The Web is the greatest thing to ever happen to journalism

Carnival of Journalism – This was my first post for the blog carnival dedicated to journalism, founded by some of the leading voices in online journalism.

Don’t let the graybeards and naysayers sway you, the Web is the greatest thing to ever happen to journalism.

This is the turning of the tide. It’s when journalism begins meaning so much more in people’s lives. It finally gives people a voice.

It’s 24/7 news that you want. It’s deeper background. It’s more interactivity.

It’s a conversation. It’s what the news always should have been.

The newspaper never has, never could and never will hold a candle to the power and depth of online journalism. It’s the past, and this is the future:

  1. News that you want, when you want — on any subject.
  2. News in the formats that you want that best tell each individual story.
  3. News that you can get from anywhere in the world on a myriad of devices.
  4. News with deeper background and content.

The Web is not killing journalism. Journalism is more alive than ever, but the Web will kill many journalists and journalism organizations unwilling to change, unwilling to deliver news that matters to people and unwilling to deliver news to people in the formats that matter to them.

The Web has no room on its vast bandwagon for out-of-touch journalists or companies who fear change. Journalism has always been about change — it has liberated societies, it has brought down corrupt politicians and it has spurred movements.

Innovation is the path to salvation.

Take a look at the some of the most innovative projects and voices in journalism:

Congress Votes Database – Built by data-as-journalism evangelist Adrian Holovaty during his days at the Washington Post, this database gives users the kind of information that print or TV news never could. It gives users access to information about the political process in an easy-to-use format.

It tells people the kind of data that helps make informed citizens. Want to know how often your senators miss votes? Now you can. Want to know how often your senators vote with their party? You can.

Want to know how your senator voted on the latest legislation? You can. Want to know how that stacks up against his or her party colleagues? You can.

This is news that people can use. It goes so far beyond what traditional journalism ever could. It’s the fourth estate in its finest hour, and it will help keep people far better informed about what their national politicians are or are not up to.

Exonerated, Freed, and What Happened Then – This excellent multimedia package by The New York Times tells the stories of wrongly convicted prisoners after they were exonerated by DNA evidence. It uses audio clips from the wrongly convicted to help tell their stories and is packaged nicely with Flash.

Beyond just the audio, a written component gives you background on each former prisoner and what has happened since he or she was freed. The package also tells you how long each prisoner was in prison, how much their compensation was for being wrongly convicted and other information. I can’t imagine a better way to tell the stories of people wrongly convicted of heinous crimes.

The Lawrence Journal World – This newspaper and its parent company Journal World are pioneers in making journalism matter in the digital age. They started being hyperlocal years before there was a name for it. They allow their site to be a conversation and make use of deep database content.

Look at this story on the recent ice storms rocking the Midwest. There is a written component, photo gallery, two videos, links to related stories and additional information about the storms. This innovative paper has decided to cover news from every angle to give its readers the full story.

Oh, and its circulation is about 20,000.

LoudonExtra.comThe Washington Post’s hyperlocal site all about Loudon County delivers in ways that traditional small-town media never could. It has breaking news, it has deep database content, it has in-depth coverage of prep sports, it has multimedia, it’s a conversation and so much more.

And it’s just for one county.

Want to know which places offer Sushi at midnight on Thursday night? LoudonExtra can help you. Want to know information on every school in the county? LoudonExtra can help you. Want to hear podcasts of sermons from local churches? LoudonExtra can help you.

It’s the site that every local newspaper should build. It’s the first place people look in Loudon for news and information. Every news organization should strive to be the portal of its users’ lives.

The time for action is now. Users don’t want what we have been giving them. They want so much more.

  1. A conversation – Let your users comment on every story, photo, video, feature and item on your site. If you have blogs, make sure they foster a conversation. Blogs are not online columns.
  2. Deep database content – Don’t just stick everything on a story page. Most content should be a database item, because databases are incredibly searchable and usable. And many stories can be told using data instead of just written text. Look at how many major metro papers get killed by and when it comes to covering their own hometown teams. Why is this? Because both the NFL and ESPN realize that database content is very important to sports fans. You can get an incredible amount of statistical information at those two sites that virtually no major newspaper has. But here is the problem: major metro papers should own those stories. The Cleveland Plain Dealer should be THE source for Browns coverage. It’s not. Make it happen.
  3. Multimedia – The Web is an incredibly immersive format. It does photos much better than print and can do videos in much more innovative ways than TV. Audio can add a lot to most stories. This doesn’t mean every story needs audio, video or photos, but it does mean that our sites need more of all of them. Users wants huge photo galleries of local sports and events, audio slideshows of compelling stories, videos that matter and audio that helps tell a story.
  4. Go local – Many papers are adding more and more wire content. That’s not why people read local newspapers. They come for local stories. If you don’t deliver what people want, why would they come to your site? Don’t try to out-CNN CNN, because you won’t. Own your local stories, and people will come. You can only own the stories within your own sphere of influence. But you should rock those stories to the core.
  5. Breaking news – This should be obvious by now, but I still hear some old-timers talking about “scooping ourselves,” when they post breaking news to their Web site a day before the print edition gets it. Listen, that’s nonsense. The whole point of breaking news is that it is breaking. If your site posts a story before your competition even knows about the story, you’ll have a huge lead time over them. You’ll own the story. Don’t worry about a competitor having the story for tomorrow’s print edition, because by then it’s not breaking news, and you should have a second-day analysis story by then anyway. Everyone will have heard about it from your paper in the first place. People want continuously updated news coverage, and the Web does it the best.

Embrace your readers, embrace innovation and embrace the Web. It’s going to be a special time for journalism.