I’ve been holding out from getting a Twitter account for years. Recently, my resistance has been slipping because:
- Twitter users transmit news faster than the news wires. Case study: Wednesday’s L.A.-area earthquake.
- There are tons of Twitter tools out there to play with, such as twhirl and summize.
- It’s beautiful in its simplicity.
- It’s like IM from your phone and SMS from your computer all at once.
- Many of my favorite bloggers use it and recommend it. (e.g. here, here and here.)
But then again…
- I’ve already got a couple hundred friends on Facebook, and I can use my status message as a tweet.
- Do I really need one more social networking account out there?
- I have a hard enough time keeping up on my RSS feeds!
- For news, how reliable is information provided via Twitter? Case in point: Subway Jared’s nondemise.
- I’m doing everything I can to maintain a longer attention span; I can’t see Twitter helping that.
So, who out there loves to Twitter? Who else is holding out?
I didn’t go to Chicago last week for UNITY. If you’re unfamiliar with this event, Wendi C. Thomas of the Memphis Commercial Appeal sums it up as “the every-four-years convening of the ethnic minority journalist groups.”
But I did get a taste from the Internet.
Most of what I saw came from 10,000 Words, who was there blogging. And we’re not talking about mere summaries of panel discussions. If you’re new to multimedia on the Web, you need to check out Mark Luckie’s tip sheets for video and audio. Also, check out the impressive project he knocked out in 48 hours.
From Mark’s blog and the Commerical Appeal article, I sense that UNITY was the conference to attend for journalists hoping to stay invigorated during these troubling times. A quote from a recent journalism grad in Thomas’ story tells me everything I need to keep in mind:
“I’d rather have a roller-coaster marriage with journalism, filled with love and passion, than an empty relationship in law, PR or business, where there is money, but no sparks,” wrote (Angel) Jennings, a recent graduate of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, in an edition of UNITY NEWS.
Oh, and did I mention that Barack Obama made an appearance fresh off his overseas tour?
I’m playing catchup with life right now after going to Chicago last week for the Pitchfork Music Festival.
While I was gone, Angela Grant posted about our newsroom restructuring report. (I noticed this via Spokesman-Review multimedia coordinator Colin Mulvany’s blog.) She gave us some kudos — thanks! — but also raised some questions and suggested we could go further in encouraging multimedia and online journalism under the new structure.
I started to post a response on her blog, but when it grew longer than three paragraphs, I decided to post here instead.
Before I get to that, I should re-emphasize that our report contained suggestions only. Some of them might advance, but many will not. And I should note that we’re expecting a second task force report this week, this time looking specifically at what kind of content The Spokesman-Review should be producing in print, online, on the radio and beyond.
Big changes await our newsroom on the near horizon, and when those come, it’s hard to say how much attention either of these reports will get. For the time being, here are those clarifications.
Re: reporters voluntarily shooting video.
Angela suggests we shouldn’t just encourage this but require it. In interviews with senior editors, we heard that the voluntary adoption of multimedia has been seen as crucial for the success we’ve had. We wanted to continue this approach with the idea that the bug to shoot would spread. Also, we were trying to be realistic about equipment. We just don’t have that many cameras and laptops yet. The idea is that we could gradually build up those reserves.
Re: online producers having enough time
Angela wonders whether we’re asking too much of these staff members. I’m an online producer, and I authored the section of the report that discusses this position. Right now, I assist reporters and editors in a bit of a haphazard manner. In the report, we suggest assigning producers to set groups of editors and reporters. With a clearer definition of who I work with, I think I could significantly increase my productivity.
Re: combining the photography and multimedia departments.
Two questions here:
- Will we require photographers to shoot video?
We’ve got a fast-growing corps of photographers who also do video, which is fantastic. We’ve also got three people, including Colin Mulvany, who can throw all their effort at video. With those resources, we didn’t see the need to require video of the entire department. Although I’d love to see the day when that is the case.
- What the heck did we mean about removing redundancy among video and still shooters? Angela wrote:
“I’d be cool with that if it means this: A photog is covering an event, they decide the event is good for video too, and so the photog is assigned to do both stills and video. I won’t be cool with it if it means this: A photog is covering an event, which would be good for video, but they don’t want to send an additional video producer so it just doesn’t get done.”
We meant the former. And if the assigned photog hasn’t yet trained in video, we send somebody along who is. Of course, I’d expect the video potential to be tremendous to warrant such doubling up on an event.
Re: requiring page designers and graphic artists to do interactives
It’d be great if these staff members had the time and training to design projects in Flash. But we have one graphic artist for all platforms, our day designers are already working at capacity to produce the print sections, and we don’t really have dedicated designers at night.
I hate to sound like I’m making excuses, but absent new hires, we could only throw interactive design into the mix if we came up with the ultimate model of universal copy/design desk efficiency.
The project is the biggest undertaking I’ve been part of at this newspaper. To complement the stories, I developed an interactive map using Google My Maps. There are historical photos, aerial photos by S-R photog Jesse Tinsley, markers with information about key landmarks and illustrations by Rick Hosmer, a participant on the expedition.
The map was time-consuming but easy to put together. I didn’t dabble with KML or other more sophisticated Google tools, instead relying on the basic My Maps interface. You can check out a quick tutorial here.
The map has been getting decent traffic and love from my friends at Down to Earth.
Of course, I’m not the only one merging waterways and interactive maps in these parts. Cheney, Wash., resident Ron Hall introduced himself in my comments section and shared this link to his Google Earth aquifer tour. Also check out this profile S-R reporter Parker Howell wrote about Hall and his 3D modeling of Spokane landmarks. Great stuff, and miles beyond what I’m doing. For now.
I previously posted about being a part of a group of eight young Spokesman-Review journalists charged with recommending a reorganization plan for the newsroom.
We turned in our report Thursday and met with senior editors Friday, and Editor Steve Smith posted our report on his blog later that evening. My colleague and fellow group member Nick Eaton has also blogged about our findings. Kate Martin is also following the process on her blog.
Download the report here (PDF). There’s a flow chart at the end.
A few of our major recommendations:
- Move to a early deadline akin to an afternoon daily but continue publishing in the mornings. The idea: Start the editing process earlier; relieve bottlenecks on the city and copy desks; foster more enterprise reporting while leaving room to accommodate breaking stories.
- Bring all section editors into a central pod in the downtown offices. The idea:Improve communication and planning; encourage decisions on where stories will run based on content, not default categories of sports, features, business, zoned neighborhood news, etc.; reduce after-the-fact regrets about missing a good front-page opportunity.
- Create a universal copy desk with shifts staggered throughout the day. The idea: Help our highly overworked copy editors, day and night; free up those delegated to do design on a given night to focus entirely on design, not copy editing as well; have more copy editors around in the day to copy edit stories going onto the Web, thus improving our reputation for accuracy and clean prose online as well as in print.
There are more, along with a more radical set of suggestions toward the end.
I think we issued a highly pragmatic set of recommendations. That may be our report’s greatest strength. A lot of this could be tried without risking revenue streams or requiring huge technical overhauls.
Some might see that pragmatism as these ideas’ biggest weakness. We were picked to investigate this, after all, because we were young and less invested in the existing structure. Aren’t we the Internet generation? Don’t we know that the MSM is a relic industry?
But with the limitations we had, such as not adding staff or completely shaking up content, most of us didn’t see the point in advocating more beats, or going to Web only, or cutting the print paper down to three days a week, or hiring an army of videographers. We didn’t want to waste our time on ideas that stood no chance of advancing.
If you have an opinion, please weigh in, but keep in mind these are only ideas and that we were asked to suggest them. We are not some young Turks aimed at pulling ourselves up at others’ expense. Furthermore, this report doesn’t represent what’s going to happen. Many of these ideas might die at this stage. And please be civil and refrain from saying we are naive; that’s not a constructive response.
With blessings from above, I slipped away for a dinner break with my dad, who was in town briefly. Afterward, I went back to work to help with the Web coverage. We had three reporters and three photographers in the field.
My boss whipped up a slicker version of our slideshow tool, which I fed with incoming images. I figured I was pretty much done after I finished linking up related content.
But the news wasn’t finished. I helped the City Desk by taking dictation from one of our reporters in the field, who fed me details about an emergency of declaration by Gov. Chris Gregoire. I threw it into a file and shipped it to the copy desk, where it had been promised as a breakout on the jump page. It was nice to interact with my former co-workers.
Friday morning I’ll be back in the newsroom at 7 a.m., filling in for our morning breaking news editor. I’m sure there will be plenty to follow up on.
Recently, I took part in a frivolous experiment with seven other people that involved eating only seven ingredients for seven days. It was a nice escape from my usual routine and the reason I haven’t updated this blog much lately (I did my own blogging on the 7vs7 challenge).
The process also introduced me to the online video service Vimeo. For producers, I think it rocks. Here’s why:
- Much cleaner interface than YouTube.
- Eyeball-friendly stats on your videos.
- Exceedingly simple upload and tagging system.
- Embeds that are just as easy as YouTube.
Anyway, the 7vs7 gang made ample use of this tool. I had the most fun with the one just below, which I shot with my Sony point and shoot and edited in iMovie. The soundtrack is from Mr. Dick Dale. Feel free to check out the rest of my stuff.
Since I entered grad school, I’ve been staring down the barrel of a shotgun loaded with questions:
- How can newspapers reverse falling readership and ad revenues?
- How can they compete effectively with other news providers on the Internet?
- How should newspaper journalists change their routines to serve multiple platforms?
- How can newspapers possibly maintain quality and innovate while cutting staff.
Now I’m in the middle of an 11-day assignment from Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith aimed at exploring some of those questions and drafting recommendations for restructuring the newsroom. The goals: to be more efficient and produce a more compelling, consistently multiplatform product.
There are eight of us, all relatively young in a newsroom notably filled with talented veterans. Most of us have come out of journalism school within the past four years. The group dynamic is solid.
This is exciting and scary as hell.
It’s strange how the people running newspapers have been talking about changing for most of my 20-year career. Yet, all they’ve really done in that time is tinker under the hood a bit.
We are tasked with doing far more than tinkering under the hood. We were picked, according to Steve, because we have a huge stake in what happens to this industry but little stake in the processes and organization that have driven this newspaper in the past.
We have constraints, as Nick notes:
[W]e can’t eliminate the print product, we can’t eliminate the new radio initiative, we can’t eliminate the community-oriented Voice sections, we can’t suggest layoffs.
It’s comforting and intriguing to watch other newspapers wrestle these questions and swing for the fences. Most recently, it’s been the Tampa Tribune. It’s shakeup is outlined on Mindy McAdams’ blog, and reporting intern Jessica DaSilva has a great account of the day Editor Janet Coats outlined the changes to the staff.
There has been grumbling within the newsroom and skepticism from without. But many staffers have quietly wished us well, and comments at Nick’s and Colin’s blogs have also been encouraging.
We’re under a tight deadline. At some meetings, we’ve got so many ideas its hard to chart a path through them.
But the biggest challenge is to be systematic, practical and yet visionary. We are supposed to blow up the newsroom, but, as I think we all feel, the model we propose must be functional. And above all, it must keep the newspaper coming off the press, the Web site (overhaul pending) updated throughout the day and our radio broadcasts filled with local content – and make all of this journalism as compelling as possible.
This may be my best, last chance to throw bold ideas into the mix and have them heard. Given the recent explosion of newspaper layoffs and Steve’s not-good-but-could-be-worse briefing Tuesday on the state of our company’s finances, I’m not optimistic that the business I went to grad school to enter will sustain me until I retire.
But now I’ve got a chance to suggest changes to help an enterprise, to quote Janet Coats, “worth fighting for.” I’ll see what I can do.