I don’t know if this is in the book; Shirky wrote it for a blog from his publisher, Penguin:
A good deal of user-generated content isn’t actually “content” at all, at least not in the sense of material designed for an audience. Instead, a lot of it is just part of a conversation.
Mainstream media has often missed this, because they are used to thinking of any group of people as an audience. Audience, though, is just one pattern a group can exist in; another is community. Most amateur media unfolds in a community setting, and a community isn’t just a small audience; it has a social density, a pattern of users talking to one another, that audiences lack. An audience isn’t just a big community either; it’s more anonymous, with many fewer ties between users. Now, though, the technological distinction between media made for an audience and media made for a community is evaporating; instead of having one kind of media come in through the TV and another kind come in through the phone, it all comes in over the internet.
As a result, some tools support both publication and conversation. Weblogs aren’t only like newspapers and they aren’t only like coffeeshops and they aren’t only like diaries — their meaning changes depending on how they are used, running the gamut from reaching the world to gossiping with your friends.
I couldn’t shake this out of my head after I had read it.
Newspapers used to be centered in communities. Now they are mostly not. People in much of North America don’t even live in communities.
Is this why newspapers are dying? Because there are no communities?
I heard about someone asking a speaker how we could get young people to read newspapers. Reportedly, the speaker took rather a long pause before replying. When she did speak, her answer was essentially, “We can’t.”
This makes a lot of people feel sad. Others feel angry.
But this is not about newspapers.
It’s about what Shirky said: Audiences are not the same as communities, and communities are made up of people talking to one another.
What does a community need? How should journalists supply what communities need?
Let’s think about programming today. Or scripting, if you will.
To go beyond static pages of text and images online, you will need at least a little programming. One reason why I advocate for everyone to learn at least a little is that if you bog down your newsroom’s expert programmer with too many trivial tasks, he or she will never have time to do any real work. You pay a real programmer too much to waste his or her time. It’s inefficient. It indicates poor management decision-making. Bad resource allocation. In short, it’s short-sighted.
Another reason: A person who understands the basic ideas of programming is in a better position to conceptualize good ways to do digital stuff. It’s not only that you can talk more coherently to the programmers; it’s also that you can differentiate a viable project from an impractical one.
I was reading some related ideas in this interview in Columbia Journalism Review, in which Brad Stenger, of Wired magazine, said:
… it seems like the division of labor question is being misaddressed by news organizations across the board — that IT and maintaining infrastructure is different than dealing with and processing news as data, especially for the purpose of getting insight out of it.
In 1994-95, part of my job was to have a weekly meeting with the head of IT (and his deputy) at The Washington Post. I was essentially the liaison between the new online operation and the newsroom IT department. It was clear then that the IT people in newsroom systems are not the people you can turn to, to get dynamic data appearing in a story about, say, local housing prices. Their job is completely different from that — now as well as then.
Too many journalists and editors and publishers think “an IT guy” is a programmer. That’s the first mistake. An IT guy typically is not a programmer at all.
What you’re not seeing in a lot of organizations, and where The New York Times is ahead, is the productivity and the manpower it takes to support all of this work. Where the computer science comes in, it’s not so much doing a one-off information graphic. … But now you build this machine, for lack of a better term, which functions as an information graphic, but it will take yesterday’s information, and it’ll take today’s information, and it’ll also take tomorrow’s information.
The question is, do you have any journalists on staff who even know what Stenger is talking about?
That’s what I’m talking about, and that’s why I’m telling you that every journalist should know at least a little programming.
How do you get started?
The book is less than 200 pages. I think I worked through the first eight chapters (112 pages), and then I felt satisfied. It probably took me about a week. I understood how to make rollover effects, create cookies, build dynamic pages (not that that worked very well then), and spawn pop-up windows.
It’s not that I could do any of this from memory — I still needed to consult the book if I wanted to implement these things. But I had the fundamentals clear in my mind.
I comprehended how cookies work, for example. I could explain why cookies would be a good idea, or not, for addressing a particular issue on a Web site. Or I could solve a problem if I knew that setting a cookie would do what was required. I could look the programmer in the eye and say, “Wouldn’t a cookie take care of that?” If the answer was no, I could understand the programmer’s explanation for why not.
Some links to get you going
Update (2:40 p.m.): In a meeting today I heard someone say — erroneously — that the “graphics people” do all the data integration in these scripted online projects nowadays. Wrong! Reporters do data — especially the investigative reporters.
I’ve been pimping free WordPress blogs as the way to get started online for journalist bloggers, journalism educators, and students for months now (ever since I migrated this blog to WordPress, in fact). Most people will be content (even happy) with a free blog hosted at WordPress.com. (Real geeks, on the other hand, can download and install WordPress on their own Web server.)
Recently I have started recommending that folks look at WordPress as their first CMS (content management system) for an online publication. Not big daily newspapers, mind you! But for a lot of smaller and less demanding publications, as well as micro sites, having a free and open-source CMS (with a dependable MySQL back-end) has a lot of benefits. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel — you can get a fully functioning wheel, with extras, for free!
Having done the wrangling and since forgotten all about it, I’m recommending WordPress.
So, more to the point — which WordPress theme works best for a publication site?
Themes are like templates — ready-made designs that you can choose and use for your WordPress site. You don’t have to roll your own, like I did — in fact, most people select a ready-made theme from the huge online repository. Most themes are free, just like WordPress itself. If you get tired of the one you’ve got, you can quickly switch to a new one.
Some themes, however, have been developed for professional use. The most popular of these for commercial publishing are the Revolution themes by Brian Gardner. Prices range from $80 (for use of one theme on a single Web site) to $400 (for all-you-can-eat and all seven variants of the Revolution theme). To install a theme like Revolution, you must install WordPress on your own server (you cannot use the version hosted at WordPress.com).
If you’re wondering why I am touting WordPress and not Drupal or Django, read this earlier post. People I respect hugely (such as Matt Waite) swear by Django. If you want to totally roll your own application, go for it. But if you merely want to launch a frequently updated publication (or any other kind of informational Web site), at least give WordPress a fair look. (As I said, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!)
You can read about how the j-school at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada, adopted the Revolution news theme for its student publications, including The Thunderbird. The Cal State Fresno student newspaper, The Collegian Online, is also in WordPress.
For a free WordPress theme designed for publications, see The Morning After, by Arun Kale.
For teachers and professors, starting up your own blog can be a great way to organize your communications with students. No more lost e-mails! Some educators are publishing their full syllabus and all assignments on WordPress (or Blogger) blogs. You don’t need to wait for someone to show you how to do it. Honestly, it’s self-explanatory once you click the “Get Started” button.
Journalism educators debate about what students need to know today. I have some ideas about that.
We insist, of course, on reporting fundamentals — news judgment, interviewing skills, fact checking, ethics, law. The need to master these remains strong.
All students should have basic familiarity with (basic) XHTML and CSS. That’s about 10 tags in XHTML. For CSS, that’s fonts, color, and divs. They may not need this every day on the job, but these are the foundation bricks of everything they will ever do — because everything they will do is going to be online.
Every reporter should know how to gather AND edit audio. It’s so close to the normal job of every print reporter, it’s a natural fit. Audio also has a shallow learning curve. Low stress, big returns.
All journalists need to understand the basics of photo composition, photo ethics and simple Photoshop (cropping, resizing, resolution, etc.). I would expect a journalist to have a high-res digital point-and-shoot in her pocket at all times, just in case news happens.
All journalism students should be exposed to Soundslides, because it has become the industry standard. I’d think one required homework assignment using the Soundslides demo version would be enough for many students to get the idea. Anyone who wants to work as a photojournalist should work to become adept.
Video is hard — takes longer to teach than everything else. I hope I’m figuring out how to teach it to print journalism students in less than one semester. I’ll let you know. You may not have cameras and you may not have enough time, but at least you could look at current examples. (And read Colin’s awesome blog.)
Podcasting is not as important as audio interviewing skills and audio editing, but depending on the course, it might make sense to combine the two and produce a weekly podcast — if you can come up with a format.
I recently wrote about why NOT to teach Dreamweaver. Nothing wrong with Dreamweaver — I use it almost daily. But learning it is not the best use of the students’ time. Other stuff is much more important.
Finally, the much neglected matter of storytelling. No matter which vehicle you’re using to carry it, your story is the dealbreaker. No story (or a weak story)? No deal.
Amid all the talk about how to add all this “new” stuff without compromising the “important” stuff (implying that the new skills are not as important as the old ones), most educators never get around to discussing how hard it is to get a really good story out of students. When the subject does come up, there’s universal agreement that the ability to recognize, pursue, and develop a story seems to elude many journalism students.
Don’t forget story. In teaching each of these skills, no matter how technical or tool-based, we have to keep the idea of story prominent and clear.
The Rocky Mountain News Web site needs a “design producer.” I thought that was a pretty interesting job title — not a designer, and not just a producer (hm, story producer, news producer … design producer) to “work with our developers and producers to build innovative tools and applications.”
Understanding of user interface and ability to produce designs that meet users’ needs (that’s very reasonable)
Advanced HTML and CSS proficiency (obviously necessary for online design)
Proficiency in Flash 8/Flash CS (no doubt they mean CS3; also sensible and natural)
Proficiency in Adobe Indesign and Photoshop CS (Photoshop, of course — but InDesign? What, you need this person to design the print product as well? Get real!)
Strong attention to detail (of course)
Ability to work in a team environment and under pressure, with tight deadlines (sure, sure)
Desired skills a plus:
Experience with ColdFusion 6.1 and higher (oh, that’s too bad; lots of applicants just quit reading the ad)
Experience with XML (very natural, very smart)
Experience with online audio/video production (now wait a minute — this person can design in code, and you ALSO want audio and video? Here is where good people decide not to apply for this job)
Experience with Final Cut Pro and/or Adobe Premier (see the previous item; you are now asking for computer jesus)
Experience with FLV video formatting (this, on the other hand, is not so bad, because you DO want your designer to be a Flash guru, and this is not necessarily incompatible with that. However, it would be better to have a video producer and put this is THAT job description)
This person must also be able to:
Balance priorities and take deadlines seriously (of course)
Think and learn quickly (sure)
Take ownership of projects and be proactive in problem-solving (okay, yeah, nice)
Help conceive and develop database-driven projects for use in print and on the site (computer jesus!)
But then, after a reasonably intelligent ad, the Rocky wrecks it:
Web hosting and maintenance? No! Kiss of death! Die! Die! Run away!
“Some nights and weekends” is not bad. This is journalism, after all. But Web hosting and maintenance?
Why not ask for an utterly useless MCSE certification too, while you’re at it?
(For the sake of comparison, see my earlier post about the requirements for an online NEWS producer at The Washington Post.)
Not only is this amusing animation directly related to a news story of great local interest in Detroit (the city’s mayor embroiled in scandal), but it was produced and posted in ONE DAY! Kudos to the Freep!
Just as the reported quote is an essential element of journalism, on the web the “reported link” must become an essential element of journalism.
These are some meaty and interesting ideas (thanks to our grad student Gary R. for send me the link to a ReadWriteWeb post that highlighted Karp’s posts), and they immediately made me think about the George Polk Award recently conferred on blogger Joshua Micah Marshall for journalism — yes, journalism — committed in his blog Talking Points Memo.
While many have cheered the decision to acknowledge Marshall’s work in connecting the dots between “politically motivated dismissals of United States attorneys across the country,” some have implied that what occurs in TPM is not really, you know, the same as journalism.
His work differs, though, from big newspaper or network political reporters. It often involves synthesizing the work of other news outlets with his staff’s original reporting and tips from a highly involved readership. In the case of the United States attorneys, Talking Points Memo linked to many local articles about federal prosecutors being forced from office and drew a national picture for readers. [Boldface is mine this time.] (Source: The New York Times, Feb. 25, 2008)
The status of the link, or the function of the link, in an online report or commentary (on a blog or elsewhere) demands consideration. Why has the writer included the link? Why that link instead of another one? What does the link convey? (Such a nice word, convey.)
My colleague Cory Armstrong conducts research about credibility in journalism. She and I have worked together on a couple of studies concerning blogs and credibility among college students (our favorite study participants, naturally), and I’ll leave you with this idea, from a book chapter we have recently co-authored:
In news stories, the source of the news story is responsible for conveying information about a story, so who is quoted may determine how the story is interpreted by readers. …
Extending this argument to Weblogs, the term “source” takes on different meanings. In traditional news coverage, the source is the person to whom information is attributed and, in some instances, the journalist who is conveying the story. However, as noted above, Weblogs are a bit different. Weblogs are generally written by an individual who shares his or her opinions and usually provides additional Internet links for more information. Those links are often to mainstream media or informational Web sites, which may lend credibility to the overall Weblog post, but the links themselves aren’t generally examined for source credibility. The human sources quoted in a news story speak to the reader. Rather than speaking to the blog user, the links in a blog post speak for the blog author. (Race/Gender/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers, 2nd edition. Rebecca Ann Lind, editor. Longman: Forthcoming.)
In providing links to diverse reports appearing in many different locations, TPM’s Marshall and his colleagues demonstrated the authority of their analysis that particular U.S. attorneys had been dismissed for political reasons.
Rather than relying on what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have famously criticized as the “journalism of assertion,” the new link journalism supplies evidence by backing up statements. Rather than making a phone call to a favorite and easy-to-reach expert or pundit, the journalist conducts research (imagine that!) and sources the facts by linking directly to them.
This is what Scott Karp is calling “link journalism,” and I’m pleased to pick up that meme and run with it.