They’ve exposed fraud at FEMA, photographed destruction in Haiti, and written stories about the biggest events of the last 25 years, from Hurricane Andrew to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The journalists scheduled to join Florida International University’s “Pulitzer panel” represent a who’s-who of South Florida journalism, and on Thursday, they’ll be sharing insights and lessons from their award-winning careers.
“We’re really interested in hearing from people who are thriving in today’s transforming media environment,” said Juliet Pinto, interim executive director of FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “These are people who really know what it takes to excel in their field.”
People have used books as a reliable tool to transmit and preserve information, ideas, and stories for hundreds of years. E-books have enjoyed wide use for only about six years -- counting from when Amazon introduced its Kindle in 2007. Yet e-books have rapidly upended so many facets of the traditional book world that the changes they've caused have inspired a documentary, "Out of Print," by director Vivienne Roumani, which debuted April 25 at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Through interviews with historians specializing in the history of books, as well as key figures in publishing, libraries, schools, bookselling, and cognitive science, and by presenting statistics culled from recent literacy surveys, "Out of Print" presents a portrait of a literary landscape in the midst of rapid change, both positive and negative. The advent of e-books has made reading more efficient and affordable for many and has increased access to and acceptance of self-publishing.
But on the other hand, "Out of Print" portrays young people who are unable or unwilling to read long sections of text, and can't retain or synthesize the snippets of information they skim. "A book is something I'm being forced to read, so I spend my time thinking about how I'd rather be sleeping," says one teenage boy in the film.
Another teenager describes the bewildering experience of visiting a library to conduct research. Although he may be hamming it up for his fellow interviewees, he describes it as "probably one of the hardest experiences of my life. There were so many books, each book specific to one thing. It's not like you could find one book with everything that you needed in it. I was like, 'this is terrible. I just want to Google it.'"
There are surely plenty of teenagers who have not so completely outsourced the contents and abilities of their brains to the Internet as have the kids in this movie, but it's clear that this is a trend that's taken hold since 2005, when "adolescents started reading more on the Internet than they did in traditional materials." One literacy researcher describes the current generation not as "digital natives," but as "digital doofuses," who retain very little of the information they glean from skimming.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has probably done more to push forward the adoption of digital reading than any other individual, appears several times in the film, and comes across as an affable guy with his goofy laugh and ardent enthusiasm for books. "When you get into an author's words, you can forget about that physical object [the book]. It disappears, which is a fantastic trick for a technology, to be able to disappear like that," he says. He believes he's learned more from novels than nonfiction books, and cites the work Amazon has done to make a wide variety of books accessible to more people.
Still, Bezos doesn't answer questions about Amazon's practices and plans that some would like to ask him, such as Scott Turow, a bestselling author and the president of the Author's Guild, who says, "I admire the creativity that Amazon has brought to the literary marketplace, and I despise the ruthlessness with which they act as competitors. They could do a lot more good with a little less savagery."
Turow appears as one of the only figures in "Out of Print" advocating for maintaining some of the old ways in the book world, especially when it comes to respecting copyrights, as the new methods for publishing and purchasing books don't provide adequate compensation for most writers. He also believes Amazon engages in "predatory pricing" and that "by selling front-list e-books low cost are creating artificial incentives for people to move from physical books to e-books."
Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library, points out that while printed books can endure for hundreds of years, e-books pose new challenges for preservation, particularly because software and hardware become obsolete so quickly.
The adults will be just fine
Still, the sense you get from "Out of Print" is that the adults will be fine -- those who read will continue to read in whatever format they choose, and Bezos, Turow, and a few lucky and talented self-publishing figures, such as Darcie Chan, whose novel "The Mill River Recluse" became a bestseller, will endure.
But the troubling question "Out of Print" poses is what sort of minds will the next generation have, if they are able to "read" in the traditional sense at all? "Out of Print" includes insights from researchers in child development and brain and cognitive sciences. As Nicholas Carr noted in his 2010 book "The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains," our brains are changing as we alter how often we choose to use them to read, and as we train them to rapidly access information on the Internet.
Several of the teenagers in the movie confess to feeling "addicted" to the Internet, as do some mothers interviewed. "This is the way I feel when I stand in front of the refrigerator," one book club member says of her Internet use. "I can't stop eating."
"Out of Print" suggests that we're all going to have to act like responsible parents, to ourselves and to our children, setting limits, if we want to maintain the heritage of philosophical and abstract thought, culture, and storytelling that the rich history of books has delivered us. Or maybe we won't choose to maintain it. "Our brains aren't designed to do any of this stuff," one researcher says, referring to both reading books and using digital technology.
While "Out of Print" won't provide many startling revelations for those who have followed the rise of e-books closely, it offers a crisp, entertaining, and thought-provoking account of the radical changes books and literacy have undergone in the last decade.
"Out of Print" will screen at the Newport Beach Film Festival on May 1, the Seattle International Film Festival on May 22 and 23, and at the New Hope Film Festival in July.
Jenny Shank's novel "The Ringer" won the High Plains Book Award. She writes about books for the Dallas Morning News and High Country News.
The microblogging service Twitter has been great for communication, breaking news, keeping up with your interests and broadcasting to followers. But the advertising there has been pretty limited to Promoted Tweets, Trends and Hashtags. That could soon be changing with a massive ad deal inked between Twitter and Starcom MediaVest Group that will allow advertisers to slot in more ads and more targeted ads. How much advertising can you take on Twitter? Will it drive you away, or will you accept it as the price of using a free service? How far can they go? Vote in our poll below, or explain your thoughts in the comments. To hear more about Twitter and the big ad deal, check out our recent podcast on the subject.
There's a lot of business to attend to on this week's podcast. First, the business of microblogging grows up, with Twitter inking a massive ad deal with Starcom Mediavest Group worth "hundreds of millions of dollars," according to FT's Emily Steel. Steel broke the big story and will be joining us as a special guest; she is the media and marketing correspondent for the Financial Times and previously was a top reporter and social media editor at the Wall Street Journal. We'll also look back at the Boston manhunt and how it changed the way we will follow breaking news in the future -- for the good or bad? And the New York Times is in the business news for differing reasons: 1) a new plan to offer tiered pricing for tiers of content; and 2) a scathing Politico article about the tough leadership style of top editor Jill Abramson. We will obviously be taking care of business on this show.
Ana Marie Cox is a senior political columnist for The Guardian. She is the founding editor of the Wonkette blog and has covered politics and the culture of Washington, DC for outlets including the Washington Post, Playboy, GQ, Mother Jones and Elle. She is the author of the novel Dog Days and lives in St. Paul, Minn. Follower her on Twitter @anamariecox.
Mónica Guzmán is a columnist for the Seattle Times and Northwest tech news site GeekWire and a community strategist for startups and media. She emcees Ignite Seattle, a grab-bag community fueled speaker series. Mónica was a reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and seattlepi.com, its online-only successor, where she ran the experimental and award-winning Big Blog and drew a community of readers with online conversation and weekly meetups. Follow her on Twitter @moniguzman
Andrew Lih is a new media journalist, and associate professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism where he directs the new media program. He is the author of "The Wikipedia Revolution" (Hyperion 2009, Aurum UK 2009) and is a noted expert on online collaboration and journalism. He is a veteran of AT&T Bell Laboratories and in 1994 created the first online city guide for New York City (www.ny.com). Follow him on Twitter @fuzheado and buy his book here.
Felix Salmon is the financial blogger for Reuters. He was named one of Time Magazine's 25 Best Financial Bloggers, and offers his frank view on the maneuverings of Wall Street, Washington and popular culture. Watch him on Felix TV or follow him on Twitter @felixsalmon.
Emily Steel is the U.S. media and marketing correspondent at the Financial Times, covering content and distribution companies, digital media innovators and the wider marketing industry. Previously, Steel was a reporter and social media editor at the Wall Street Journal, where she most recently served as a social media editor. Steel joined the WSJ in 2006, after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism and political science. At the Journal, she contributed several stories to the WSJ's award-winning investigation about online privacy. She has also reported for the St. Petersburg Times and Shanghai Daily. Follow her on Twitter @emilysteel.
1. An advertising deluge coming to Twitter?
At the moment, you probably don't mind the ads you see on Twitter. But that might change. The microblogging service made a massive ad deal with Starcom Mediavest Group worth "hundreds of millions," according to a story by our guest Emily Steel of the Financial Times. She found that the arrangement gives Starcom clients such as Walmart and Coca-Cola, access to preferred ad slots on Twitter, research and data and a possible "in-tweet mobile survey" to poll people in real-time. And the ads could work in concert with live TV viewing. What does this all mean? More ads coming to Twitter, and more revenues for Twitter before an expected IPO. Emily, tell us how you see this deal affecting Twitter's future and our future use of the service.
As our roundtable regular wrote in the Seattle Times, "we're all journalists now." And following the Boston bombings and the eventual manhunt online and on social media made everyone an amateur sleuth. Was this a good thing or bad thing? NPR's Andy Carvin admitted the mistakes that he made, and said that the job of journalists is to help create an informed public -- rather than informing the public. There's no stopping people from doing their own journalism, so why not help them. And what about CNN? It made terrible mistakes during its coverage but got its highest ratings since the Iraq War. Will we ever follow breaking news the same way in the future?
One note: Our MediaShift poll asked: With breaking news, who do you trust most for accurate info? The leader by far was newspapers websites, with 38%, followed by "None of the Above" with 10%.
3. NY Times pushes cheaper content; Jill Abramson criticized
NY Times CEO Mark Thompson came on board some months ago hoping to turn the ship around. He has a tough challenge, though, as print revenues decline and the only bright spot is increase in circulation revenues from the pay wall. His new strategy is to boost video content by making it free, offer lower cost access to "important stories" and higher cost access to more products like events. Will it work? The Times' executive editor Jill Abramson was also in the spotlight for criticism that she was difficult to work for in a story by Dylan Byers at Politico. Others came to her defense saying the piece used anonymous sources and was sexist -- or that the sources were sexist and couldn't handle taking orders from a woman. Discuss.
After reading Terri Thornton's post about the phenomenon of companies marketing by creating content, I had absolutely no concerns for the future of PR and advertising for two main reasons.
First, PR and advertising professionals have adapted to every successful content format and platform change because marketers are creative people. Secondarily, most companies don't do content right -- they still need marketing people contributing to content development.
I see three or four companies every day join Learnist (a content collaboration and curation platform I work on for the social learning company Grockit) with "consumer education objectives." Most companies run afoul of audience expectations for authenticity.
For any new digital content platform, finding a balance in promotion and information is the key. And ultimately, the content cannot suck. Successful content-based marketing is hard to find. But, there are exceptions.
Right now, no company is better at content marketing than BetaBrand clothing, the San Francisco-based startup that has raised about $8 million in venture capital funding. The company has quickly built a rabid base of repeat customers representing that influential, bi-coastal "San Frooklyn" demographic.
BetaBrand's clothing emphasis on form and functionality is irreverent and ingenious. Pants and jackets are designed with signature tuck-in reflective cuffs and pocket liners for safety while biking to work. Clothing lines have absurd names like "Karate Casual," inducing laughter via cognitive dissonance. But, it's the site, email and creative marketing that compels me to seek out BetaBrand media.
Humor is the key
BetaBrand's site and content gently mocks the business of marketing fashion without being self-deprecating. The site delivers an experience that leaves one laughing, impressed and oddly aware of the stale, formulaic sites and emails delivered by most major online retailers.
It's so popular in my San Francisco office, a dozen of my fellow workers huddle around a monitor each week for a group reading of the weekly customer email. The outlandish images of exaggerated Americana leap out of the emails, delivering humorous takes on classic commercial use of Yule Tidings and 4th of July BBQ. The sensory assault doesn't stop at email.
Be fearless and unpredictable
BetaBrand recently sent a "Bathroom Reader" for their repeat customers, featuring hilarious stories explaining the origins of fashions. The collection of short stories is a warped mixture of old-timey tall tales and hand-drawn animation perfectly attuned to the specific humor of well-educated, highly skilled workers inundated with social media.
The high-level idea is to give this wired, influential crowd something to talk about and share online and in person. This strategy works.
"Being funny is at the core of what we do, from product development to marketing tactics, and we don't just do it for its own sake. We've found that products and campaigns with a sense of humor cause people to talk about them more, and to feel like they're in on the joke" said Matt Thier, co-founder of BetaBrand. "But we've found that because humor is baked into the DNA of our brand, we can get away with things that other, bigger brands can't."
Brand personality is established through content continuity
Here's how the typical BetaBrand experience unfolds. A friend starts posting about BetaBrand to his Facebook Timeline or tweets out a photo of himself wearing BetaBrand gear. A visit to BetaBrand introduces you to the concept of "Model Citizen" where ridiculous poses in BetaBrand purchases earn return customer discounts on follow-on purchases. Abusing the BetaBrand logo in submitted photos is encouraged, even rewarded with further discounts.
But BetaBrand's site is much more creative than clever efforts to land on the customer's social network feeds. A casual visitor can learn about sock insurance and tour the disco lab where pants, hoodies and dresses are made from material resembling a disco ball.
And there is a BetaBrand ThinkTank, where crazy ideas are on display for all to marvel in disbelief. Feedback and social shares create customer demand, bringing some Think Tank ideas into production. The net effect is entertainment melded with customer research and user-generated promotion via proactive posts that generally add up to "you've got to see this."
Clever, not creepy
BetaBrand entertainment genuinely seeks laughter and amusement irrespective of promotional value. A visit to the "betabrand.XXX": http://www.betabrand.xxx/ is pure entertainment. Appropriately dubbed "Not safe for work (not really)," this "Easter Egg" of a site mirrors the formal site with the addition of a bad pornography theme, complete with cheesy music and pop-over video of fully clothed women assembling material in slow motion. With absolutely no nudity or erotica, this alternative site is the exclamation point underlining a BetaBrand personality rife with playful sarcasm. The specific joke of this site is the comparisons between traditional marketing and seedy entertainment. The content works on a few levels.
Content as a product
As I've mentioned, BetaBrand backs up their playful brand image with quality products. It's clear BetaBrand views their site and media as a product of equal priority to clothing, using heavy, hi-res images and GIFs and delivering a remarkable shopping and checkout flow. BetaBrand's site conveys a personality that makes a lasting impression on prospective customers.
In my mind, the content efforts affirm that the founders are very aware of their startup circumstances. BetaBrand competes with massive and indiscriminate marketing budgets from traditional department stores and established brands. By turning these perceived marketplace disadvantages into a unique personality advantage, BetaBrand is winning by producing the most creative and engaging content in all of online retail.
Aaron Burcell is an award-winning marketing executive, advisor and investor in consumer-focused technology startups. Based in Silicon Valley, Aaron collaborates with the Grockit team on Learnist, a learning content collaboration and curation platform endorsed by BBC, Discovery and hundreds of independent bloggers, brand marketers and media producers.
At the National Conference on Media Reform earlier this month, a topic I heard repeated in panel after panel was the diversity of voices. Media consolidation, industry cutbacks, and political repression are among the threats to reporting on and by independent and diverse perspectives around the world.
The videos we see on a regular basis from across the globe illustrate the potential of citizen reporters to not only document under-reported stories, but to do so from corners of the globe that have long been inaccessible to reporters as well as human rights investigators and aid groups.
The ability to hear and see breaking news from these regions presents an incredible opportunity, but plenty of challenges as well. For citizen witnesses to safely and effectively document crises, whether in Timbuktu or Ducati Park, they need the tools and skills to film, and their potential audiences need a way of finding, understanding, and trusting their video.
Our mission at the Human Rights Channel is not only to verify and distribute citizen videos, but to find meaning in what are often blurry, fleeting images. We find that meaning in a video's content, but also in its backstory. Where it is from? How was it taken? How did this, of the thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube each day, make it before our eyes?
In the past few weeks, we've seen several videos from places that are often thought of as closed off or, simply, forgotten. When religious tensions in central Myanmar turned violent in late March, citizen videos helped alert the international media to the burning of Muslim villages and displacement of thousands of people. When a secessionist militia attacked a mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a local reporter narrated the scene on his cell phone, filming dead bodies before running from the shooting.
Moving Beyond Information Overload
For the media and news consumers, the deluge of video from nearly every corner of the globe should be a blessing. But without the tools to find footage, translate, and make sense of it, the volume of videos can become a curse. With more than 100,000 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every day, how can we assure that the recording by an anonymous Burmese citizen of the pillaging of a Muslim community rises to the surface -- or at least to the computer screens of news producers, politicians, and human rights investigators?
The Human Rights Channel on YouTube is one attempt to curate citizen video, along with other curation projects such as Syria Deeply and Crowdvoice. But I wonder whether human-led curation efforts will be able to keep up with the exponential growth of citizen video from around the world. In what ways can technology address this dilemma?
Protecting the Safety of Filmers & Filmed
The potential of citizen witnesses to expose human rights abuse has a flip side, and that is its potential to endanger activists and government critics. The video above of a protest in Iran reveals no identities, but that may be due to its blurry cell phone quality rather than caution on the part of the filmer.
The ObscuraCam phone app is one way filmers can intentionally blur faces, and the YouTube face blurring tool allows users to anonymize faces when they upload a video. But a greater education campaign is necessary to raise awareness among citizen reporters and those involved in hosting and distributing their footage about the risks inherent with shooting video and the tools available to minimize them.
Empowering Citizen Videos with a Stamp of Authenticity
For citizen witnesses to shine a light on issues like sectarian violence in Burma, the use of phosphorus weapons in Syria, or police brutality in South Africa, they must convince viewers that what they are seeing is true. The ability to fake a video through animation or staging, or to re-upload old footage to represent a new situation gives us reason to watch YouTube with a healthy dose of skepticism. But this skepticism becomes dangerous if it means that news outlets or investigators have no way of trusting the veracity of a video, and thus refrain from broadcasting it, reporting on it, or submitting it as evidence in a criminal trial.
The verification strategy of Storyful, which uses a combination of social media, satellite imagery, and bootstrap reporting to corroborate citizen videos, is one way of addressing this challenge. Another is InformaCam, a mobile app in development by WITNESS and the Guardian Project that securely embeds metadata from mobile phone technology onto images and videos to imprint information such as where and when the files were recorded.
A hallmark of traditional news media was the institutional gatekeepers who determined what stories to expose, and whose voices to amplify. Today, there are fewer gates filtering the voices. It is a great moment of challenge and opportunity to all of us eager to listen.
This post originally appeared on the WITNESS blog, an ongoing conversation about the effective use of video in human rights campaigns to create policy. You can follow WITNESS on Twitter @witnessorg and on Facebook.
Let's all agree that there will be no more handwringing over whether robots are going to replace doctors in certain medical scenarios.
Because the short answer is: yes.
The virtual human health coach was science fiction a few short years ago. Now it's fact, and it appears to work really well.
Last fall I interviewed Skip Rizzo, associate director for medical virtual reality at University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), for a talk I gave at Stanford's Medicine X about the technologies being used to train athletes and soldiers to manage (and even harness) extreme stress.
Rizzo and his colleagues were working on a number of fascinating projects, including SimCoach, a virtual human companion created to assist and guide active-duty military personnel and veterans suffering from stress, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
If feeling stressed out, SimCoach users were able to select one of several avatars who, in turn, could provide more information about what the users may be experiencing. The coaches could also suggest local care facilities or perhaps walk the user through breathing exercises or stress reduction methods.
SimCoach is not a "doc-in-the-box," John Hart, ICT program manager, emphasized then. It will not make diagnoses, nor will it replace human interaction.
Yeah, sure, I agreed, and yet it was hard to ignore SimCoach's capacity to become an interactive virtual-reality source for all information on stress, anxiety and PTSD. And with the right technological advances, who knew ...
Meeting the Sensei ... upon the Holodeck
Seven months later, there has been a leap forward. Meet SimSensei, which is the SimCoach of yesteryear, souped up with cameras and Microsoft's Kinect sensor to observe and analyze face, gesture and vocal parameters, all the better to understand your emotional state and react to it.
SimSensei is able to detect, with a high degree of accuracy, behaviors that are correlated to depression, says Stefan Scherer, a research scientist working on the project.
When I reached out to Rizzo to discuss SimSensei, he told me they've moved the ball further still. For the past month he and his colleagues have been experimenting with the clinical and health applications of the Oculus Rift, which is being touted as the headset (with the greatest name ever) that may change the face of gaming to an immersive virtual reality. (Yes, we are talking about a kind of Holodeck.)
Connect the dots here and we may have an early iteration of a virtual reality doctor, a precursor of sorts to a real-life version of Star Trek's Emergency Medical Hologam Doctor. (Bonus points if developers can capture the Star Trek hologram doc's vaguely sarcastic and highly humorous affect ... On second thought, hold the sarcasm.)
Enter Big Data
"There is a Big Data movement that's a critical part of this story," Rizzo said. "We are at a point where we are capturing tons of information on a daily basis and we are increasingly able to analyze it in a way that may even surpass the human capacity to detect these signals."
The fast-emerging voice of data has already begun to shift the ground beneath our feet in a number of other contexts, most notably during the elections last November, as well in our everyday lives.
It is doing the same for the health interventions that Rizzo's virtual reality Sensei are very good at performing: clinical assessment, treatment rehabilitation and resilience.
Rizzo said while humans are gifted at capturing subtle nuances, scientists are beginning to match with virtual reality systems the human capacity to detect and interpret even the most minute social cues: facial expressions, body gestures, vocal parameters, pitch variability, frequency of speech and even pauses between words and sentences. In a way, he said, "that may even surpass the human capacity to detect these signals."
There is no doubt that humans have remarkable ability, but that ability can be fallible. We hold our biases and blind spots, and in some instances certain relationships may make us more vigilant or less sensitive. Computers' ability to analyze countless signals opens a "psychological window into the soul," Rizzo said.
The notion of computers opening a window into my soul strikes me as surreal.
Nonetheless, Rizzo continues: "You have to remember that computer systems are on 24/7. They are never fatigued, they don't hold preconceived notions or biases, and they can continue to collect data, seek patterns and check for accuracy."
When might something like this be available to consumers, I asked.
And in the real world, too, it is empathy, that uniquely human gift, which would seem to set the flesh-and-blood doctor apart from her virtual counterpart and, according to some, doom the latter to failure.
"We are not building digital therapists, nor are we trying to replace clinicians," Rizzo said, echoing Hart's earlier caution, "but we are creating the building blocks for a system that can mimic empathy."
I recall a story I heard on NPR about a man who suffers from Asperger Syndrome and sets out to teach himself how to mimic "normal" behavior. In an attempt to become more responsive to social cues, he creates a journal of "best practices" about a variety of everyday circumstances, including how to be a better husband to his wife and a better father to his two young children.
That man was teaching himself how to respond to social cues in order to properly express feelings that he actually felt. A computer, on the other hand, may be programmed with "best practices" for showing empathy, but it could never actually feel them. The idea of synthetic empathy bothers me, in the same way that fake love and fake flowers and fake food might.
Will the "real" healer please stand up
But maybe we are asking the wrong questions here. Perhaps in the real world, a virtual doctor's inability to feel empathy will have little or no bearing on the tasks it will be performing.
So much of the resistance against the disruption taking place in medicine right now smacks of fear of uncertainty and change. However, as the poet Khalil Gibran observed, "life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."
Is it possible for a virtual reality physician to be programmed with best practices of how to handle a wide variety of medical scenarios?
From all indications, yes.
And could there even be circumstances where the virtual reality doc may trump its flesh-and-blood counterpart?
Sure, particularly when it comes to certain repetitive diagnostic and analytical functions.
But could a virtual doc replace a real one?
As a physician observed in his recent blog post, "Will robots reduce the need for doctors?": "Computers cannot provide the healing touch. Computers cannot comfort ... The human relationship really matters to most patients."
In the end, it is not an either/or proposition. It never has been. And particularly, if you define "doctor" as a healer with scientific knowledge, a compassionate heart and a keen intuition, then he or she will never be replaceable. Not even on "Star Trek."
Amanda Enayati is the technology and stress correspondent for PBS MediaShift as well as CNN Health's stress columnist.
Traditional news organizations need to embrace the disruption brought by digital culture -- or they risk becoming obsolete.
That was the message late last week at the International Symposium on Online Journalism hosted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where about 370 of the world's journalists, researchers and media watchers grappled with the hard questions for a beleaguered traditional media industry that is now more than a decade into its disruptive transformation.
The problem is many media companies view digital technologies through a lens of traditional journalism and thus, fail to strategize properly, said Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News Publishing Company.
"In a post-disruption world, why would people pick up a paper at all? Why would someone turn on the 10 o'clock newscast?" Gilbert asked. "If you are not asking those fundamental questions, there is not a future for you legacy organization."
The key to surviving? Innovate. Fail. Innovate again.
"The possibilities are endless for the ways that we can bring stories to our audiences today," said Jill Abramson, the New York Times executive editor and an ISOJ keynote speaker.
Prior disruptive situations for the press entailed the telegraph, radio and television, which fundamentally changed the profession. In his talk, Gilbert characterized digital technologies as an external challenger. Interactivity diffuses the press' information authority, helping to create a Post Industrial Journalism, as suggested in a white paper published by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
"The industrial age of news is coming to a close," said Tow Center Director Emily Bell. "We can't even describe this as an industry any more. There is no longer something that can broadly be described as the press. There is no longer something that can broadly be described as the public. Our ecosystem is much much more fragmented than that."
In the lifecycle of disruption, an established business eventually loses the ability to grow because of the competition from the disruptor entity, Gilbert said.
"Despite the incredible changes we've seen in media, we still treat the news as a one-way street," said keynote speaker Andy Carvin, the senior strategist on the social-media desk at NPR. "We need to rethink what it means to inform the public."
(You can read the entire transcript of Carvin's speech here.)
The good news, Gilbert added, is that a path to survival exists.
Path to Survival
That path depends upon the company focusing on what it is good at, repositioning for that niche and getting costs in line with the post-disruption world.
David Skok, the director of digital at Global News in Canada, said journalists at his company must conceptualize every story as ongoing, every beat as a site and every author as a brand.
Jim Brady, editor-in-chief of Digital First Media, urged news organizations to avoid duplication of efforts within the company. Use any freed-up resources to do more in-depth data work or content curation.
Chris Courtney, mobile product manager for the Tribune Company, always asks "what problem can this solve?" rather than "what feature does this bring?"
Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, argued that news organizations must find alternative revenue streams outside journalism. Last year the Dallas Morning News bought or started five companies to complement the news brand; in the first quarter of 2013 revenues from these startups helped offset print ad revenue losses.
"You can have the integrated business model on one side, and that can be the brand," said Skok. "But then you can have the disruptive businesses on the other side, and those can have unique brands as well. It is not an either/or."
Does your site design respond to the time, location and customized information for each user? asked Travis Swicegood, director of technology for Texas Tribune.
Responsive Design and Rich Storytelling
There was a session during the first day of ISOJ about responsive design.
"We need to be responsive not in a technical sense but a personal sense," Swicegood said. "How do I respond to this particular user?"
Take advantage of digital tools as a way to revolutionize journalism but stay true to storytelling. Abramson pointed to Snow Fall, the Pulitzer-Prize winning feature package as a "new organic way of reading" that helped people experience an avalanche alongside the skiers in the story.
"There are certain stories that I think are made for this kind of rich narrative multimedia storytelling," she said. "In general those are ones that have intense characters, that have a narrative spine where something unfolds and that lend itself to the particular technology that you are using."
The problem? It was "an expensive project with layers of reporters with different talents on it."
So, "always have a plan B," said Chris Courtney, mobile product manager of the Tribune Company. Oh, and "fail as fast as possible."
J-Schools Can Help
Academics reported study results about how to navigate this disruption such as redefining the metrics on "engagement," which often still comprise site bookmarks, return visits, and time spent on site.
"None of these numbers are improving," said Jonathan Groves, an assistant professor at Drury University. "They are thinking in terms of loyalty; they are not thinking about deep engaged behaviors."
Specific journalistic strategies for effective engagement from the ISOJ studies included:
Targeting key influencers,
Asking questions alongside linked information,
Participating in comments sections,
Acknowledging citizen content, and
Thinking of "engagement" as transactional rather than as quantifiable.
"We need to get to the stage where people are so engaged with your brand that they are brand ambassadors," Groves said.
This new skillset begins with journalism schools, whose tasks include:
Teach specialized knowledge, data analysis, statistical literacy, programming as well as how to collaborate, be transparent and tell better stories faster, said Bell.
Teach graphics literacy along with media literacy, said Alberto Cairo, lecturer at the University of Miami.
Teach journalists to confront rumors on social media, challenge citizen contributors on sourcing and accuracy, and engage as an individual (not as a media entity), added Carvin.
"By engagement I mean, why don't we use these incredibly powerful tools to talk with them, listen to them and help us all understand the world a little better?" Carvin said. "We now report in a networked world. We can no longer afford to underplay the public's role in propagating information."
Participants exuded optimism about the potential for digital tools to improve journalism and provide a basis for business models while figuring out the privacy, ethics, scalability and fear of failure that come with this emergent world.
"The future of journalism belongs to those people who believe in the future," Tom Rosenstiel, executive director for the American Press Institute, said.
And from Joshua Benton of Harvard's NiemanLab: "Let's all go make unicorns."
After a dozen years as a reporter, Sue Robinson went back to school to get her PhD from Temple University, graduating in 2007. She is now an associate professor teaching and researching new technologies, social media, information authority and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism & Mass Communication. She can be found @suerobinsonUW on Twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's the transcript of a talk I gave at the International Symposium for Online Journalists in Austin, Texas last Friday.
We Messed Up
Now as many of you know, I'm usually I'm not at a loss for words. But I really struggled to decide what to talk about today, especially in the wake of the attack this week on my hometown of Boston. Some of my fondest memories of the city are of that magical Monday, once a year each April, when everyone would line the streets and cheer on one stranger after another - encouraging them to succeed in accomplishing a little magic of their own.
I had originally planned to cover the role of social media in our coverage of Newtown today. But the course the events in Boston have led me - and perhaps many of us here, I suppose - to broaden what we truly need to talk about here at ISOJ.
So I'd like to discuss something that both Newton and Boston have in common, beyond the obvious horror and needless loss:
We messed up. We didn't always get the story right. We didn't serve the public as well as we could have.
Now, a dynamic similar to the fog of war certainly rears its head during catastrophic breaking news, and mistakes get made. It is perhaps rare indeed for a major breaking news story to be told from start to finish without some confusion getting in the way of informing the public.
As the person at NPR who sent out the tweet mistakenly reporting the death of Gabrielle Giffords, I know we are all capable of making these mistakes, and understand the reporting failures that cause them to happen. Whether we're on-air reporters, Web producers or just members of the public with large Twitter followings, we all have the potential of getting it wrong and making matters worse.
So that's why I'd like to talk today about some of the factors that lead to these mistakes, how they're amplified by social media, and perhaps, how we can mitigate them better by rethinking how we engage the public.
Kicking into High Gear for Breaking News
Whether it's Boston, or Newtown, or some other breaking story, we all kick into high gear. At every newsroom, it's all hands on deck - battle stations. These are the moments where the public expects us to do our jobs, and do them well. These are the moments we pride ourselves in our roles as professionals. And thankfully, many of us rise to the occasion.
But in recent decades, we've put ourselves in a bind by creating news cycles that are faster and faster and faster. And speed is often the scourge of accuracy.
First there's 24-hour broadcast news, where in some quarters there is a sin much greater than getting the story wrong, as you can always make a correction later. And that sin is allowing for dead air.
Dead air is unacceptable, of course, yet we can't exactly take over everyone's TVs or radios, hit a pause button and force them go get a cup of coffee while we sort out the facts. Apart from throwing in extra commercials, we have to fill that air time one way or another. And that creates a scenario where even the best journalists are more likely to make mistakes. In a bid to keep the coverage going, they may find themselves talking about a second gunman, or reporting on the shooter's Facebook page that actually turns out to be his innocent brother's. They may report breaking news of arrests in Boston, then dig deeper holes for themselves trying to explain how they were led astray by their sources. And all awhile, the broadcast rolls on. No. Dead. Air.
Confusion. WCVB reporter: "We got him." Another reporter: "Oh, sorry, that's not what they meant." Host: "Thanks for clearing that up."
Now, I don't stand here today to point fingers and throw broadcast news under the bus. Online news isn't immune from these mistakes either. How many of us have struggled to keep our live-blogs fresh with one new update after another? How often do we post reports without a third source, or even a second one, to back it up?
Social Media Not Immune
And then there's social media, where we feel even more pressure to keep the public updated as quickly as possible. As we saw this week with the supposed arrests in Boston, news organizations' social media platforms aren't immune from the same mistakes that occur in our broadcasts or in our websites. How many of us have typed up a tweet for a major news Twitter account and hesitated before hitting the send button, wondering, what if we've screwed this up? And how many of us have hit the button anyway?
Errors have always been a part of journalism. Corrections are perhaps a more recent phenomenon, but thankfully someone thought they were a good idea and came up with them. Yet lately it seems whenever there's a public discussion of major errors we've made covering breaking news, they're often eclipsed by discussions of how these mistakes wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for social media.
Social media makes for an easy target, and understandably so. Never before have we had the capacity to spread misinformation from one grapevine to the next, so broadly and so quickly. Whether it's a mistaken tweet or Facebook post, inaccuracies take on a life of their own. But all too often I've heard people in our industry redirect the blame specifically to the public's use of social media. Yes, we may have reported something wrong, but they compounded it. Or perhaps we did our jobs by not reporting a rumor, yet somehow it got out there, and now it's everywhere because of those damn Twitter users.
Anyone know more? RT @bostonglobe: Three people taken into custody in New Bedford as part of Boston Marathon terror bombing investigation.
Let's face it: it's never been easier to spread rumors. Yet it wasn't all too long ago that these things would rarely see the light of day. We'd hear rumors while we covered a breaking story, but we could nip them in the bud. They'd be discussed in the newsroom and hopefully end up dying on the cutting room floor. We had the luxury of scrutinizing information privately. The public never need worry about a potentially damaging rumor, because we'd take care of it for them. That's what it was all about - to report as accurately as possible and not allow the public to become misinformed. Besides, the public lacked the power to compound the problem, beyond sharing it with their immediate friends and family.
But that era is over. It no longer exists. Today, almost everyone has a device in their pocket that can capture footage or circulate information to a broader public. We no longer control the flow of information. We are no longer the media, in the most literal sense of the word, in which news happens over here, the public is over there, and we stand in the middle, sole arbiters of what gets passed across the transom and what doesn't.
While we go about our business on air or online, the public is having its own conversations, passing along a variety of rumors. They can take on a life of their own. Some rumors that historically would've died on the vine now thrive online. And given the deterioration of the public's trust of media, we should no longer be surprised when they choose to believe their friends before they believe us, even on those many occasions we're doing a damn good job getting the story right.
News Not a One-Way Street
Since the earliest days of journalism, our mission has been to inform the public as best we can. But despite the incredible changes we've seen in media and technology, we still treat the news it as a one-way street. We try to sort out the facts, then tell everyone else what we know. I inform you, and you listen. It's almost as if all this social media stuff didn't exist.
But we all know that's not true. Twitter and Facebook are as real as any community that exists offline. So what should we do, now that the public can inform each other, while simultaneously ignoring us? Should we continue to treat journalism as a one-way street, when everyone else thinks they're chatting at a block party?
I think we need to get back to a core part of journalism, and rethink what it means to inform the public. In fact, I think one good starting point can be found within NPR's mission statement: To create a more informed public.
Now this may sound like I'm just parsing words, and to a certain extent I probably am. But there is a difference, and it's worth discussing. To inform the public is to tell them what we think they should know. To create a more informed public is to help them become better consumers and producers of information - and hopefully achieve their full potential as active participants in civil society.
Slowing Down the News Cycle
If this is indeed a worthy goal, then why aren't we engaging the public more directly? I don't mean engagement like encouraging them to "like" us on Facebook or click the retweet button. That is not engagement. By engagement I mean, why don't we use these incredibly powerful tools to talk with them, listen to them, and help us all understand the world a little better? Perhaps we can even use social media to do the exact opposite of its reputation - to slow down the news cycle, help us catch our collective breaths and scrutinize what's happening with greater mindfulness.
When a big story breaks, we shouldn't just be using social media to send out the latest headlines or ask people for their feedback after the fact. We shouldn't even stop at asking for their help when trying to cover a big story. We should be more transparent about what we know and don't know. We should actively address rumors being circulated online. Rather than pretending they're not circulating, or that they're not our concern, we should tackle them head-on, challenging the public to question them, scrutinize them, understand where they might have come from, and why.
Body? Source? RT @animal_lise: Shots fired in Watertown, cop cars flying thru my hood, body found WTF IS HAPPENING NOW
When we see members of the public making claims that might be questionable or flat-out wrong, we should address them directly, asking them where they got that information and why they believe it to be true. We should help them understand what it means to confirm something, and that it's not just sharing something you heard over Facebook from a friend of your brother-in-law. Similarly, we should challenge the public when we see them parroting certain journalistic tropes such as "confirmed," or "breaking" or "reports," when in truth they may not understand the nuances that make these terms very, very different?
We now report in a networked world, where information spread by members of the public can be as consequential as information spread by the media. Just as we cannot afford to underplay our own mistakes, we can no longer afford to underplay the public's role in propagating information. If we are going to embrace the notion of creating a more informed public, reporting is no longer enough. We must work harder to engage them, listen to them, teach them, learn from them. We must help them better producers, as well as consumers, of information.
If we wish to remain relevant in this networked world of ours, this must become a core part of our mission. It's no longer enough to just inform people. We must do whatever we can to create this more informed public. And we can't afford to wait until the next Newtown or Boston to begin anew.
Here's a video taken behind the scenes at ISOJ with Carvin after his speech:
Andy Carvin leads NPR's social media strategy and is NPR's primary voice on Twitter, and Facebook, where NPR became the first news organization to reach 1 million fans. He also advises NPR staff on how to better engage the NPR audience in editorial activities in order to further the quality and diversity of NPR's journalism. As co-founder of PublicMediaCamp, Carvin has helped NPR and PBS stations around the country bring local tech communities and public media fans together to develop collaborative projects both online and offline. Prior to coming to NPR in 2006, Carvin was the director and editor of the Digital Divide Network, an online community of educators, community activists, policymakers and business leaders working to bridge the digital divide. For three years, Carvin blogged about the impact of Internet culture on education at the PBS blog Learning Now. Follow him on Twitter @acarvin.
A lot is happening in Boston, just like a lot has happened in past months, including a lot of hype on the news, a lot of confusion, and the spread of quite some misinformation.
But eventually, the chase ends, the investigations close, the who, what, where, when, and how get answered, and the why gets speculated over until everyone agrees on a narrative that can help us digest the horror. The journey involves a lot of hype, and lot of (digital and analog) talk around the coffee-machine, Facebook feeds and Twitter channels. Some people end up very hurt, some people cynical, some people apathetic, some people clueless, some people motivated to help however they can.
So what can we take away from events like today in Boston? We can think about how we read about it. And in the era of everyone having a voice and a blog and the power to create content, it might help to think a little bit like a journalist.
We are collecting dots. It's a day to be careful about connecting them.
Here's a two-step process for following breaking news, keeping the drama to a minimum, and finding voices who know what they are talking about:
1. Pick a place to get a regularly updated version of the big picture
If you don't have cable or choose to stay online instead of on TV, you can watch CNN's livestream here. Or, if you're not at your computer and not in front of a TV but still want to listen in there are apps for that. For example, TuneIn Radio is available for the iPhone and iPad and gives you access to local, regional and global radio stations and broadcast network feeds. But keep in mind that they too get their stuff wrong sometimes, and if you're watching TV (or reading the NY Post) you're in for a lot of drama.
Examples of places to keep track of the big picture:
2. Get on Twitter for primary sources and ask your own questions about it
It's the place where news breaks these days and holds a ton of value in the discovery-of-information ecosystem. It's my first stop, nearly always. But it's also a space for misinformation to spread incredibly fast so knowing how to use it (and not abuse it) falls into the hands of us--the people on it. Think (like a journalist would) about who's gonna have the (mostly like correct) valuable information on the situation. This morning we were following people like Reuters' Anthony De Rosa, The Wall Street Journal's Liz Heron and the Huffington Post's Craig Kanalley. Even closer to the action, here's a public list on Watertown put together by Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan.
But think: Who's actually there? Follow news organizations for regular updates. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook too. You'll get linked out to further resources as the events unfold without having to keep up with just one paper's website up all day.
Google the local publications, namely the Boston Globe.com and The Boston Herald. Who are the reporters on the story? Who's the editor? Follow them on Twitter. Follow the police commissioner, the mayor.
Also, did you know you can listen to the police scanner itself? Here's an app for that. Remember though, if listening to the police scanner you're listening to people who are trying to figure things out as well. This is information fog. What is said on the scanner is not necessarily fact. It's first responders trying to understand the situation they're in. Also remember that there are ethical considerations when listening to a scanner. Just because you hear someone say something doesn't mean that you should post it to your social network of choice. There are lives on the line in situations like this.
Finally, with so many rumors and posts swirling about, remember that much information will be wrong and a significant part of the entire process is to verify what we hear. To that end, remember that in times like these, some trolls create fake social media accounts.
Jihii Jolly is an associate producer at the Future Journalism Project who focuses on editorial production and social community development. She's interested in journalism, the internet, Buddhism, ethics, and all how they connect. Currently, she's pursuing an MS in Digital Media at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.