How editors feel about the web

Posted on July 28, 2008 
Filed Under Journalism

The latest research from Project for Excellence in Journalism has some interesting outcomes on how editors feel about the web and multimedia skills:

Odd that they chose only three emotions. Surely editors are capable of more range – why not Confused, Clueless, Apathetic, Utterly Stupefieid or I’m As Mad As Hell And I Am Not Going To Take This Anymore?

From the report:

At larger papers, where staff cuts have been deepest and the newsroom moods darkest, fully 57% of those surveyed say “web technology offers the potential for greater-than-ever journalism and will be the savior of what we once thought of as newspaper newsrooms.” By contrast, just 4% expressed worry that the web’s pressure on immediacy might undermine the accuracy and values of journalism.

The optimism also exists at smaller papers, but not as strongly. Only 40% agree with the “savior” description. Industry-wide, nearly half of all editors responding (48%) admitted they were conflicted about the web’s impact.

Whatever their feelings, there is no doubt that the web has been accepted as a fact of newsroom life. Today, editors said they no longer ask reporters if they have time to file for the web before embarking on their story for the print edition. Filing first for the web is a given. Editors also noted that exclusive material is no longer kept off the web as it was just a few years ago to protect the print edition impact. Today, it is posted immediately.

The “Skills Essential in Newsrooms” graphic suggests that Multimedia Skills are separate from Overall Computer Skills. The fact they hypenated Multi-media suggests some confusion here.

Does editing audio or cropping and resizing photos or putting together a slideshow constitute an Overall Computer Skill or a Multi-media Skill? If a person coming into journalism these days can write code but can’t write a decent caption does that consitute an “essential” skill? And what if the said person doesn’t do databases? What category does code writing – whether it’s HTML, or Java, or Actionscript fall under? Can editors even tell the difference?

From the report:

Orlando Sentinel editor Charlotte Hall called the creation of a data team the “single most significant innovation” to come out of the paper’s 2007 reorganization in terms of generating new reporting skills for both the web and print versions of the paper. The team brought together everyone at the paper responsible for gathering data for listings, then melded them with library researchers and archivists, a reporter trained in computer-assisted reporting (CAR) plus an editor who had been a high-level database researcher. Their job, she said, is to mine data, then work with other teams across the paper to develop stories based on that data. Initial results have included front page enterprise stories on local restaurants and housing foreclosures.

For the restaurant project, which brought a business reporter and the restaurant critic into the team, the paper put together a database of local restaurant health inspections, then produced a Sunday front page story under the headline, “How Safe Is Your Restaurant?” It told readers that 30-40% of Orlando’s licensed eating establishments had been cited for serious health violations, including some of the area’s most exclusive dining locations. Findings, broken down by neighborhood, were posted on paper’s website, as was the entire database from which the story was written. Driven largely by the Sunday front page treatment in the newspaper, the on-line database drew over a quarter of a million page views during the first few days, Hall said.

Working with data on housing foreclosures, the team produced a two-day front page package that mapped foreclosures in the Orlando region. The on-line version of the story allowed readers to zoom in by zip code or street name using an interactive map.

More from the report:

One sign of this new competitiveness is the advent of newspaper “early teams”, groups of journalists usually comprised of an editor and a few reporters, who begin anytime around dawn or before and work through the early afternoon, reporting and writing content exclusively for the website. In many respects, these early teams represent a kind of resurrection of the old afternoon newspaper: starting early to package today’s news today—or, more precisely, packaging this morning’s news this morning.

Early teams are part of a broader repositioning of newsrooms for a 24-hour news cycle capable of feeding the web constantly. More than four of every ten (42%) papers surveyed have already added early teams and another 17% are planning to add them. Among larger papers, a remarkable 80% already employ such teams. Although not measured specifically in the survey, anecdotal evidence and interview comments suggest that staffing of these early teams is an important component for those who say their newsroom staff has increased.

Much of the material produced by these early teams is routine—traffic tie-ups or pile-ups, police matters, late night local government meetings or sports results, fires and court appearances. Because of this, early team stories tend to have a short shelf life and are often overtaken by other, more significant news during the day. Occasionally however, they are strong enough to update and rewrite for the following morning’s newspaper.

Working from website traffic data, more newsrooms now target de facto deadlines to make sure fresh content is up for periods when traffic spikes, including 6-7am (as people wake up), 8:30-9am (as they get to work), around 11:30am (before they go to lunch) and around 2pm (when they return from lunch). The editor of one large metropolitan daily spoke of “website edition times.”

MORE| The Future | Conclusion

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