Does the Delivery Method Matter?

Hi everyone —

We have a great ‘future’ discussion going on the previous post, so please keep posting.

I had an interesting discussion with students in Jim Foudy’s 300 class Wednesday night where we were talking about how journalism and good writing is thriving and will continue to thrive on the Web.  Too often,  unfortunately, people equate the death of newspapers with the death of journalism.  But, what I realized in Jim’s class was that those making that assumption often come from a different, older generation.

Jim mentioned an example of reverse publishing — where the print product follows the lede of the electronic product.  To those of us who have been in the business, Jim and I mentioned how big a deal that is/was.  But  then I realized it was important to us — reporters and editors whose careers were focused on the sacredness of the print product.   For me anyway, those beliefs that the print product is somehow better written, better journalism, better ethics, etc. are ancient, outdated and erroneus. I fought this mentality for a long time at The Post and it can be a tough nut to crack with many from the older generation.

What became clear to me Wednesday night is that today’s students don’t make that distinction.  Increasingly,  incoming students are viewing electronic delivery as the primary way to get information.  Reading print products?  One student said Wednesday night that she does it when she’s at home visiting her parents.

But, does quality decline with electronic delivery? Hardly.

Check out Len Downie’s discussion of online standards and Steve Outing’s analysis on the death of newspapers.

The nut graf:

In the management literature as well as in my experience, it is clear that those organizations who fail to ‘correct course’ after receiving clear indications from the market to correct themselves, ultimately fail. This is happening almost daily as newspapers are cutting staff and in so doing, totally curbing their capability to produce a quality product and thereby even have a chance to survive. The result is an ever deepening and ever tightening death spiral.”

Steve

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About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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6 Responses to Does the Delivery Method Matter?

  1. Dennis Vandal says:

    Hi everyone!
    Does delivery method matter? In my opinion, it matters a lot and the online version is only beginning to show us its thrilling potential. When it comes to delivering the typical contents of a printed newspaper, online journalism has been handling it brilliantly. When I was a staff photographer at the Worcester Telegram, we had a 12 hour news cycle that allowed me to shoot for my entire shift beginning in early afternoon, grab dinner, and process film and get prints to the various desks around 9pm. Today, there is no more 9pm deadline. The deadline is now…right now…and I think that makes for a wonderfully more vibrant product. If I suspect a story is about to be updated, I just hit the refresh button and there it is. Real journalism doesn’t get any fresher or more vital than that.

    Don’t appreciate the increased pressure? Let me remind you that our professional ancestors did the same thing with Linotype operators, pressmen, paper and ink by rolling the “bulldog” first edition out to the hawkers and then replating page one and sometimes inside pages as the flow of events required it. There’s nothing new here. Maybe the folks who bemoan these changes simply took the leisurely 12 hour cycle for granted for too long.

    What about “writing for the web?” There’s nothing new here either. Hasn’t the terse, simple declarative sentence always been the foundation of all good newswriting? Its predecessor was distilled into existence beginning in 1919 at the New York Daily News where the tabloid style was born. From there, it became American journalism.

    Photography is probably the greatest beneficiary of the new technology. If I pulled together an interesting photo package in the old days, I would often tip off friendly editors and give it to them Sunday night when I knew they’d be hungry to fill their pages of the Monday edition. I also soon learned that shooting for a story bound for page one paradoxically meant my best photos would never see light of day. Today, I ask my photojournalism students to pick a subject for a story, write a one-page story and shoot about 10 photos. Sara Afzal recently contributed her class assignment to AmherstWire.com and I think it turned out very well. You can enjoy her story and 12 photo package right here on the Local Beat page:
    http://www.amherstwire.com/2008/11/12/low-prices-at-amherst-farmers-market

    All this just scratches at the surface. My standard diet of local and national news is easy to get. Newspapers I could only get at the Out of Town News in Harvard Square, Cambridge are now at my fingertips. The “think pieces” I could only get in the Sunday paper now come to me in video form through RSS feed where I enjoy brief lectures from an army of luminaries such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Frank Gehry and James Nachtwey. Turn on your speakers and go here: http://www.ted.com/talks/browse. In a word, wow!

    It is our responsibility to give our students the same core skills of fair observation and clear writing that have always been essential in journalism. They need to learn the ethics that have guided generations. Again, there’s nothing new here. If you ever want to see what writing looks like without the fairness, clarity and ethics, just check out some of the blogs and forums out there. Your appreciation for proper training and journalistic professionalism will probably be renewed. Ultimately, journalism’s only real asset is credibility.

    Lately, I have been working harder to provide my students with solid visual skills that will allow them to frame their shots well, whether they are shooting still or video images. There’s no real difference here. They are required to provide wide angles, mediums shots, close-ups because editors, still or video, will ask for that in the future. I hector them about identifying the folks in their photos, and I demand stories. No, cool architectural views of the campus do not cut it in my class. I want people in the stories and people in the pictures, people doing stuff. I ask them to submit short, one-page stories because I want them to write tightly. I encourage them to keep their ledes under 30 words.

    It’s all pretty “old-school.” Today, we have these things I often refer to as toys. We shoot video and still photos without having to invest a fortune or climb a steep learning curve. Did you know every computer around has video editing software? My students have been using iMovie and Windows Movie Maker to display their still photos. If I can’t provide them with all the toys, I want to show them the possibilities and encourage them until they feel confident to move up to the next level. Their futures depend on that and I think they know it. Journalism cannot exist without the fundamentals. These new tools are moving news consumers to the web faster than I switched from my bicycle to my red 1963 Volkswagen Beetle. Our students need to learn the fundamentals and new tools and I think we’re all heading in the right direction. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

  2. BJ Roche says:

    Ok guys, no question that these new modes of storytelling are a truckload of fun. But if we’re talking about students and where they’ll be working in ten years, here’s the question: when the delivery mode has created an expectation is FREE content 24/7, who pays for the journalism?

    One answer may have arrived in my e-mailbox last week: the November “issue” of Website Magazine, in a digital version using technology called nxtbook. Check it out at nxtbook.com.

    The format is cool, because it’s exactly like a real “magazine,” with pages that turn, it’s easy to navigate, and here’s the key, it’s got advertising in the same way a magazine does, but with the added element of links to advertiser websites. So it combines what’s best about a magazine with what’s best about the web, presumably without losing the ad revenue.

    They also publish catalogues and other items that we might call “junk mail,” so think about the environmental impact if Land’s End sent out a “digital catalogue” to your house 15 times a year, rather than a paper one.

    I’m hoping to dig a little more into this and write more about it.

  3. David says:

    To expect newspapers to put ALL their chips on online is expecting them to commit suicide (right away–I can hear someone saying they’re doing that now slowly). The online revenue side hasn’t been figured out, for anybody, small or large, old or new. And you can’t gamble on its being worked out anytime soon.

    Meanwhile, let’s be VERY grateful that print publications survive because print advertising–declining tho’ it may be–is what pays for and makes possible much of the most excellent journalism online. I’m talking about the stories that the mainstream media outlets put on their websites–after it’s appeared in print, or simultaneously. And which is then cycled through the blogosphere. (The Pew folks say that 40 percent of blog links are to the mainstream media. I conclude that bloggers should buy print subscriptions, if they want to stay in business!)

    BJ raises the question of the future. I’m not an advertising expert, by any means, but I really can’t see online advertising bringing in big bucks. A computer screen seems just too small, and a cell phone’s display is smaller. Websites do not have captive audiences like TV–and free movement– “click here to skip ad”– is an expectation. (Don’t you get angry if you are forced to watch an ad online? I do.) Nor does a computer have the color quality of a glossy magazine. Ask LL Bean if they would stop their print catalogue (yes, spellcheck that’s how I want to spell it!) and be satisfied with their web catalogue, they’ll say no way, because online the colors are so off. Search advertising that is based on an individual’s reading and buying habits and finds its way to your home page–that may help a little.

    I’m interested in “nxtbook,” BJ, and the promise of a magazine format online, but doubtful. I couldn’t see a mock-up in the link you sent, so I can’t really tell. But newspaper facsimiles online haven’t really worked–something perhaps about the size/space/navigation issue. From the other end, have you seen the print-your-own magazine service, MagCloud, which seems to be doing good business? Google it. It’s another example of print still kicking!

    Of course I’m as baffled as anybody about the long-term trends. It seems to me that newspapers are likely to subdivide into multiple small-community publications, with print and online elements, and local advertising. Meanwhile, depth journalism–what Downie calls “accountability journalism”–will be funded by fees and philanthropies and “crowdfunding” (per story contributions from would-be readers) and put out by coalitions of reporters in a variety of formats, print, online, CD-ROM, etc.

    As teachers, we don’t have to know all the answers, or solve the business problems. If we train our students to be good reporters, help them develop a variety of skills, technical, verbal, and entrepreneurial–and, most of all, cultivate in them the mindset of journalism as a watchdog and public service–then THEY will (help) solve the business conundrum by creating content that people NEED. At least that’s my hunch.

    David P.

  4. I agree with David and BJ.

    The Web is great, yeah. Wonderful. Power to the people.

    But I’m going to have to put food on my table after graduation, and it ain’t going to be blogging.

    I was having a discussion the other day with James Mathews, a colleague at The Collegian. I said the Internet was the Wild West, and somebody is going to have to lay down some law and order before people can make good money doing good journalism online.

    He said right now the Internet is a flood of information, and what we need is some digital civil engineers to build levees and dams and roads so people can figure out what the hell the want, and where the hell to find it.

    I’m not fatalistic about journalism, but I’m hardly enthusiastic. When they invented the printing press some people said: Everyone has a voice! This is wonderful! and others said: Everyone has a voice! This is awful.

    I think both are true, and twice as applicable to the world we live in. I promise that my contemporaries and I will get out there and make some great content once somebody figures out how we’re going to pay our rent.

  5. Dennis Vandal says:

    Sean, BJ, David, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have all these wonderful things at my fingertips and it doesn’t cost me a dime. But I don’t pay for radio either and I’m old enough to remember when I didn’t get a bill for cable tv. And that may be the point here. I strongly suspect the present model may be unsustainable and that we may pay for selective services much the same way that broadcast television is free now. We may not like it one bit, but the medium is in its infancy and it is in its “we’re building it and they’re coming” phase. This period is presenting serious problems for the newspaper industry which has historically been truculent about change of any kind. The readers are switching over from print to web and newspaper companies are pretty much left holding the bag. They still have their presses and all their “legacy overhead” and they’re not too savy about building the value of new media and selling it well.

    Some newspapers have understood for quite a few years that the change is coming. They will be around for a long time. They’ll figure it out. Remember radio and television? Thousands of television and radio stations been around for decades and they’re supported by advertisers. As for the newspapers run by clueless managers, they will fold and hard working employees with lose their jobs. That’s the bad part. The good part is that the failure of the old organization

  6. Dennis Vandal says:

    Sorry about the interruption! The good part is that a vacuum may well be created and filled by someone sharp, bright and responsive…and online.That where the analogy of the Wild West comes in handy. That was a shake out period and we’re facing another one now and we have no idea who the real winners and losers will be for sure. Our economic system is called capitalism but I prefer a somewhat more colorful term. I call it economic Darwinism. The future belongs to those of us who embrace the changes. We can be a part of be a part of that future but the road will be unconventional. It will be a time of entrepreneurial journalism and will be up to all of us to figure it out.

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