Week 11 – Multimedia and “Digital First”

27 Mar

News organizations are trying many different techniques to integrate themselves into the new digital landscape.

One idea that’s taking root is the “transparent newsroom,” which involves reducing or removing the barriers between journalists and the community. This approach involves creating a new community online to match the real one, either through special Twitter hashtags or through other methods like online forums. The new goal here, at least according to Canadian news site OpenFile, is to focus less on scoops and more on providing “value to the reader.”As an editor that “value” aspect is always important, either with newsworthiness or in cases of ethics. I was reminded of a statement from the director of the French branch of Al Jazeera this week. He justified the network not airing footage of the recent terrorist attacks because the audience didn’t have anything to gain from viewing it.

Value and newsworthiness are certainly more important in a digital climate that makes actual scoops extremely elusive. The focus in the news world is shifting toward a digital model that does more than just disseminate breaking news as quickly as possible. News organizations now require the resources to deal with online sources and information that flows out faster than ever. It’s become abundantly clear that the website/”digital department” of a newspaper can’t just be two guys with computers in a corner of the newsroom or in a basement. Publications across the country have changed their business models to integrate the digital aspect with virtually every facet of the printed news that preceded it. Sports Illustrated, for example, the staff spends a good three days going over the online editions after the print edition is finalized, and it often runs stories by themselves on its website. The shift has come without significantly downplaying focus in the magazine because the company has reinvented its own thinking; it now calls itself “a sports media company” instead of just a sports magazine.

A similar tale is told at The Atlantic’s headquarters, where a redesign and a digital-oriented expansion campaign helped the magazine’s circulation and viewership both expand immensely. The Atlantic’s bosses focused on more up-to-date content (the Atlantic Wire site, with its focus on Twitter-friendly news) and specialized topic pages (or “channels” as the magazine calls them) to bring a more nuanced focus to the website.

Both cases are examples of the need to emphasize the online news product as much as, if not more, than the print model today. Treating the digital articles like print will lead to a bland product because the online news audience needs more stimulation within its articles. Aggregation, links, you name it: you have to have something that keeps people’s attention on your site, because you can’t guarantee that 100 percent of your news coverage will be compelling enough on its own. Proper aggregation and curation are key here, whether in providing adequate context to keep readers invested or to make sure your article is seen on the proper social networks.

Finally, it’s important to remember that each form of media has its wrinkles. Just as magazine design is different from newspaper design, so too is website design different from design for mobile devices. The rise of cellphones and tablets as news outlets has influenced designers and editors alike. It’s important to be able to consider how your news will look on each format. The better eye you have for this sort of thing, the easier it’ll be to package the news for the different outlets.


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