A peek behind the scenes of the next It’s All Journalism podcast with producers Megan Cloherty and Mike O’Connell talking to Steve Buttry of Digital First Media. We’re going to be talking about the New York Times Digital Innovation Report. Check back later for the full podcast.
BarcroftTV offers its viewers a heady mix of videos, with subjects ranging from animal attacks — a curated video of a fight between a lion and buffalo garnered more than 30 million views — to hard-hitting foreign news to a feature about the daily life of a young transgender couple in Oklahoma.
“We have a real mix of content that does well on our channel,” said Sam Barcroft, founder of Barcroft Media. “Doing well has a number of different outcomes. So, doing well might be that a story gets a lot of advertising revenue. Doing well might also be it gets lots and lots of views. And doing well might also be that it gets a lot of engagements and comments.”
After a successful career as a photojournalist, Barcroft founded Barcroft Media in 2003. The company has grown into one of the largest producers and distributors of online video in the world, with BarcroftTV, becoming one of the largest YouTube channels.
“It’s evolved out of our business, which was always producing high-quality content for news organizations to use as its own,” Barcroft said. “So, we provide that content every day to news brands all around the world.”
BarcroftTV’s formula is simple. Barcroft and his staff post new content every day and then assess the audience’s reaction by looking at the number of views a video generates and then reading the viewer comments.
“One of the great things about being a digital, self-curated channel is you can do what,” Barcroft said. “So, essentially, the formula is that myself, my editorial team work very hard to listen to our audience to create and cover stories that we feel they’ll be very interested in and engage with.”
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Digital technology has transformed the way journalists are doing their jobs.
We all know that.
What may not be as obvious for everyone, not just journalists, but EVERYONE, is how it’s affected the legal environment journalists operate in.
“One of the trends that we’re seeing now is that a lot of the libel lawsuits 20 years ago were brought against professional media organizations,” said Ashley Messenger, senior associate counsel at NPR and adjunct professor at American University’s School of Communication. “Now they’re being brought against ordinary people who are posting things on Yelp or making comments on Facebook or Twitter or what have you. Everybody now needs to really understand media law and know what their rights are and what their responsibilities are.”
But this is America. The First Amendment protects our speech, even on the the Internet, right?
That, according to Messenger, is a popular myth.
“The First Amendment protects a lot,” she said. “It’s pretty broad. It protects horribly offensive speech. It protects speech about sexual activity. It protects speech that would offend, upset, harass, annoy or disturb people, but we do have some minimum standards that people have to adhere to.”
Most libel problems, however, can be avoided by “good, rigorous, ethical journalism,” Messenger said.
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Jen Reeves started out working in traditional broadcast journalism and transitioned into the digital sphere. Currently, she is a manager of social media strategy and training at AARP, one of the largest advocacy organizations for seniors in the country.
“We talk about everything from sex to important legal and lawmaking issues,” said Reeves about the mission of AARP.
AARP isn’t exactly the type of organization that springs to mind when talking about social media or digital storytelling, but Reeves said online communication doesn’t have an age limit.
“I find that to really understand social media is to have an ability to talk about something that matters to you,” said Reeves.
Reeves said she started getting interested in social media in 2005 because her daughter was born with one hand. She wanted to find other parents and people who had a similar disability. Eventually, she started an online community for people dealing with these issues called Born Just Right and turned her interest in digital communication into a career.
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One of the great benefits of digital technology is the rise of citizen journalism and blogging, in which amateurs, without any formal training or connections to traditional news outlets, are able to have their voices heard.
“We’re living in this world where there’s this marvelous word, ‘disintermediation,’ where people used to have to go get hired by a newspaper or get a broadcaster to take them on in order to get what they were saying out to an audience,” said Anne Morrison, director of the BBC Academy. “Now, that’s no longer the case. People have direct means of access to an audience. There’s no barrier at all. We can see that on a daily basis with the amount of social media, which allows people to talk directly on Twitter to their followers, which enables people to put up blogs and so on.”
Morrison acknowledged that this “plethora of different voices” is in many ways something to celebrate.
“A fantastic, democratic, sort of splurge of voices right across the spectrum, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that those are well-informed voices or, indeed, that they have an accurate picture of whatever it is they’re describing,” she said. “I think it almost puts more onus on the brands, the organizations with a reputation that people use as trusted guides to the news. Obviously, the BBC is one of those.”
One of the ways the organization maintains its reputation is through the training its through the BBC Academy, which houses the colleges of Journalism, Production and Leadership as well as the Center for Technology.
“It’s very important that we maintain that relationship of trust with our audience,” Morrison said. “One of the ways we do that is through the ethos of the organization, but supported by training in the skills which journalists need. That’s very much informed by our organizational values, which are really at the heart of he BCC. Making sure that people leave any opinions of their own at the door and making sure they’re treating things with an attitude of fairness and impartiality and getting to the truth of the matter. Not afraid to challenge those in power, in fact, that’s part of our democratic duty.”
Jack Gillum admits he started out as a computer nerd.
“I was just one of those guys who would literally take apart computers, put them back together again, see if it worked,” he said. “Usually, it didn’t. But when it did, it was neat.”
Gillum went to college intending to study computers, but soon discovered he didn’t want to program all day.
Instead, interested him was journalism.
“As cliched as it sounds and as overused as fellow reporters say it, it’s a chance to really hold people accountable,” he said. “It really wasn’t until I started working at one of my first jobs, at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, where I sort of had this shocking epiphany. Maybe I can take the nerdy data-computer and mix it together with pen and paper, shoe-leather reporting.”
Computer-assisted reporting wasn’t a new thing. Pioneers like Steve Doig, who investigated the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Florida, where using data and public records to add greater depth to their reporting.
As a reporter on the Associated Press’ Washington investigative team, Gillum now uses his computer skills on the technology and privacy beat.
During the Newtown, Conn., shootings, for example, AP journalists reacted as they would for any other breaking news story. What was going on on the ground? Are the children safe? Has the shooter been apprehended?
But in the followup coverage, the second or third day stories, that’s when data journalism began to play a role.
“A gunman shows up and kills a lot of innocent kids, how well did the police respond to it, for example? That’s the first thing that goes through my mind,” Gillum said. “It appears that they did, but let’s double check. So, we filed a public records request asking for all the 911 tapes, all the dispatch audio, because we want to, in our role as the press, evaluate how well the government essentially responded the the worst school shooting in U.S. history.”
Haile’s expertise is measuring audience engagement with news content. He will be speaking on this topic at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, which starts April 30.
Recently, Haile wrote a provocative article about how news organizations and advertisers should be measuring online engagement called “What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong.”
Haile said many media companies and others are measuring audience engagement incorrectly, by just counting clicks. Just because someone clicks on an article or feature doesn’t mean they stick with the content for more than a few seconds, he said.
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The story broke April 2, when John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media, announced that his chain of 75 daily newspapers was pulling the plug on its two-year-old experiment in shared, digital content, Project Thunderdome.
“We had 50-some-odd people and 95 percent of them will be leaving the company as part of this change,” said Jim Brady, DFM’s editor-in-chief and chief architect of Project Thunderdome. “So, for all intents and purposes, Thunderdome is dead. Whether the work lives on or some of the new ideas and technologies we brought into the company will live on — I think they will — but they’re going to have to be managed by the papers now.”
DFM launched Project Thunderdome as a way to centralize non-local news production in one location.
“If 20 percent of your effort in your newsroom is going to producing non-local stuff, obviously, that doesn’t make a lot of sense in these tight times,” Brady said “So, it was our job to help produce the national content.”
Project Thunderdome’s second role was to create unique content that could generate revenue across all of DFM’s 75 daily newspapers. It did this by producing special sections in feature areas such as health, technology and pets.
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Yuri Victor says he has no idea what a senior user experience designer does.
In this new role at soon-to-be launched Vox.com, he’s got an all-encompassing title.
But one of his primary goals is to help make a happy company.
“When you have a great company, you make good products,” he said.
Of course, that starts with free soda, M&M’s and a bean-bagged newsroom that’s a true embodiment to Zoey Barnes’ fictional employment at Slugline from House of Cards, but there’s a more strategic goal at play, Victor explains.
What is going to make Vox’s digital newsroom different? Everyone will be integrated.
Because that’s the main problem that interrupts great ideas making it onto digital news sites, Victor said. The many silos and exhaustive inter-department meetings it takes to get that idea off the ground. And by the time a developer has sifted through the requests, the original idea is lost in translation.
Vox is turning that problem on its head. Every single person working in the newsroom is considered a data person, a visual person and also a reporter.
Integrating these talents is solving the mixed matrix management problem (pardon the casual use of business school jargon).
Victor said that the proximity to one another allows for actual knowledge osmosis.
“When you sit a designer next to a programmer, they learn code,” he said. “When you put a designer next to a reporter, they learn how to report. It’s a shared wealth, where we all take one step up.”
The main preoccupation is to create an agile newsroom. Vox is set up with many small teams focused on creating things that can cut through the mayhem and abundance of what’s available and provide sharable resources to a user.
Victor said you never want anyone to feel shorted when they explore the content you’re offering, a belief he put into action while working on a the Know More project at The Washington Post. Know More cross-sources both large and small publications and creates an infrastructure for users to glean as much as possible from a single starting point.
“People actually want to be informed, we’ve just done a really, really poor job of giving people access to that information and putting it in a way that is accessible to them,” he said.
Steffen Konrath felt the immense weight of the Twitterverse early on, but instead of becoming bogged down, he evolved his definition of news.
“News is not an article, news is a signal,” he said. “A signal is an invitation for conversation.”
This is the message he will convey and discuss at the upcoming International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, April 30 – May 4.
Konrath is the creator behind Liquid News Room, a curated platform of both social media and hard news. He began the project in order to find a way to make his work easier.
Konrath was covering Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis and the London riots and came away from the experience wanting something more to aggregate social media and decipher its legitimacy.
He found that Twitter and other platforms are as much a burden of information as they are a tool — making it hard to strain out opinion from fact.
Konrath says LNR is meant to be a learning model. It’s a learning curve process to find reliable sources such as Twitter personalities, and then flagging them for later use as a credible source.
He says journalists are often working behind a wall, and are too hesitant to engage with the public and express their opinion, which detracts from the fluidity of information. That hesitancy disallows news dissemination and fact-finding through social media from being a two-way street.
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