Online Journalism – Where are we going, who is our audience, why are they paying attention?

In the course of my regular reading on online communication this week, I’ve come upon a few things I’d like to tie together here to address the questions of Who is using the Internet to communicate What, Why, and How. (Pardon the j-school cliche usage.)

Danah Boyd, a PhD student at Berkeley (if I’ve kept up with her progress) writes about social networks, among other topics. In a recent post, Danah runs through three stages of communication that people go through in their lives: Identity formation, contributive participant, and reflection/storytelling.

Danah’s post is a good starting point to think about how college students are presenting themselves online.

Mostly, we’re talking about social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. As far as I can tell at SJSU, MySpace is the network of choice at the moment. These sites are places where you can create a personal page, show off photos, and connect with friends, not to mention keep a blog that your friends can subscribe to. MySpace is kind of a closed system – you can’t find my MySpace page via Google.

When you think of what undergraduates are using to create an identity for themselves online, think of MySpace.

Canadian j-blogger Fine Young Journalist picks up the thread and applies it to the question of how news organizations can appeal to younger readers/listeners/viewers:

…successful youth-oriented journalism will simply tell young people’s stories, rather than aiming to provide young people with useful information. Useful information is what adults think young people want, not what they actually do want.

A good point – social networking sites are all about sharing stories with a circle of friends. How can newspapers and the usual suspects make young readers feel like they’re among friends?

At the Online News Association conference this week in New York, a handful of media bigwigs brainstormed about how to hook these elusive young readers. Splashy multimedia is offered as one solution; targeting to your audience (i.e. the Financial Times is looking for business students) is another.

The second option makes more sense to me. The strength of the Internet is the ability to connect people with the same interests regardless of time, space, or distance constraints. If the strength of the Washington Post is its reporting on politics, then launch a “Political Youth” site of some sort that elicits and encourages the participation of the, uh, youth. Seems simple enough to me. Play to your strengths, and let your readers have a part in their own little corner of your news product.

On the Splashy Multimedia front, the starting point is including audio, video, and photo elements in your converged news site. That’s the easy part. All you do is plant content from different media in one place. No sweat. The next step is creating interactive graphics for your online content that are more than pretty pictures. Your interactive graphics should add to your story – think of them as a sidebar that tells a story — they let the reader see the pie chart move and change over time — they let the readers click on a map of their town to see the statistics that affect them personally.

Rich Gordon wrote this week in the Online Journalism Review:

When the history of media is written, who will be recognized as the inventors of interactive journalism? Who will be the Cronkite of this new field? We can’t yet know, but I’m sure some will come out of newsrooms and journalism schools. Others will come from the worlds of theater, screenwriting, animation, photography, computer science and game development.
What they will have in common: an urge to create, to discover, to share what they know and, just maybe, to change the world. What could be more exciting than to create something — a story, a photo, a video, a sound recording — and make it available to anyone who might be interested?

Keep all this in mind when you think about where Online Journalism is going and what it’s going to be used to communicate.

[tags]j-school, media, journalism, online+journalism[/tags]