem do New York Times “Snowfall“, muitas vezes pela perspectiva menos interessante. Uns dizem que é o futuro do jornalismo, outros dizem que não, e há quem ache que só naquela redacção é que se podia fazer um trabalho destes. Está toda a gente a exagerar.

Primeiro temos que ver a dimensão do trabalho:

-é uma reportagem que provavelmente não teria espaço numa publicação não-digital, mesmo numa revista (de tal maneira que foi feita uma edição em ebook);

-demorou seis meses a ser feita;

-ocupou uma equipa de 17 pessoas;

-usa video, áudio, aplicações interactivas para recriar o evento;

Vamos por partes, e começamos pelas mais chocantes para quem faz jornalismo.

Meios

Seis meses e 17 pessoas são recursos que a maioria das redacções não pode disponibilizar para uma reportagem.

A questão não está nas 17 pessoas mas o que faz cada uma delas: 12 estão creditadas no design e produção do projecto, 3 na parte de video, 1 na pesquisa adicional, e o jornalista que coordenou o projecto.

Muitos jornalistas disseram que isto é uma aberração, e eu concordo que parece ser, especialmente para quem vem do meio individualista do impresso. Olhando para a quantidade de pessoas que são precisas para fazer uma reportagem televisiva de fundo e colocá-la no ar, vemos que a proporção não deve ser muito diferente, entre o número de jornalistas e pessoal técnico que faz com que seja emitida, e mesmo o papel tinha gráficas inteiras com dezenas de pessoas e distribuidores para despachar o seu produto. É uma espécie de hipocrisia moldada pelos hábitos de produção, e uma visão redutora do processo de produção de informação.

A maior parte da equipa está relacionada com os apectos técnicos e visuais da reportagem, e se queremos ter histórias que se adequem ao meio  digital, temos que ter pessoas com as competências necessárias para as produzir.

Concordo que seis meses é muito tempo, mas se virmos a quantidade de fontes e dados necessários para abordar este assunto, vemos  que é um trabalho complexo. A colaboração de algumas entidades de investigação científica, que vivem fora da pressão de produção diária do jornalismo também pode ter ajudado a que a demora fosse maior.

Nem todas as histórias servem para reportagens deste tipo. É preciso que tenham um certo grau de intemporalidade e, que tenham a possibilidade de serem seguidas no futuro com novos conteúdos.

Um dos exemplos que dava nas minhas formações era a reportagem do Star Tribune “13 seconds in August“, realizada em 2007, que demorou também vários meses a ser produzida, com uma equipa grande também, e que ainda hoje tem espaço na publicação com actualizações sobre os sobreviventes. Porquê? Porque o evento o justifica.

Em Portugal, numa situação semelhante, só uma publicação se deu ao trabalho de fazer algo assim, e a diferença de investimento nota-se.

Também é preciso ver que uma das pessoas envolvidas é o Xaquin Gonzalez Vieira, uma das referências na produção de narrativas digitais, que esteve ocupado a fazer outras coisas enquanto a reportagem era produzida. Devem conhecer melhor a sua infografia da queda  do avião no rio Hudson.

Resultado deste esforço?

uma semana

Tecnologia

Este é capaz de ser o primeiro grande trabalho de grande divulgação produzido por uma redacção que usa simplesmente HTML5 , CSS3 e Javascript para uma grande reportagem, em detrimento do Flash que, devido à sua fraca implementação nos tablets, tem perdido interesse por parte dos criadores de narrativas digitais.  Não são só necessárias pessoas nas redacções que saibam programar mas que saibam trabalhar com dados geográficos e estatísticos. No entanto, a produção dentro das redacções ainda se centra muito no esforço isolado do jornalista-escritor.

Concordo com quem disse que isto não é o futuro do jornalismo, mas não da mesma maneira. É o presente, e não é ficção científica. Não é um esforço descabido, especialmente se comparado com outro tipo de investimentos e se olharmos aos resultados qualitativos e quantitativos. E, basicamente, é uma reportagem com um formato tradicional, mais uns extras.

É , acima de tudo, o futuro das narrativas digitais de fundo. A tendência está aí, a procura também. O mercado digital está a expandir-se cada vez mais por plataformas com necessidades de visualização e interacção específicas que é necessário satisfazer. Mas isso implica que, onde quer que se queira produzir conteúdos para meios digitais, haja competências,  estratégia de mercado e meios de produção adequados.

Choque e exagero não é a melhor maneira de se encarar mais uma forma fantástica de se contar histórias. O que me preocupou nas críticas foi o facto de não terem em conta a realidade do consumo e sim a fraca qualidade das condições de produção existentes na maioria das redacções. Apesar do esforço feito pelos mesmos há anos (Rádio Renascença, Público e JN), o panorama das produções multimédia em Portugal é basicamente o mesmo há 5 anos, com um grau de evolução muito próximo do zero.

E o que vem a seguir a esta avalanche?

So what’s next? The design team behind the Times project told The Atlantic Wire last week that no specific new stories had presented themselves yet as affording the “luxury” of the six months it took to report and design “Snow Fall.” But Abramson’s memo cites one-third of traffic to the avalanche story as first-time web visitors, and that can be more appealing than raw numbers. (We’ve reached out to the Times for comment, and will update when we hear back.)

The Times, of course, does long, reported features all the time, but as The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson pointed out, “There is no feasible way to make six-month sixteen-person multimedia projects the day-to-day future of journalism, nor is there a need to.” But it’s been a great year for the “long read” community, and while there were few ads on the full-screen layout for “Snow Fall,” that its traffic has been dwarfed entire sites might not make single-story advertising too far fetched of an experiment.

 
So What if Tons of People Read That ‘Snow Fall’ Story on the Times Website?