Emergent Journalism

Reports from the front line of journalism instruction

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Going mobile

The following line actually was published in an article in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, in coverage about Trinity Mirror pulling the plug on UsVsTh3m and the implications for the just-introduced Facebook Instant Articles. Facebook’s plans, along with experiments such as UsVsTh3m, according to the Guardian:

crystallise what has been happening since the invention of the iPhone, and that is a move towards producing quickly accessible material which can be viewed through a very small, responsive screen.

If there is an imperative for journalists, journalism educators and anyone else with a stake in the field to keep in mind, it’s that. Quickly accessible. Small format. Responsive.

The Guardian’s concise summary of the state of the art resonates nicely with the most recent State of the News Media report,whose headline was that most news these days is being consumed via mobile devices.

It wasn’t that long ago journalists, and journalism educators, were working to articulate what it meant to be “digital first.” But that idea is now passe. What’s necessary is to be mobile first.

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Messaging apps, news distribution and paths of least resistance

In graduate school  30 years ago I recall reading an intriguing little book called The Path of Least Resistance. It was a personal productivity, self-help offering along the same lines as Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And it was all about, as the title states, finding the most friction-free way to accomplish creative results.

It strikes me that one of the hurdles evolving journalism faces is finding the least-resistant paths to new modes of delivery, as the business models of the old ways continue to crumble.

A new feature from the instant messaging app Snapchat, which debuted this week in partnership with several well-known news organizations, may be an example of one of those low-resistance paths. The Discover feature was released by Snapchat on Tuesday and has already been gaining a lot of attention.

An excellent review of what it could mean for news by Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab focuses on the least-resistance concept in a couple of different ways. As Benton notes, Discover

  • Puts news where the audience already is — a reference to the 100 million users Snapchat has, many of them young people who are still developing their news consumption habits; and.
  • Is completely native to mobile, not (quoting from Benton) “newspaper stories or TV pieces stuffed awkwardly into new containers.”

One of Benton’s key insights is that “the share of consumers that regularly, purposefully seeks out news for news’ sake is relatively small … a large portion of the audience has always encountered news through a mix of adjacencies, social vectors, habits, and accidents.” That’s true not just in the present age, but historically as well. News dissemination has always benefited from word of mouth (“social vectors”). Reading the newspaper or watching nightly TV news was very habitual, but a habit that younger generations just never developed.

So in the information-overload world where the mobile device becomes both access point and filter, as Benton continues, “it makes sense that news will have to be integrated into how people are already interacting with the broader universe of information.” He also notes that in a column a few weeks ago he wondered aloud “What will be the laid-back, low-effort experience that replaces TV news?”and speculates that Discover may be an example of one.

In other words, what path(s) of least resistance are going to emerge as news and journalism continue to evolve? We may have seen the initial blazes along the trail for one such path this week with Snapchat’s Discover release.





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ONA Envy

One of the fundamental rules of the Carnival of Journalism group-blogging exercise founded by David Cohn is “no apologies” for anything when blogging.

In that spirit I won’t apologize, or offer excuses, but I hope Dave will allow me to at least feel a little guilty for going three weeks between posts.


One of these years I need to make it to the annual Online News Association conference. A sizable number of good friends were there — judging by their tweets — and I’m sure it would have been extremely interesting and valuable. (Though I certainly would not have wanted to endure what many conference-goers did with all of the airport hassles in Chicago.)

Fortunately, as with many conferences these days, so much coverage is posted online, both in real time through social media and after the fact, that it’s possible to get a good sense of what I missed. An especially valuable resource in this regard is the ONA Student Newsroom, where student journalists from various universities working with professionals and educators as mentors cover the conference with text, images, video, and other tools.

I haven’t pored through all of the available coverage, but one of the key sessions seems to have been Amy Webb’s on tech trends. Looking through the list of bullet points, there are a few things I recognize from Webb’s presentation at the 2014 JI Conference in Maryland last April. But she has a reputation for not giving the same presentation twice — probably because she knows how much of an overlap there is between these conferences that draw similar audiences — so I am looking forward to going through her slides for some insights.

And the rest of the stories by the student newsroom — there appear to be at least 75 of them on a WordPress powered site — should keep me busy reading for a while, too.


“Future of Journalism” reading list grows ever longer

When I taught my intro journalism class last spring, I experimented with something that worked pretty well and is incorporated into this semester’s version of the course as well.

Each Friday is set aside as a day to get away from the nuts-and-bolts skills that are the course’s primary focus to examine the evolution of journalism and what the future may hold for it. Last semester, for example, when Vox Media and Nate Silver’s revamped 538 launched in the same week, the students were assigned some readings about the launches and then we spent Friday discussing them.

On weeks when we didn’t have breaking news of that sort, we looked at some of the other emerging practices and ideas in the field, such as the journalists-as-coders debate kicked off by Olga Khazan’s article in The Atlantic, a rebuttal by Mindy McAdams and summary of other views on the issue by Nieman Lab.

The blessing, and curse, of this approach is that there is so very much to choose from.

For example, I already had picked out some readings for one of the first Friday sessions of the semester related to what Columbia Journalism Review described as The Great Newspaper Spinoff. Most of them dated to about a month ago, spawned  by the early-August announcement that Gannett would be separating its print newspapers into a separate entity. They included entries from David Carr in The New York Times and Michael Wolff in USA Today and some wrap/summary pieces such as this one by Joshua Benton at NiemanLab.

Then along came Clay Shirky, whose 2009 blog post on the future of newspapers stands the test of time as an incredibly prescient view of where the medium was headed. A sequel of sorts, published just two weeks ago on Medium, argues that we have reached “Last Call: The End of Printed Newspapers.”

In the post, Shriky mocks the notion — still used in some places to to frame newspapers’ situations — that “the future of print remains unclear.” As he puts it:

The future of print remains what? Try to imagine a world where the future of print is unclear: Maybe 25 year olds will start demanding news from yesterday, delivered in an unshareable format once a day. Perhaps advertisers will decide “Click to buy” is for wimps. Mobile phones: could be a fad. After all, anything could happen with print. Hard to tell, really.

Also included in the readings for this unit are some related views such as one by by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, arguing that 2014 has been “A Terrible Year for Newspapers, a Good Year for News,” Jacob Weisberg offering the view that Journalism’s Deathwatch is Over and Alexander Howard maintaining that journalism will rise phoenix-like “from the ashes of printed newspapers.”

So many good entries in this category, so little time to address them all. Seems like I have at least a couple of weeks worth of Fridays covered.


Updated 8 a.m. Saturday Sept. 6 to fix a spelling error