Online video is NOT ‘broadcast quality’

Larry Pryor wrote a good summary of the annual Poynter convergence confab for journalism educators. Something I heartily agree with:

“Because online video is different, a convergence curriculum that stresses conventional broadcast production, the use of high-end equipment, news teams and text-heavy websites may not be doing students any favors.”

SO TRUE. I became very disheartened at the oft-repeated excuse I heard from broadcast news faculty: “Broadcast quality.”

It means that everything has to cost at least four times as much as any real online operation would ever pay. It also means that rather than graduating with a rudimentary understanding of how to shoot and edit video, students graduate with NO training in video at all. Duh … how is that good for them?

Sure, for that small handful of kids who will try to go work in real TV, training on broadcast-quality equipment is necessary. But TV is not the only game in video today, and it’s too darned shortsighted to spend all your money on those folks’ ultra-costly gear when for the same money you could train 10 times as many students for jobs that are actually hiring.

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Time-shifting and podcasts

I’m listening to NPR’s All Things Considered right now on “live” radio. Sometimes I get home early enough to do that. But when I don’t, I often listen to the program on my desktop computer the next morning, after Morning Edition ends.

I thought about this today while listening to someone talk about podcasting. A lot of such talk concerns local content, new content that was never available before, such as newspaper people making audio. And a lot of the talk is about subscribing, daily downloading, and listening on an iPod or other MP3 player.

But my most common use of podcasts is not by subscription and not on my iPod. It’s an on-demand asynchronous way to listen to my two favorite news shows. Podcasts from NPR let me get more of what I already like.

The last thing I need is to load up my iPod with lots of stuff that then causes guilt because I don’t have time to listen to it. Like stacks of books I don’t have time to read.

My consumption of All Things Considered via ad hoc downloads, by contrast, helps me compensate for my busy life, rather than adding extra busyness I would not welcome.

Podcasting is apparently working out well for BBC News.

As for original podcasts that are not extant radio programs, I like interviews with interesting people. Andrew DeVigal has done some nice ones for Interactive Narratives. The latest one (download MP3) is with Naka Nathaniel, the do-everything multimedia master of The New York Times.

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Odeo is amazing

Free audio for everyone at Odeo.

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Slashdot … um … is not new

There’s a two-day-old article on CNNmoney.com (Is Slashdot the future of media?) written by Fortune magazine’s David Kirkpatrick, a senior editor. It’s an informative story, but I thought everyone in journalism had already talked about Slashdot, back around 1999.

I’m not making fun of Kirkpatrick, because the story he wrote really is pretty good. And I guess it just goes to show that for a lot of people working in journalism, there are things taken entirely for granted in the online world that are still new and innovative to those who work in print and broadcast.

To me, this is closely related to the recurring brouhaha about craigslist (not the recent lawsuit over housing ads but rather the “craigslist is killing journalism” complaint). Newspapers had every opportunity to bring their classified ad systems into the digital era, but they didn’t do it. To be more exact, they didn’t do it in a way the audience likes and finds easy to use.

I think newspapers whining about craigslist is a lot like Blockbuster whining about Netflix.

Yes, the decline in classified ad revenues is a serious threat to the economic viability of daily newspaper journalism. But bashing Craig Newmark is not a productive way to counter that threat.

So, while Slashdot in some ways does show us “the future of journalism,” it is not necessarily a future that will be brought to the world by Gannett, Knight Ridder and The New York Times.

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Animated infographics

Searching for recent examples to show in class tomorrow, I was a little surprised that I could not find many recent animations from news organizations.

The usual places to look are El País, El Mundo, USA Today and MSNBC.com. They all have some recent stuff, sure, but not much. As for the Winter Olympic Games, I was surprised at how little I found on the two U.S. sites. The two Spanish sites have some excellent work up.

There aren’t that many news organizations that can afford to have artists producing animations. But for some events, an animated infographic is absolutely the best and clearest way to tell the story.

The one I’m going to use in class is Esquí Alpino (Alpine Skiing), from El País. I chose it because it illustrates the differences among the skiing events in a way no other medium could. You don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to appreciate this animated news graphic.

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Design, CSS, HTML and journalism

There’s always this big debate about teaching software vs. teaching journalism, teaching code, script, etc., vs. teaching the essential skills of reporting the news. If you teach journalism at any college or university, you have heard this debate. Sometimes it gets downright nasty.

I’m going into the sixth week of the spring semester, and in my advanced Web course so far, I have not covered anything but CSS and design. Why? Because there are journalism jobs for people who have these skills, and we are a journalism school.

Just go to journalismjobs.com and look at what’s available under Industry: Online Media.

There are 134 job listed for Online Media today. Under TV and radio combined, there are 56 jobs listed.

For a job in North Carolina: “The ideal candidate will be grounded in the skills, methods and values of journalism and experienced in creating and producing multimedia and interactive content for the Web. The producer will serve as an editor/designer, updating and crafting the site on the day shift and working weekends as needed. The producer also will contribute original content or pieces supplementing work produced by the newsroom.” Basic qualifications include: “Working knowledge of the basics of Web design and development (HTML, Photoshop). Knowledge of Associated Press style, grammar and spelling. Working knowledge of Flash. Basic knowledge of audio and video editing.”

The job title is online producer. The employer is a newspaper Web site.

We have other courses in which students learn reporting, ethics, law and editing. So I think that when they take a Web production/design course in the j-school, they should focus on acquiring the online skills that employers are looking for.

The New York Times is looking for “a talented multimedia producer to create cutting-edge multimedia for our news and features sections. The producer will be expected to work with reporters from The New York Times, producers from the Web site and NYTimes.com’s award-winning multimedia team to write, record, edit and produce Flash-based features.”

In Week 6 in my class, we start working in Flash. Then we’ll spend the rest of the semester using Flash. At the end of 10 weeks, will they be ready to work for The New York Times? Probably not. But after a year or two at a smaller online operation? Yes, they could be.

The Gannett News Service has an ad for “an online storyteller who can collaborate effectively with reporters, editors, photographers and graphic artists to create outstanding interactive coverage for newspaper and television Web sites. … can conceive and help execute interactive Flash graphics, searchable databases, audio and video to enhance traditional narrative.”

Enough already. Why wouldn’t we teach these skills — which ARE script, code, software, design and standards of usability? I learned to use a pica stick and a proportion wheel in j-school 20 years ago, and that was in a required course.

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Why people reject (journalists’ version of) the news

“Through Internet portal sites, handheld devices, blogs and instant messaging, we are accessing and processing information in ways that challenge the historic function of the news business and raise fundamental questions about the future of the news field.”

Merrill Brown wrote that about a year ago for the Carnegie Reporter in his introduction to Abandoning the News, a big report based on a survey of 18-to-34-year-olds (conducted in May 2004).

Brown also wrote:

“[T]he future of the U.S. news industry is seriously threatened by the seemingly irrevocable move by young people away from traditional sources of news.”

But I don’t buy that. I mean, yes, young people (and more) ARE abandoning the news. But not because portal sites, handheld devices, blogs and instant messaging MADE them do it.

“We’ve pledged in our codes of ethics to tell people what they need to know in order to be effective citizens. Yet on any given day, we could attract a larger audience with stories that merely amuse our readers.” That’s from a column by John McManus (No Business Like News Business). That’s where the evidence leads us, but the news industry is ignoring the evidence.

I just started reading On Television, by Pierre Bourdieu (New York: The New Press, 1999). It has me thinking along these lines (again). The standard operating procedure of many journalists is to oversimplify in a manner “absolutely and utterly contrary to the democratic goal of informing or educating people by interesting them” (p. 3).

There is a “focus on simple events that are simple to cover” — and not only on TV.

Journalism “represents the world in terms of a philosophy that sees history as an absurd series of disasters which can be neither understood nor influenced” (p. 8).

So what are we going to do about it? I’m thinking about this a lot.

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