After spending the semester examining new trends in online-based journalism, I can easily say that I see the most potential in the idea of interactivity. I love that readers now have opportunities to engage with what they’re reading; to play with it, to hear it, to see it from all angles. An article about a nation-wide issue that is accompanied by a map allows a reader to localize the issue (without the reporter having to write articles for every affected city) and find meaning in the topic. Articles accompanied by a variety of photos allow the readers to visualize the subject of the text much more than the one or two photographs selected by an editor in a print edition ever would. Videos catch the attention of those too busy to read. Comments sections give the audience a chance to participate in the news, rather than only being spectators. With interactivity, news has become something that everyone can get involved in, rather than just passively read with a morning cup of coffee.

Something I dislike about online journalism is the pressure of “instantaneous news.” While I understand and appreciate the potential for 24-hour updated news feeds, I’m wary of the toll it will take on quality. We have discussed this in several classes this semester, and I have grown progressively more intimidated by the expectations put on reporters to create stories within minutes of an event. I know that there are strategies that can keep this pressure in check—like posting quick updates while a more thorough story is developed—but I still worry about the escalating competition between online news organizations and what this will do to accuracy.

Where I will be heading with my brain packed full of online journalism is still unclear. All semester long I have been feeding my growing love of web development and the potential for web design to affect a reader’s impression of a news site. I would love to learn more, as I still feel unequipped to do anything professionally, but I certainly think that my career will not only include the writing and reporting side of journalism, but also the multimedia development and web design aspects of it too. Heck—I think all journalists will have to know more and more of this in the future, and I am pleased that I will be riding this wave as it develops, rather than following behind it.

Posted by: me | May 3, 2010

The salad bar of news media

As humans, we like to pick and choose what fits us best, and news is no exception.

Traditional media has always given readers what the media organizations themselves decide to provide.  Consumers could choose which newspaper to buy and which articles to read, but not what that newspaper contains.

It is my view that news is going the way of the news aggregator—any program that lets readers request what kinds of news they want, and then compiles stories from many news sources.

I may stand as a case study of my own point. The news I am most likely to read in the morning is any story that comes to me in the Google alert I have set for “Peru,” no matter what the source.  I only rarely actually visit a news website’s homepage.

I am not alone in this view.  Tom Rosensteil, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, believes that we are hunter-gatherers and instead of looking to major news organizations, like the LA Times, to tell us what we need to know, we are instead seeking answers to our own questions.

“We are becoming our own editors,” he said in a speech last fall.

This type of news retrieval only works when all types of news, local, national and international, are compiled and disseminated together.

Someone who I think understands the potential of 21st century journalism is Dan Pacheco, the senior manager of digital products at The Bakersfield Californian.  His project, Printcasting, which recently won a Knight News Challenge award, helps individuals create niche news publications from aggregated feeds from mainstream media and bloggers, among others.

Why do I think that this is so innovative and actually has the potential to work?  Advertising.  The unfortunate fact remains that journalism needs money, and because Pacheco has incorporated the potential for advertising income into his scheme using localized and specific advertisements, it might just work.

Projects like Pacheco’s are a reminder that people want to be informed about what they are interested in.  I think that Pacheco’s idea faces challenges—like how to gain an audience—but the beginnings of a good idea are definitely there.

If journalism is going to make a successful jump to the new era of Web-based information, we as journalists have to concede that readers are going to pick and choose what they want, and if we don’t cater to them, they will find their information elsewhere.

The BBC may not be the master of interactivity. It’s hard for visitors to the site to do much of anything except choose their content and read at their leisure. There are very few obvious polls, maps, and other interactive elements, all of which all seem necessary in today’s Web 2.0 environment.

There are a few exceptions.

With major events, the BBC is usually quick to throw a map up on the website.

For example, I remember during the beginning of the swine flu scare, the BBC (like most other major news organizations) had an interactive map where readers could hover over various cities and countries around the globe to learn about the infection statistics in each one. There was also a time line where viewers could work their way through the development of the swine flu. I actually just discovered that they still have this map up and hidden away in the depths of the BBC, though it was only last updated in January and is not as extensive as it once was.

This may not have won the BBC any creativity awards, but it allowed readers to interact with the contact rather than just read.

Currently, the BBC is concentrating all its interactive powers on the upcoming election in the UK. In one section, the BBC provides a timeline where readers can select years (and even different polling organizations) to watch the UK’s major parties rise to and fall from favor over more than 25 years.

Another element called the election seat calculator is “interactive,” but only good for about one minute of interaction, as there are only a few options to view how various pools and past elections have affected and will affect seats in the House of Commons.

But overall, such elements as these are rare. Most others that are on the site are impossible to locate, extremely out-of-date, or not actually interactive by any stretch of the imagination.

The BBC absolutely needs to work on its interactive elements. There not only need to be more of them, but they also need to be easier to find, with more than just links to election coverage from the main news page. From the BBC, I expect more.

Posted by: me | April 11, 2010

Web design a la BBC

It is obvious that the BBC’s news website has been designed with a very intentional attention to detail and a focus on making the experience for each visitor as easy and meaningful as possible.  The techniques that the BBC uses in its design allows for readers to create their own experience quickly by differentiating between categories and importance through visual signals incorporated into each page and section.

The prime real estate on the page, the top left corner, is taken up by a colorful photograph on every page of the BBC, catching the reader’s eye.

There is also a navigation box, allowing the reader to instantly choose the area he or she wishes, by area or by category.

The top BBC banner is red, a bold contrast to the relatively simple colors of the rest of the page.

Pictures are scattered throughout, but are small and simple, so as not to create an overwhelming experience for the viewer.

The BBC maintains consistency throughout the website, always using similar fonts and colors.  Main headlines are blue, categories are red, and the main story text is black.  The allows the readers to immediately know what to look for, allowing them to selectively read only the headlines they wish, and to be directed quickly to only the categories they wish to explore further.

Something else that the BBC does well is white space.  The page is not overcrowded and only the necessary information is displayed on the main category pages.  The text that is displayed is organized in a very simple and recognizable basic four-column layout.

The BBC website is successful in allowing each visitor to easily navigate the website and access the content he or she is looking for.  The layout is simple and predictable, and the design is attractive without being excessive.

Posted by: me | March 22, 2010

The BBC and Video News in One Word: Yawn

The BBC is infatuated with video news.  On the front page of the BBC news website, almost as many videos are listed as written articles, and most major written news stories have videos to accompany them.

But an abundance of videos doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation.

BBC’s videos are a quick and easy meshing of television broadcast with the web.  Stories are short, narrated, and exactly what one would expect from a report of a nightly news program.

Like this one, for example, about the South African police force trying to get in shape.

The only different format that I could find was one in which a simple video with no narration (and seemingly very little editing or thought to the piece) is thrown at the beginning of a news article.  Like this one of Bush and Clinton visiting Haiti.  No one is interviewed, no background is explained, and there is nothing particularly artistic or interesting about the piece that is unique to the BBC’s coverage of a widely publicized event.

A step in slightly different direction is this video that discusses the use of a local currency in Britain.  It must be said, though, that this step is small and cautious.  A few unique camera angles that wouldn’t normally pass on regular broadcast and some upbeat music are still overpowered by classic narration, conventional interviews, and—let’s be honest—a generally boring video that doesn’t quite do justice to a very interesting topic.

The BBC is, like much of Britain, steeped in tradition, so I imagine any allowance for creativity in web video will be slow in coming.  There’s nothing wrong with tradition—it is the firm commitment to traditional journalistic standards that makes BBC World News website one of my favorite places to get informed—but would it hurt to throw us out-of-the-box thinkers a bone?  Let’s see some innovation, BBC.

This photograph is of Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett as he greets the crowd at the event.  It shows the rule of thirds because Leggett occupies the far left third of the photo and the other prominent person in the photo, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, occupies the far right third.

This photograph depicts the Rockville High School Jazz Band as they play at the opening of the ceremonies.  It uses a number of photographic elements.  The photograph follows the rule of thirds and is divided into three distinct areas: the boy, the girl and the flag. It also offers a unique perspective, as it captures the musicians from “behind the scenes.”

Here Marcuccio cuts the 150th Birthday cake while being photographed by the gathered crowd.  The photo once again shows the rule of thirds by placing the mayor in the left third, the cake in the lower middle, and the crowd of photographers off to the right.  This photo also captures a moment of the exact instant when the cake was cut, and the excitement in the faces of Marcuccio and all those taking pictures.  The perspective is unique in that it shows the photographers taking the picture rather than just the cake.

Here we see the miniature water bottles awaiting area dignitaries on stage at the celebration.  The photograph most strongly shows the graphic quality with the lines of the chairs and the water bottles.

This photograph is of the dance group IMPACT, composed of area youth, performing at the anniversary. The photograph most strongly shows the element of emotion, as the power of the dancing can be seen through the moves captured.  There is also an element of graphics, through the lines of the dancers themselves that seem to come to a point at the upper right-hand side of the photograph, drawing the eye in that direction.

Posted by: me | March 22, 2010

Twitter’s potential not yet seized by the BBC

Twitter is a very relevant topic for the BBC.  Peter Horrocks, the Director of Global News, recently informed BBC journalists that Twitter and other social media are essential to journalists’ work.  In the words of Dave Lee, a BBC technology reporter, Horrocks “said Twitter wasn’t optional – or words to that effect – and it sent a few shockwaves through the BBC World Service.”

Twitter has the potential to be the steam engine bringing “traditional” journalism down the tracks to the 21st century where it can become a news source that is accessible to modern readers—those who want information instantaneously, who want to interact with what their reading, and who have attention spans of 140 characters.

But questions remain about how well (and quickly) the grandfathers of journalism will jump on the bandwagon of Twitter and not only use it, but use it well.

The degrees of success that individual journalists have achieved with their twitter endeavors so far ranges significantly.

Peter Horrocks himself hasn’t done anything but retweet since mid-February, interestingly enough.

A familiar face for those who watch BBC America, anchor Matt Frei has recently begun a Twitter account, which is attempting to blend the personal (like a note about where he got married) and the newsworthy (like notes about who to watch in Britain’s upcoming election).

I spoke recently with Lee who maintains a very active Twitter account.  He says he uses it regularly to get information for technology stories, though he would label his own content as being more personal than professional.  But that will slowly change, he says.

“As I progress as a journo (I hope!), it’ll become more important to think out what I tweet — already I need to be aware I don’t, in the run up to the election, making any passing judgments on parties or politicians.”

So will Twitter change the face of the BBC?  My vote would be for no, not yet.  Not in the next few months, at least.

The BBC makes it exceedingly difficult to locate its journalists on Twitter, and often those journalists themselves are wary of making their Twitter accounts “official.”

The official Twitter accounts only spit out headlines like a robot (or do nothing at all).  Where is the interactivity?  Where is the transparency?  There is a great deal of potential left in Twitter that the BBC has not yet taken advantage of.

Posted by: me | March 8, 2010

Editing pics assignment

Photo Credit: infomatique

Posted by: me | March 8, 2010

Rugby

not wales.  boo.

Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Zealand

Posted by: me | March 7, 2010

Crowdsourcing at the BBC

I have been a fan of BBC’s “Have Your Say” feature for years.  One of the first things I do after learning of a major natural disaster or event somewhere in the world is turn to the “Have Your Say” page to find out what people in the area are saying.  I think that reading the stories and perspectives of many people on the ground adds a very important element to my understanding of the news; a journalist can only interview so many people for a story, but when many chime in, I feel like I get a better picture of what’s going on.

With that said, I don’t believe that the “Have Your Say” crowdsourcing attempt is not without room for improvement.

I would put these features into two categories.  The first is the crowdsourcing news category.  These are stories, videos, pictures, and audio from current events, submitted by people with no affiliation to the BBC.  The second is crowdsourcing opinions.  These elements often pose questions to readers soliciting their views on various controversial topics, and act as a forum for debate.

In the news crowdsourcing, the BBC selects stories from eyewitnesses to major events to share with the audience.  An excellent example is this report from a man named Luis Felipe Ramirez Rojas who was in Talca, Chile when the earthquake hit.  Another is this page that brings together many stories from people all over Chile.  I believe that reading stories such as these adds to a reader’s understanding of the event, and even allow information to get out of areas that journalists can’t get to.

In this case, the BBC tries to avoid the potential for false information and irrelevant comments by selecting only the few they wish to display.  Readers send in the story, as well as information about themselves such as name, age, and occupation, and instead of the submission appearing immediately as a comment, only a few are selected to be displayed in a news story format.

In the opinions section, the BBC poses a question (like this one about whether or not Iceland should repay their debts) and displays the comments simply in a list format.  One good thing that they do here is to allow the reader to click on the name of the commenter to see all of the comments that person has left recently.  This allows readers to make their own judgments about how trustworthy a commenter is.  A downfall to this crowdsourcing attempt, however, is that the BBC does a very poor job of synthesizing the data they are receiving.  A few quotes from comments are sometimes pulled to display on the main page, as in this example, but no attempt is made to allow the reader to get a feel of what people are saying without reading every comment.

Because the BBC has an enormous reader base, they have both the potential for fascinating crowdsourcing, but also the burden of deciding how to monitor and control the amount of information they receive.  As it stands, “Have Your Say” adds an interesting element to the BBC news website, especially when it displays stories from eyewitnesses to major events, but if it really wants to tap into the reader base, the BBC will have to find better ways to bring the information together.

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