More talk about new media classes

Steve Sloan has posted the second half of the Pizzacast, a discussion about a New Media class to be offered next semester in SJSU’s J-School.

I’m going to stand by my idea that this class should be a training ground for Online Editors going on to student media, in the way that the 133 Copy Editing & Design class trains the print editors.

That means students need to learn a drop of html and css (which playing with a blog template will help teach them), a bit of audio and video editing (which producing a podcast and video podcast will take care of), and some experience setting up and running a content management system.

That last part, of course, requires some content. My suggestions? A bit of integration with other classes in the department. Edit and post articles written by students in the 61, 132, and 134 journalism classes. Post video produced by broadcasting students. In later semesters, when there’s some sort of class that teaches coding and design for online news, post the Flash animations, slideshows, and graphics.

One more thing – keep the class open to public relations and advertising majors. They need these tools, too.

How to get ahead in the newsroom

Steve Outing in E&P:

What seems to be becoming the norm in newsrooms these days is that a growing group of reporters, photographers and editors are now working in jobs where there’s a wide variety of tasks to be done each day: feeding the newspaper’s Web site; writing for blogs and interacting with blog readers; gathering audio for the website and/or radio partners; recording video clips; participating in online chats and discussion forums … Oh, and writing for the newspaper’s print edition.”

Outing goes on to talk with four real live journalists working in real live newsrooms. Three out of four are blogging, and the fourth is a photo editor pushing multimedia content.

What’s the best way for young aspiring journalists to prove to recruiters that they’ve got these skills?

Would you include a link to your blog in a cover letter or e-mail to a recruiter?

Is that the best way to explain to a recruiter that you’re not just scratching out a MySpace or LiveJournal blog? (Note to young aspiring journalists: You probably don’t want to send recruiters to your MySpace page.)

Pizzacasting for answers

I had an interesting time last night at the Pizzacast session. It was a small group with a wide range of interests (journalism, public relations, computer science, theater, business, aggregators), and the conversation ranged wildly from the on-topic question of what to teach in the upcoming New Media class at SJSU’s j-school, to some pleasantly off-topic tangents about open source textbooks and the Future of Newspapers.

Steve Sloan recorded a podcast, which you can grab from his post. Not sure if this is part 1 of 2 or if he cut the pre- and post-pizza conversations into one file.

Andrew will probably have some webcam video or audio of his own up later today. (Note to self: Sit as far away from wide angle webcam lens as possible next time…)

Oh, and the bonus mystery guest, who read about the beer-and-pizza plan on Valleywag, was Gabe Rivera of Memeorandum. That was unexpected.

Anyway, the whole point was to discuss what and how to teach undergraduates about New Media, with the idea that they should come out of the course with some practical knowledge about blogging, podcasting, video podcasting, and related will-get-you-hired-if-you-know-how-to-do-it technologies.

Here’s a few takeaways, filtered through my own opinions:

  • Teaching some theory is okay, but just enough to get students excited about the practical things they’re learning. Let’s read this stuff online when possible; even better, let’s just read blogs on certain issues so that we’re reading current ideas, not stuff from three years ago.
  • The lab portion of the class should include blogging, podcasting, and video podcasting. Use a minimal amount of equipment and as much pre-fab content as possible, teach students how to use an open source (read: FREE) content management system like WordPress, Joomla, or Mambo.
  • The goal is to train online editors, not just online reporters. The class should logically follow 132 (Online Information Gathering) and 134 (Online Reporting) in the progression of courses. Students who have taken the class will be prepared to be the Online Editor for the Spartan Daily, Access magazine, or Update News. (Yeah, I know, Update doesn’t have a website. An Online Editor would fix that, eh?) These students would also have a big head start on creating online content for all three of those student media outlets.
  • Guest speaker suggestions: Robert Scoble, Shel Israel, Dan Gillmor, Shel Holtz (Prof. McCune – I think this is who you were thinking of), Jon Fortt and/or Mike Bazeley, Dai Sugano, Bruce Koon, and lots of other Silicon Valley online journalists or tech bloggers/podcasters. I think the speakers should always be tied to something practical in their area of expertise. Ask Scoble to demo an aggregator, ask Dai to talk about photo/audio slideshows, ask Fortt or Bazeley to talk about managing blogs and podcasts, ask a podcaster to demo whatever hardware and software he or she uses, etc.
  • Storytelling is key. Let students rework old stories (from 132 or 134?) for a new medium, then have them write new web-native stories. Teach them to have an eye for what makes a good story online.
  • Assign a blog/podcast/video podcast for weekly reading/listening/viewing for the whole class so there can be some collective discussion of a new media product.
  • Assign each student one blog to follow for the whole semester. Students need to consume the medium they want to work in, whether that’s print newspapers or online news or blogs or podcasts or video. There’s no understanding RSS or tags or hyperlinks without reading blogs in an aggregator on a regular basis, playing with the tools they become interested in. Students will probably notice things like Digg, Technorati, and Delicious before you get to them in class if they’re reading a few blogs.

I’m sure other folks will have more to say about this, and this was just a sort of brainstorming session. The folks who will be teaching this class need to hear more from students about what they already know and what they want to learn. How often does the faculty ask the students what they want out of a class? If you’ve got anything to contribute, you might want to start talkin’…

A pair of photojournalism events at SJSU

If you’re a photojournalist, an art photographer, or a J-School student interested in multimedia journalism, you should check out Dai Sugano’s talk Thursday April 13th at an SJSU NPPA event.

Sugano shoots for the San Jose Mercury News and works on a small team of photographers, editors, and web producers putting together multimedia presentations at the Mercury News photography site. He’s also an SJSU alum and Spartan Daily veteran.
Also at SJSU right now, there’s a Chicano Photographer exhibit at King Library, put together by J-School alumnus Jesus Garza.

Garza graduated in 1978, and the five images on display are part of a proposal for a larger project.

Katie, Katie, Katie: Why the anchor is still important

A handful of New Media pundits have been questioning the wisdom CBS had in hiring Katie Couric away from the Today Show to plant her in the anchor’s chair on the evening news. Granted, CBS is spending gobs of money they could be putting into other projects, but think about this:

With more unbundled media floating around, and snippets of audio and video being published in feeds, turning up in aggregators, and getting posted on other news sites, doesn’t it make sense to connect a familiar voice to your brand?

Imagine that you’re subscribed to a little video-news-update thing on your mobile phone. Do you want some unknown quantity spitting out the headlines at you, or would there be something comforting (and yes, a little dystopian) about Katie telling you what’s going on. Carry that idea over to any little audio/video services you might be subscribed to in the future. (Some of you already use this sort of thing.)

It’s one thing to say that blogs and podcasts have a certain amount of credibility just because of their authentic voices, but the more disconnected the individual pieces of mainstream mass media become from their networks/newspapers, the more important it will be to have a recognizable brand. Katie Couric gives CBS the familiar face they need.

Don’t think people still value a familiar face? Ask yourself why the Huffington Post has succeeded. Is it the medium, or is it the source?

(Disclaimer: I can’t stand Katie Couric, but I think my mom likes her alot. Funny how that works. Oh, and as far as her news credentials go — get postmodern people. This isn’t a news decision, this is a spectacle decision. Her image will get more people watching the evening news. I don’t care what network she’s on, there are millions of folks who don’t normally watch hard news that might do so now.)

Redesign round-up: The New York Times

nytredesignThe New York Times launched a redesigned home page yesterday, with Multimedia and Video high enough on the page to make me happy, and a cute little “Most Popular” tabbed box that includes the stories getting e-mailed and blogged the most, as well as the top search terms on the site.
It gets better. Click on an article, then scroll down to the bottom of the story, and you’ll find direct links to “Related Blogs,” as well as related stories (although anything older than a few days is hidden behind the Times Select paywall) and searches on the keywords from the story.
I was about to moan and groan that even after buying Blogrunner, the company behind the Annotated New York Times, the redesigned site hadn’t started self-annotating. Of course, I would prefer the blog links to be a little more high profile. Hey Mr. Apcar, how about creating a little logo bug for the “NYT Annotations” and placing those “related blog” headlines a little higher up on the page, a la WashingtonPost.com. Take a look at this article on trends in Internet traffic and notice how easy it is to find the blogs. Then again, my eye is drawn to the familiar little green Technorati logo.

The most intriguing link on the new NYT site is right on top of the page, just to the right of the “Home Page” button. It’s the one that says “My Times.”

Whoa. That looks like a New York Times personal homepage, or maybe an aggregator, or more likely, a memetracker. The tagline is “Where the best minds in journalism help you edit the Web.” Hmm. Interesting. You can even sign up for the beta to be notified when the service goes live. How very Web 2.0.

More along these lines:

  • Khoi Vinh, a web designer for the NYTimes who came on board after the redesign was already underway, gives some details about the operation.
  • Anil Dash of blog software compant Six Apart writes that the new NYT borrows from blog layout, including the new 1024 pixel width.
  • Mike Arrington of TechCrunch is patiently awaiting the arrival of blog content published directly on newspaper sites.
  • Dave Winer isn’t impressed“…because it ignores most that has been learned about reading news on a computer screen, and instead models the front page of the print pub. Not a good use of the screen, it ignores the fact that they can produce a new document for each user every time they visit.”
  • Steve Outing says the new width on the NYT site means it’s finally time to ditch your outdated monitor and upgrade to a higher resolution. Amen to that. I fought this change early this semester at the Daily, but then quickly saw the Knight Ridder sites and CNN both stretch out their pages. Seriously, even the cheapest of cheap monitors these days should be able to handle 1024-pixel-wide pages. (Note to self: Should this blog page get wider?)
  • And finally, James Cramer writes this week in New York Magazine that the Times should ditch the print edition entirely and go all-digital.

    “That’s right. It should abandon newsprint and force everyone to the Web. It should make a stand against Google, using its About.com division—something with real growth, and which is actually working out despite the $410 million in debt taken down to buy the thing—to lead the way. Maybe it should even take the revolutionary step of blocking Google from accessing its content, something no one else is willing to do. Or maybe it should at least say, “This is the deal: You want our stuff, you must share much more with us than you are willing to share with others.” It is worth it to preserve value for the future, to make it so our kids don’t think, Let me go to Google for all the news that’s fit to print. Heck, in another couple of years they won’t even know that the New York Times exists as anything but private-label news source for an Internet portal.”

What would your dream newspaper homepage look like? (And with that, I admit that I daydream about this sort of thing. Sigh.)

Who Needs Ink? A panel discussion on the Future of Newspapers

Commonwealth Club event at San Jose City Hall: Who Needs Ink?

Who’s here?

  • Ex-Mercury News tech writer Dan Gillmor, currently of various citizen journalism initiatives
  • Jerry Ceppos, ex-Knight Ridder news executive (and Merc alum)
  • Peter Appert, a Goldman Sachs analyst
  • Joan Walsh, Salon‘s editor-in-chief
  • Jim Bettinger, communications prof from Stanford (and Merc alum) is moderating
  • And about 60 audience members…(It is a rainy night…)

[ooOOh: There is free wifi at City Hall. Go figure… By the way, the SaveTheMerc folks were at the registration table.]

The Future of Newspapers is pretty timely at the moment, with the future of the Mercury News (way) up in the air, along with the 11 other KR orphans.

Oh, and I don’t have my camera with me tonight, but for nostalgia’s sake, you can check out this shot of Dan Gillmor with a couple SJSU faculty members from last year. (I am not a photojournalist.) If anyone took pictures tonight, I’ll happily link to them. (Steve Sloan’s got a shot here)

Okay, enough preamble…questions are being asked by Bettinger.

[Ed. note: If it’s not in quotes, it’s paraphrased.]

Do investors think the business model is broken?

  • Appert: There will still be a paper on your doorstep tomorrow and the next week. Revenue growth is sliding, and if you’re public, there’s pressure from the shareholders to get more value out of the company.
  • Gillmor: “The facts are the facts. The business model is eroding…” Newspapers under attack by “nimble, hungry” competitors. (Who is he talking about? Blogs? Alt weeklies? TV? I dunno.)
  • Ceppos: “We clearly have a great new way to distribute the news, but there still is a print culture in our newsrooms.” Take half your staff, and point them at the Internet. For real. Not “Hey, file a story online before you write your important story for the paper.” The culture of the newsroom has to change. Free dailies will do well, but the Web is the thing. It’s the content that matters, not the channel.

Can the Web revenue grow fast enough?

  • Ceppos: Probably not, but let’s figure out how to make money off it.
  • Appert: Internet ad revenues for news orgs are growing, but the print revenue is shrinking faster. Web ad rates are a fraction of print rates. (Ed. note: Charge More.)
  • Ceppos: Ditching the stock tables from print is a bright idea, and it has been for years. Why did it take so long? (What I want to know: What else can print cut out this year?)
  • Walsh: Yesterday’s wire stories? Ditch ’em. Everyone read those online last night. The Rosenstiel report: more outlets doesn’t mean more news. What took big orgs like the NY Times so long to integrate print and Web? “We have to think of ways to make newspapers essential again, and they might not be newspapers.

Are newspapers dinosaurs? Slow, lumbering and tiny-brained?

  • Ceppos: Yes. The NYT’s e-mail the bylined writer schtick – once a day the writer gets a set of e-mail. Plus, the Times Select op-ed writers’ e-mail addys are still hidden behind the paywall.
  • Gillmor: Newspapers are in the manufacturing biz, not the news biz. “That’s what really runs the business.” How do you get out of that while maintaining enough good journalism? “Clearly, killing the stock tables is a very nice first step.” Appert: “I love the stock tables.” Gillmor: Understands the NYT’s fear of gobs and gobs of reader e-mail, but they should still get it. News people have to understand that the audience is an active participant now. Cue We The Media Mantra: “My readers know more than I do.”
  • Appert: “The freight is paid by the advertiser,” so how do we make the newspaper more appealing to the advertiser so we can make money to make great news?
  • Gillmor: Journalism isn’t getting the high-margin ads (the classifieds). Walsh: Advertising can’t really drive the discussion. Success is going to come with feeding your audience what the want – be nimble, be creative. Appert: “Tragically, I think you’re wrong.” Editorial has to be aware of what the advertisers want.

How has Salon been profitable?

  • Walsh: “We cut costs to the bone and it wasn’t pretty.” Then, they focused on what they do best. At one point, they talked about subscribing to the AP wire and rewriting stories “the Salon way.” We’ve got a subscriber model – if you subscribe, you don’t see the ads. That’s not actually working out that well. (The advertisers want the opinion leaders’ eyes, eh?) Comments are on, and there’s no flood of crap to edit for libel/death threats, but it’s going alright. The WaPo comments flap, and the WaPo plagiarist blogger kerfuffle.
  • Gillmor: The Web works great because you can experiment and cherry-pick the winning ideas.

Verification before publication, or publication and self-correction?

  • Gillmor: Most blogs are conversation, not journalism, so don’t sweat it. Factual errors can be fixed quickly. Citizen Journalism doesn’t mean that everyone’s a journalist; it means that some people “from time to time, commit an act of journalism.” Dan’s new rules for journalism include transparency.
  • Ceppos: The best newspaper sites are getting the news out accurately.

The Google/Yahoo News question – aggregation vs. creation?

  • Ceppos: Pretty neat, but I don’t need to read the same story 10 times. People want news, they need news, they’ll get news. Will there be any money to pay for news? Yeah, but put that big bunch of staff on the online edition.
  • Walsh: Newspapers are overstaffed. Cue Chronicle joke. This is a Merc room… Great journalism has not been rewarded – KR’s Iraq repoprting was best.

Audience questions:

Has the print industry outlived the business model?

  • Gillmor: The transition from here to there (print to online) doesn’t “happen by magic.” Newsrooms are full of real humans with real jobs. It’s not easy to change. “I don’t know that we need newspapers, I know we need what newspapers do.”
  • Appert: Family-owned papers have much more freedom to make changes and let profits slide a bit without shareholders to answer to.
  • Is the long form feature story dead?

  • Walsh: No worries – when a story’s great, we put up 5000 words, and we can tell if people are reading the whole thing. “We don’t have the limits of advertisers supporting pages.” Gillmor: “I print them out.”
  • Ceppos: Magazines will be the place for long form writing.
  • Gillmor: Magazines are great niche publications. “In those cases, the advertising is at least as interesting as the editorial content.”
  • Appert: What about the Wednesday grocery ads in newspapers?
  • Ceppos: “Why shouldn’t every newspaper be famous for something? When you try to cover everything, you cover nothing very well.”

How many audience members read a daily newspaper?

  • The demand for instant news, without a physical product…
  • Gillmor: Hopefully there’s some sort of way to package news to create context in communities.
  • Walsh: The NOLA Times Picayune rocked after Katrina. Went straight to the Web, then published readers’ stories. “The readers became experts.”
  • Appert: Demographics are a challenge. Newspapers have a depth of local coverage you can’t get from other media.

What should J-Schools be doing to prepare students for the future?

  • Ceppos: We should focus less on convergence and the specifics of how to build web pages — we should be teaching them how to cover the news and file stories in different ways. Focus on the basics, but know how to file for all media.
  • Walsh: At NY event she was at, news execs were falling over each other to make content deals with J-Schools. (Ed. note: PAY US. Please do not refer to students as “cheap labor.” It’s not cheap for us, mmkay?)

Tom Paine + Ben Franklin = blogs? Death of newspapers is okay, right?

  • Gillmor: “Blog” is just a “foxy word” “proxy word” [CORRECTED 4/1/06 – Thanks Dan!] for “doing things ourselves.” Ninety-five percent of everything (not just blogs – everything) is crap. How do we surface the really good stuff? We need to get past the Daily Me and to the Daily We. “The Tom Paines of tomorrow are probably going to be doing it with video” and other forms that are native to the next generation of mediamakers.

What direction should news orgs be “sprinting” to in search of the new business model?

  • Appert: It’s not that bad yet, but it’s getting worse, so sprint.

Why print out Web stories to read them, fellas?

  • Ceppos: The lack of portability.
  • Gillmor: Screens aren’t pleasant enough to read yet for long periods of time. Good stuff coming soon, and more portable too. (Ed. note: think e-paper.)
  • Ceppos: You want to pass a section of the paper back and forth over the breakfast table with your spouse. (Ed. note: Bathroom reading did pop up as another reason.)

Local weeklies, dailies?

  • Gillmor: Consolidation has made weeklies crappier. But they should be better, and have a chance, because a lot of these areas are too small for Craig’s List to get into.
  • Ceppos: Still not convinces that people care about their hyperlocal news.
  • Appert: Hyperlocal papers have the best penetration rates. Chorus: They’re free.
  • Gillmor: Metro dailies could let communities talk to each other about their local issues.

Vision/Mission statement for a new print paper?

  • Ceppos: “Be famous for something.”
  • Walsh: Great reporting and writing, and “a place for the reader at the table.”

Last question: What’s the most important journalistic value that needs to be preserved, and how?

  • Walsh: Accuracy. “It’s not very sexy…” but you can’t separate the current news problems from the accuracy and credibility problems.
  • Gillmor: “Telling the truth,” a slight twist on accuracy/objectivity. Help readers sort out the important issues instead of just reporting he said/she said. Laments for the KR Washington bureau that stood up re: Iraq.
  • Ceppos: “A new kind of fairness that goes further than we’re comfortable with.” Though the WaPo’s right-wing blogger idea wasn’t bad. “Preferably, don’t hire a plagiarist to do this…” Change traditional news-covering habits to avoid imbalances. (He told his Republican pumpkin story — those who have heard it once or twice before know what I’m talking about.)
  • Appert: The industry can’t survive without journalistic principles, BUT “profability is required to support good journalism.”

(For the answers to a few more questions, check out Edupodder Steve Sloan’s podcast, recorded last night after the panel discussion.)

My take: First one to figure out a new business model for newspapers WINS.

Personally, I think the print newspaper should either be a luxury item or a rock-bottom bare-bones tabloid. Perhaps both, eh? Charge more (alot) for the fat luxury version, and charge advertisers more (alot) to reach the demographic that can afford it. In the tab version, print just top national news, more local news, sports, and the funnies. Make the tab free, with appropriate ads for the demographic it reaches. The luxury version is what subscribers get at home, the tab is what you pay 50 cents for at the newsstand, and the online edition is completely free, with lots of multimedia, audio, video, opinion, blogs, forums, and comments are on everywhere. But that’s just me.