Dangerous ideas for pushing the boundaries of journalism

Lots of video responses have been posted to April’s “Carnival of Journalism” of question: “What is your most dangerous idea for pushing the boundaries of journalism?”

You see them on the right in the recent posts list on this site for University of Southern California’s J556 class taught by Andrew Lih. Give them a look; they are generally around 1:40.

Here’s Paul Bradshow of the Online Journalism Blog to get you started:


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I have an augmented reality view of the next big thing in journalism

It’s been a bit of a buzz for some time now, years even, but one of the technologies approaching wide-scale use that is likely to upend current journalism in augmented reality.

English: iPhone using the Wikitude application...

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It not only threatens to further disrupt the advertising-supported model of most traditional media, it will bring new journalistic story forms, tools and platforms.

The question of what’s next to journalism is our February topic of the Carnival of Journalism and was put forth by long-time digital journalist Steve Outing who posed the question this way:

“What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”

The promise and the hype of Augmented Reality has been around for awhile, but new technologies never really catch on until they get close to “even-my-mother-can-do-it” simple.

AR is getting there.

Just in recent days come reports that Google will begin marketing Google Goggles later this year. Talk about geeky glasses, these are said to look like Oakley Thumps, run the Android operating system and be much like smartphones with GPS sensors, 4G cell service and inputs/outputs for video and audio.

At the prestigious Sundance Film Festival toward the end of last month, documentary “Hunger in L.A.” from former Newsweek correspondent Nonny de la Pe�a got a lot of attention as an immersive piece that went beyond just showcasing gee-whiz technology and actually told a compelling story.

Georgia Tech has been doing a lot of work around its Argon augmented reality browser and software that let content creators instead of programmers create AR presentations.

For most of my World of the Future predictions I rely on what Dick Tracy was using in the comic strip that ended in 1977. The two-way wrist radio, for example, was introduced in 1946; the two-way wrist TV in 1964. Looking back 50 years, so far for me at least, has been a pretty good forecasting tool for what might be hot next. It will be fascinating to read all the other Carnival of Journalism outlooks for the future. A round up should be posted by early next week; several are already in as I write this.

Some could say, and some will undoubtedly say, news organizations have been experimenting with story telling with AR for four or five years or more. And that’s true. The problem: Consumers were not experimenting with them. It has been chest-thumping tech, cutting-edge cool, and completely irrelevant.

Now, however, trends and technologies are converging. Powerful smartphones can run easy to use AR software. Consumer products like the forthcoming Google Goggles are coming. Content creation tools are available that don’t require a team of hackers. Coupled with open standards, this segment is poised to redefine what is “a story.”

Watch for the signs!

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A carnival of wish lists

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing,

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A roundup of the December Carnival of Journalism is up on the Guardian Developer Blog.

My offering was called Just Surprise Me and is one of 19 that tackled this month’s topic of:

With it being December, we thought we would adopt a Christmas theme for this month’s topic – and pick something, in keeping with being hosted by a Developer blog, that we could ask of both technologists and journalists.

If you are a journalist, what would be the best present from programmers and developers that Santa Claus could leave under your Christmas tree?

And, correspondingly, if you are a programmer or developer, what would be the best present from journalism that Father Christmas could deliver down your chimney?

Check them out; some excellent reads.

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Just surprise me

Chirstmas Treats
This month’s Carnival of Journalism is themed for the holiday season.

THE TOPIC

With it being December, we thought we would adopt a Christmas theme for this month’s topic – and pick something, in keeping with being hosted by a Developer blog, that we could ask of both technologists and journalists.

If you are a journalist, what would be the best present from programmers and developers that Santa Claus could leave under your Christmas tree?

And, correspondingly, if you are a programmer or developer, what would be the best present from journalism that Father Christmas could deliver down your chimney?

This is easy: I want surprises from developers and programmers!

Not bug fixes or tweaks or enhancements or incremental improvements or iterations.

I want a solution I didn’t think of to a need.

I want a solution to a need I didn’t think of.

More than I want to admit I am a prisoner of the paradigms of my profession, my industry, the culture of my company, and the work flows and tools I have at hand.

I’m lucky to work with a few that do come up with ideas that amaze me.

To make it happen, I think developers have to have blocks of free work time scheduled in. Google’s 20 percent time program is one company’s well-documented effort to encourage this.

Give me the creative side, the artist within, the where-did-that come-from.

So, surprise me. Awe me with the wonderment of a wide-eyed four-year-old.

And, oh yes, you don’t have to wait until Christmas. Anytime is just fine.

I think you will find the other Carnival wish lists somewhere around here within a few days.

(The box of chocolates is from Blackberry Creek Confections.)

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Beta burnout

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Another blogging platform; another next Twitter or Facebook or YouTube; another must-have smart phone app; another groundbreaking piece of hardware that will revolutionize … After awhile, it’s just so much beta burnout.

If you are trying to lead the way to whatever is next for journalism (which I suspect is true of many of the readers of the Carnival of Journalism), then you have been there and done that.

It’s the kind of thing we bitch about over beers, but our Carnival host this month, Bryan Murley, has made a call to pull back the tent flaps and see the clowns without makeup:

How do you decide to dedicate time to a new tool/platform/gadget? What is the process you go through mentally? And then later – how do you convince others to go through that process? And, last: How do you ensure that the tools you do adopt are used once the “newness” factor fades?

In short, he’s asking us to admit trying new tools, gizmos and websites is a one huge time suck.

There, I’ve said it out loud.  Big time suck.

Investigating, learning and adapting to new stuff is like throwing waking hours to the winds. Even for the things that work out.

Some of the things tried just won’t work. Some provide a solution in search of a problem. Some just won’t provide enough incremental benefits to warrant the pain of adoption. Some otherwise excellent products will never gain traction in the marketplace and their makers will move on (i.e. fold, change direction, or orphan).

But experiment you must, lest you end up still using a 14,400 baud modem and Windows 98 for the rest of your, indeed, wretched life. You have to resist “but we’ve always done it that way.” There’s no moving forward without adaptation, evolution and adoption.

To minimize beta burnout, be ruthless in what to try and give those your best shot.

Factors to consider for a media organization (what you do for fun is, well, what you do for fun):

  1. Does the tool/gadget/service offer the potential to significantly improve a work flow or task?
  2. Does the product/gadget/service allow you to tap what could be a significant new audience?
  3. Is it a nascent technology that is expected to be a factor in the future?
  4. Is there enough buzz to give it a chance of gaining traction.
  5. Does it provide a tangible competitive advantage.

Learn to say “no” to the rest.

The toughest thing may be having the discipline to give the new whatever-it-is a fair test. Find cases for its use. Figure out its limitations and bugs. Work out how it can be integrated into the work flow. Logging in once for a look is not a test.

There’s no problem in calling the implementation of a new tool or product a test or beta effort; Google does it with widely used products for years.

Be willing to say the test was a failure and move on. Just because you’ve invested time and energy into a tool doesn’t mean it’s a good one for others to also invest in or for you to continue investing in. (In addition to not working, it’s possible an even better solution will present itself). Constantly evaluate.

Remember: Adapt, evolve, adopt.

Getting others to take to a new tool is not easy. It’s easiest, perhaps, if you can celebrate some wins. Training is another key. Many people in your organization will not venture to figure out something new themselves. Once they’ve used the new tool, make sure to celebrate their successes. Getting everyone on board up and down the org chart is another key factor that may take more than positive buzz.

The last component of our Carnival question is how to keep playing with something after Christmas Day and not let it get lost in the back of the closet. Maybe that one answers itself. If it’s in the back of the closet and you don’t notice it, maybe you didn’t need it. It may be time to pack it off.

Did it really not accomplish the goal? Did something better come along? Was it a training or management issue?

If it is really something that the organization needs to accomplish a goal, then you have to rely on leadership to make it happen. My editor often observes: “What gets measured gets done.”

Give that a test, it works.

(Photo by Moyan Brenn)

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Video has to be in the DNA of newspaper newsrooms

There is compelling evidence that newspapers have a great opportunity in  video. If you’re a newspaper a newsroom header, don’t let shrinking newsrooms, the demands of multiple platforms, anemic advertising, or training or workflow issues deter you.

Those are the challenges, not the indicators of whether it’s working.

This piece is part of the September Carnival of Journalism, or JCARN as it’s become known, on online video.

I believe the opportunity for newspapers and video is greater than that of local television and video. For TV stations, video is repurposed broadcast content; newspapers are doing original web video news without the traditions and legacy issues of television.

A Link News study of 16 to 25 year olds found 69 percent consumed news almost every day, 29 percent several times during a day.

They’re an always on, “continuous partial attention,” generation, snatching news like snacks between classes or activities.

Their top news sources: Video websites like YouTube (85 percent) followed by the website of a national or local newspaper (77 percent).

I smell opportunity. Yes, the Link News study could be skewed toward young news junkies, but still, these are heartening signs.

Least popular news sources were blog sites and individual journalists (ouch!).

What information sources do they trust? National newspapers like the New York Times (60 percent); newspaper websites (local or national) 59 percent; and international brands like the BBC, 56 percent.

Again, a heartening confluence of trends.

Video was used by 90 percent of the respondents in the survey.

From the Link News white paper:

“Focus group discussions revealed that video was considered an important feature when it wasn’t overly produced and contained rough or unpolished footage. ‘Seeing for yourself’ through amateur video or roughly produced footage without voiceover allows the natural context to emerge and is perceived as an important direct lens on news for youth.”

These media savvy youth also want more than video. They want to the multiplatform experience newspapers have been developing skills and expertise around. Newspaper sites have lots of words, lots of great photography and a growing amount of video. These seem to be critical advantages in attracting this young audience of news consumers.

“Video alone is not sufficient to hold the interest of young news consumers. They prefer having the option to watch video, read news articles or other text, and scroll through photographs and other imagery. Audio podcasts were less enthusiastically supported in our research. Finding the right mix of media formats is an area that should be explored more closely inc user testing,” the study said.

While long form video has been growing, short form video still rules with about 74 percent of the clips watched, according to a Yahoo! survey. Some 85 percent of that video viewing still happens on a personal computer.

In its research, Yahoo! has found that users were most likely to have viewed a video next to a story. “In fact,” Yahoo! researchers said, “69% of news content and 57% of sports video, and 43% of technology is usually found next to an article.”

The Yahoo! research was presented to Yahoo! Consortium representatives during a monthly content call in June.

News and sports are the most watched genres of Yahoo! video clips while among all sites humor and music videos also rank highly.

The money finding: Consumers show greater engagement to professionally polished videos attached to “mixed media” like articles.Yahool call this “video+.” This is how newspaper websites typically display video.

For most newspaper video, discoverability is also a key factor. Their sites are typically story-centric, meaning text. Newspaper sites need to get better at surfacing video — and photos, too.

For most consumers, online video viewing, particularly of short clips, is something they happen upon instead of a scheduled event or a place they go to see a particular video.

New platforms like the various tablets bring an additional opportunities to break out of the headline/story model for news.

It also makes sense to fish where the fish area. That means hosting video content on YouTube. And YouTube video is the most easily shared video player, making it a key to a video social media strategy involving Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and the rest.

To be successful will require a commitment by newsroom managers to push for better technology to make it easier, quicker, more efficient and more professional.

To be successful will require spending time and money on training.

To be successful will require editors that demand multimedia story telling.

The only way video does not have a place in your strategic plans is if those plans are to only get what you can from the printed paper for as long as you can and then head for the exits.

That’s why I say video has to be in a newspaper newsroom’s DNA; it’s about the future of those newsrooms.

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A Google+ discussion about news comments

Google+ will undoubtedly have many impacts on the journalism uses of Social Media. I’m looking forward to reading what the other contributors to the August edition of the Carnival of Journalism muse about.

One of the more interesting issues that has been rekindled is over the use of real names vs “handles” or users names or pseudonyms.

Google’s rigid requirement of real names … it really doesn’t have a “user name” … and the fact that whatever account name is used is the one used for all other Google products has sparked a tremendous amount of debate.

While a social media communities and article comment areas are not exactly the same thing, I think there are threads and implications in this debate for news organizations, their web sites and their commenters.

Prior to Google+’s launch, there had been a growing chorus against anonymity for comments on news sites. Long-time blogger and Internet figure Anil Dash may have come up with the best headline: IF YOUR WEBSITE’S FULL OF ASSHOLES, IT’S YOUR FAULT.

In an excellent follow up post, he said:

“This isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing — many great sites can, and do, allow vigorously dissenting or unpopular views, from anonymous or pseudonymous commenters, without degenerating into cesspools of unkindness. But if a site allows racist or sexist or hateful comments to persist in its conversations, … then they’re not merely giving a home to an awful conversation. Instead, that site owner is signifying to members of the groups being attacked that they would rather profit from the page views of the people leaving those comments than make a welcoming, inclusive space for the people being attacked.

Dash separates anonymous comments and the use of pseudonyms from the problem of hateful speech and trollish behavior. Many do not.

Some sites have switched to requiring Facebook authentication to comments, some are using Facebook’s commenting system, and the voices of editors and journalists and others railing against acerbic anonymous comments have grown louder.

Whether it was meant to include article comments or not, the debate over real names on Google+ has brought some focused, thoughtful discussion around the subject.

Writing in Gizmodo yesterday, Derek Powazk said:

I think we’re witnessing a fascinating shift in online culture. The era of hacker handles is over. We’ve grown out of it … The Internet is not a second life anymore, it’s your first one. You don’t slip into a pseudonym when you use the phone, why should you be someone else online? Hacker handles were training wheels, and they’re off the bike now whether you like it or not.

Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake has a different take:

Pseudonyms are not in themselves harmful. Yes, they can be used for harm, as when people use them for anonymous, slanderous attacks, trolling, etc., but in the vast majority of cases there is no harm done. Importantly, they can serve to protect vulnerable groups. There’s even a comprehensive list of people harmed by Real Names policies. In the cases where pseudonyms are being abused, it is the harm that should be stopped, not the pseudonyms.

She says strong moderation is the solution to keeping trolls in check.

Danah Boyd has weighed in with a couple of blogs posts, but about trolls, she said this:

… a “real names” policy doesn’t stop an unrepentant troll; it’s just another hurdle that the troll will love mounting. In my work with teens, I see textual abuse (“bullying”) every day among people who know exactly who each other is on Facebook. The identities of many trolls are known. But that doesn’t solve the problem. What matters is how the social situation is configured, the norms about what’s appropriate, and the mechanisms by which people can regulate them (through social shaming and/or technical intervention). A culture where people can build reputation through their online presence (whether “real” names or pseudonyms) goes a long way in combating trolls …

I don’t expect this debate to end soon.

I do know wresting with trolls is demanding and not what many journalists consider part of journalism.

I’m hopeful that some of the suggestions and guidelines recommended by Joy Mayer get fully discussed by editors and newsrooms and in a Google+ circle for that matter.

Some more links for your consideration are below:

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I Walk Like An Egyptian

The Carnival of Journalism (#Jcarn) this month takes on the Big F, Failure.

There were rules about what you could write about and while not a rule abider at all times, the ones laid out by David Cohn seemed reasonable enough.

What is failure?

It is a mistake? It is a failure if you make a mistake, recognize it, take a step back and learn from it before moving on? I have had a gracious amount of material to work with there, but I don’t think those are abject and utter failures.

George Bernard Shaw: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.”

It is the learning along the way that matters. Plan and strive for success, but welcome mistakes as the most helpful teachers you will ever know.

Is failure something that didn’t work? Inventor Thomas Edison said no and was far smarter than I. His famous quote goes: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

I don’t think I’ve hit 10,000 yet, but, Tom, I’m working on it.

If you try an idea and it flops and you recognize it, so what? Learn from that experience and try something else.

So if neither mistakes or flops are the Big F, what could possibly be failure?

I think true failure is the inability to recognize or escape from a mistake and thus keep repeating it again and again and wondering why it doesn’t work. Failure is never changing.

My failure, one I have yet to fully escape, is the tendency to “Walk Like An Egyptian” (hey, the title of a hit song in 1986 fits this post).

Who are the Egyptians? I don’t mean those throngs in the streets of Cairo chanting and shooting YouTube videos. I mean newspapers and, by extension, “newspaper people.” That would be me.

Their approach to digital from as early as the mid-1990s onward has been like, well, newspapers.

But digital environments haven’t proven to be much like the monopoly, geographically focused markets newspapers had been so successful in. Far from it.

At almost every step along the way, newspapers and their leaders, including me, made missteps based on our framework of reality as newspapers and newspaper people..

Newspapers and newspaper companies tend to watch and borrow from each other in a near-closed society.

And note I say newspaper companies, not media companies or digital information providers or some other buzzworthy phrase for those who print newspapers.. The DNA of these companies is newspapers. They really haven’t evolved very far despite the extensive and expensive plastic surgery.

Again, I count myself among those who have difficulty breaking the tendency of thinking from a vantage point that might not even be that relevant..

There are, however, some things I and you can do to not get sucked into always walking like an Egyptian.

* Borrow ideas and watch for trends outside the newspaper industry.

* Deliberately go to conferences and trade shows about topics you’re interested in that are under-represented by traditional newspaper media companies. If you’re the only person there from a newspaper company; most likely you’ll find some new ideas.

* Talk to startups and entrepreneurs; they aren’t constrained by your industry framework.

* Challenge assumptions. Easier said than done, but critically think thorough them to see if they really make sense.

* Seek inspiration in unusual places.

* Don’t accept “we’ve always done this way’ as an acceptable answer.

How am I doing? It’s a work in progress. I hope to call this a failure I’ve overcome one day.

I’m looking forward to reading the other “Fail” pieces this month.

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Revamping the ‘take a chance, win a prize approach’ to funding journalism innovation

Carnival of Journalism
I was too occupied to contribute to the Carnival of Journalism‘s latest edition, but it’s not surprising Carnival came up with a great set of pieces anyway.

Here is David Cohn‘s rundown on the various #jcarn posts, who writes:

Yet another fantastic #jcarn. With every one of these, we find new
participants, and others become hardened veterans. Once again, we’ve
made the Harvard Nieman Lab’s “This Week In Review” (pretty f’n badass), but we will do our own wrap-up below.

See you at the next carnival!

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