Emergent Journalism

Reports from the front line of journalism instruction

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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.






“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


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Two mornings on Twitter

Like most people I have a presence on social media; indeed it would be hard to maintain credibility as a media professor if I didn’t.

But I’m not on every platform out there, and not terribly active on some where I do have an account. That includes Facebook, where I rarely post and often forget to even check in and read it. Often I don’t find anything interesting or valuable when I do, something other people have observed also and even blamed on changes Facebook has made in constructing the news feed.

The medium I find most interesting and valuable is the one may people find most confusing and frustrating, which is Twitter. The past couple of mornings have shown why.

Mostly I use Twitter for “business” reasons rather than personal items. A majority of the people and organizations I  follow are journalists/news organizations and people or organizations that research and write about social media, digital media, emerging forms of journalism and similar topics. While I have been known to post the occasional cat photo or image of my son’s band performing, the vast majority of my tweets are on the same topics I follow, of course including retweets of people and organizations I follow.

This morning I made retweets or original posts about Twitter possibly considering changes to its algorithm, how an NGO is hiring a journalist, ideas for implementing a “teaching hospital” model for journalism and a blog post with terrific ideas about storyboarding and data journalism. A couple of these  were favorited and retweeted multiple times. An RT of the storyboarding tweet by someone with about 15,000 followers garnered 20 favorites from among his followers.

One of my tweets was favorited by a journalism professor from Great Britain, who also was kind enough to follow me back. (I’m not certain, but am pretty sure she found it through an RT by a friend who’s a professor in Arizona.) That resulted in a direct message conversation between us and an exchange of emails that likely will result in our meeting in person when I take a planned school trip to London in January. A few other people also followed me and I followed some of them them back, too.

Nothing quite as interesting as a new international contact came out of yesterday morning’s Twitter activity, but I did post or retweet about a new hyperlocal journalism site, dismal recent results for print advertising, and Twitter “best practices” that I plan to share with students in the fall. These came from some of my favorite places to get news and ideas about digital media and journalism: PBS Media Shift’s Idea Lab, Nieman Lab and JournalismUK.

But that morning I did have brief conversations over Twitter with the publisher of a Pennsylvania newspaper (where I worked 30 years ago) about a crowd-sourced project he had tweeted about, and with another UK contact whom I know only through Twitter about the meaning of the American football term “playbook.” I also stashed away links to seven interesting items for possible use in class.

These experiences illustrate the value of the social in social media, Twitter in particular, adding to the value of time spent there.