Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why social media is crucial to journalism

Two recent research studies that I ran across today -- appropriately enough, through Twitter -- are all the evidence anyone in journalism today should need with regard to how important social media and mobile access are for the future of the craft.

Study 1: From the University of Maryland.
UM students were asked to go without media for 24 hours and write about the experience in a group blog, which was analyzed. Many students described the experience in terms of an addiction that had gone unfulfilled. The university described the study in a news posting and summarized some additional details (again, appropriately) in a blog posting. (I especially like the Wordle summary.)

Study 2: From the Pew Research Center.
For teenagers, online text messaging has become the dominant form of social interaction -- surpassing even face-to-face contact with close friends.

Findings such as these are so important because these are the news consumers (I am deliberately avoiding the term "readers") of the future. Understanding and addressing these media usage habits is necessary for anyone developing future models of journalism

Saturday, April 17, 2010

AP Style changes on Internet terms

The Associated Press in the newest edition of its industry-standard Stylebook will be changing its style on Web site to "website," catching up with the way the rest of the world thinks and writes.

I saw several tweets* praising this move for its common sense, and have to agree. But I also saw a tweet (re-tweeting another author) advocating for making "internet" lower case as well.

That one, I must disagree with. There is only one Internet. That makes it a unique entity that deserves the status of a proper noun, and proper nouns are capitalized. In my opinion, there's not even room for debate on this one. Internet needs to be capitalized in all usages.

The same for World Wide Web as a descriptor of the largest and most commonly used part of the Internet, for that matter. It's also a unique entity and therefore a proper noun.

For anyone who cites "consistency" as the reason to maintain lower case with either of these terms, let me cite some precedents for adjectival forms being lower cased even when the nouns they draw from are proper. AP style says "congressional" goes downstyle as an adjective (e.g. congressional committee) but I would hope no one would use that as grounds for saying its OK to write "congress" just to maintain parallel capitalization.

I'm all for guarding against excessive capitalization in journalistic writing and it's time for "Web site" to go. But let's not jump overboard.

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*Note that I'm fine with "tweet" in lowercase as the noun and verb for activity on Twitter. But for the same reason as Internet I would maintain that the name of the site should be capitalized as a proper noun. As should Facebook, IMO, even though it likes to confuse things by having a logo with a lower-case "f".

Friday, April 9, 2010

More on making up for lost journalism

I keep coming up from behind on this story, for some reason. Probably because I collect a whole lot of great stuff in GoogleReader, then let days pass without reading it and coming upon it later.

But Steve Outing made a really insightful reply to the same Alan Mutter piece about non-profit journalism that I used as a jump-off point for my last entry (immediately below).

Outing points out that a lot of the "lost capacity" in newsrooms -- calculated at $1.6 billion by Poynter's Rick Edmonds -- isn't exactly irreplaceable accountability journalism but the type of commentary and redundant functions easily found elsewhere in the new journalistic ecosphere:

"Of all that lost for-profit journalism that used to be published by newspapers, lots of it is no longer needed. Newspapers have lost plenty of movie and book reviewers; foreign and Washington, D.C., correspondents; sports reporters who travel across the country to cover every away game; and on and on. I don’t mean to belittle the loss of those jobs, but the Internet has made available plenty of credible replacements.

"Is it necessary that my hometown paper have a professional movie reviewer, when I can read a wide range of professional and movie-goer reviews on my laptop or phone? I’m not the only person who’s stood in front of the multiplex theater deciding what movie to see by checking the reviews and trailers using Flixster on my smartphone. … That the local metro paper no longer has a correspondent in D.C. is lamentable, but there are plenty of replacements just a few clicks or finger-taps away. … Foreign news coverage? I’ve never had such a wide range of sources available to me, for free, no less.

"In other words, plenty of that $1.6 billion in lost newspaper journalism is not going to be replaced; it already has been by other parties.

Those are important, and relevant, things to consider as we talk about what's being lost as newspapers decline. For more read Outing's complete post.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Paying for just the journalism, revisited

I'm a little late to this party, but want to react to Alan Mutter's post from a few days ago (March 30) about non-profit news funding, which drew a lot of (mostly negative) attention. Mark Coddington in this week's Nieman Lab Week in Review examines the controversy and curates a bunch of links to other posts about it.

Most of the debate -- especially in the comments at the end of Mutter's post -- centered on the likelihood and practicality of charitable donations being able to fund journalism to the tune of $4.4 billion a year currently spent on newsrooms. Mutter used that figure based on some calculations by Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute a few months ago.

But one of the comments -- which was made and ignored, garnering no reaction from other commenters -- pointed out that $4.4 billion amounts to $44 each from 100 million households nationwide. From my perspective, an even better way to look at it is that amounts to about $100 a year from each of the 44 million subscribers who currently pay to receive a daily newspaper, a figure remarkably similar to what I calculated and discussed in a post right here a few weeks ago.

It seems as if no one is putting any time or effort into figuring out how to get people who are now paying more than $200 a year for printed newspaper journalism to pay a fraction of that, say roughly half, for comparable online journalism. I'm repeating myself from the earlier post, but I don't think the issue whether paywalls will succeed is lack of willingness to pay for content. If it were, no one would pay for print, either. The real issue is that the weak content and crappy interface of most online news sites isn't worth paying for.

The newspaper industry's moguls should be working on create an online user experience that comes very, very close to reading the newspaper on paper with online delivery of interesting story selection, decent design and good writing. Then they should price it basically to cover just the overhead of paying for the journalists who will produce it. If this were to happen I'm convinced people who are still willing to pay for print would pay for this improved online version -- especially if it were to cost LESS than they were paying for the physical version.

Why is no one talking seriously about this? Develop an interface to the news worth paying for, and people probably will do so.