Carnival of Journalism: Modernizing college media organizations

The Carnival of Journalism returns! This is our first post back, and our mission is to try to have thoughtful discourse around different journalism topics. This month we turn our attention to the future of journalism: Journalism students.


Student news organizations have traditionally existed to give students experience before entering the workforce. The kinds of journalism jobs and journalism companies have changed considerably in the past 10 years, and most student news organizations are set up to mimic traditional print or broadcast news outlets. How would you set up a student news organization in 2013 or how could an existing college news organization modernize itself?
Issues to consider:
  • Ideally experience at a college media organization would help a student learn relevant skills for the workforce and help students land a job.
  • If you work at a news organization, what kinds of skills do you and your organization look for in new hires?
  • What kind of “clips” should college students have by graduation?
  • You can approach this as your advice to college media organizations or as if you were a theoretical adviser or manager of a student news organization. Or as a theoretical employer imagining the ideal experience a just-graduated student should have gotten.

We also have a plan b blog post related to the general topic: “Should we teach J School students how to aggregate?”

Use #jcarn on Twitter to join the conversation or comment on this post and others.

The responses:

Michael Rosenblum says that journalists learn by doing. This means getting out in the real world and writing, taking pictures and photos and just doing journalism:

As a not theoretical but real (that means that there is real money being spent here) employer let me say that the very first thing I do with any new hires is to put them through a very intensive training program that I conduct myself.  And the very first thing I tell them is to forget everything they have learned so far – it’s generally pretty much wrong to begin with and about 95% of it is pretty worthless for what they have to do for me anyway.

And what they have to do is to make product.

They have to take a camera and a laptop, which we give them, and go out and make content for our shows.

That’s the job.

In many ways, Michael is saying to grab some modern tools and go experiment. Push yourself.

David Cohn points out that there is a big distinction between aggregation and curation and the two should not be confused:

In some respects, “curation” is what journalists have always done. Journalism is a process of collecting information, filtering that information and then distributing that information (caveats that the information is accurate and collected ethically, etc). So when we talk about teaching “curation” at j-schools – aren’t we describing what is already done? Why is this confusing?

Probably because of newfangled jargon: Now we are talking about curation on “social media.”

Victoria D. Baranetsky has some simple advice: Don’t talk about being a journalist; act like one. She gives us some legal history on how not acting like a journalist can cost student journalists in the eyes of the law:

Given the Court’s recent decisions, it has never been more important to act like an independent journalist, even if you are in school.  Blog, aggregate, heck, maybe even collect data, but make sure to do it and do it on your own.  Akin to what C.J. Chivers was recently quoted saying (“Social media isn’t journalism.  It’s information.  Journalism is what you do with it.”), my advice is that school and social media is there only to facilitate the identity you have already independently asserted.

Steve Outing wants student journalists to be “radically experimental.” And that starts with not trying to emulate “dinosaur news media:”

It seems that many students who join an independent student news organization view it as an opportunity to practice being a journalist in the traditional sense. Get better at reporting and interviewing; learn to hone their writing quality and personal style; practice standing in front of a video camera to impart campus news in the way it’s long been done on local TV news; etc. A common instinct is to look at professional news organizations and try to be like them. A smaller portion of incoming student journalists are more aware that the news industry is in turmoil and that journalism is undergoing reinvention, and these are the few who glom onto innovation experiments and seek out advisers and partners to try new things (especially in the storytelling-technique area).        If the top student editor is of the latter mindset, and has the support of a like-minded professional staff advisor, then there’s hope that the editor-in-chief can rally the news troops to a mission of NOT being a school clone of the local commercial newspaper and/or TV news outlet.

Outing also advises to “ignore the curmudgeons, whether faculty or students.”

Jack Rosenberry says that student media experience must include multimedia and that they must think digital first:

Good writing is essential to journalism and other media genres (e.g. public relations), so learning to work with words and create text is the starting point. But while writing well is a necessary skill to impart a message effectively, it’s no longer sufficient for effective storytelling. Working across media, especially in text and video, is crucial.

One of the two most prominent criticisms I’ve had for the Courier in feedback this year has been, “Why wasn’t that story on the Web?”

It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the hiring line in a news organization, but when I talk to friends who still are they emphasize the need for today’s entry-level news professionals to have this sense of digital-first urgency, cross-platform ability and excellent wordsmithing skills underlying it all. Today’s college media organizations need to provide this set of skills if they want to claim they are adequately preparing their students for what lies on the other side of the graduation stage.

Steve Fox is on a quest to “bring responsible journalism to live-tweeting:

There’s a lot being written these days about the future of Journalism Education. Ideas range from teaching students code, data visualization, computer programming — they all jockey for the trending subjects of the day. Which is all fine. I support all of that.

But none of it means a damn if news organizations continue to get it wrong. At times I wonder whether spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism is the wave of the future. Some think so.

Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram wrote last year that:

“The way that inaccurate news reports about a mass shooting in Connecticut filtered out through social media has brought up many of the same criticisms as Hurricane Sandy — that social media isn’t an appropriate forum for journalism. But this is simply the way news works now.”

I refuse to buy that. I’m not going to throw up my hands and surrender to inaccuracies being the norm.

Benet Wilson believes it is time for her school’s student newspaper to shed the past: Become independent from the school, invest heavily in new technology, get rid of the print edition and more:

Third, I would get rid of the Gramblinite’s print publication. Even at my advanced age, I don’t read print publications anymore. And schools, including Baltimore’s Morgan State University (another HBCU) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have done it. My reading is done on my iPad and iPhone. Students these days get almost all of their news online, so go where your customers are.  I’d build a dynamic website that is easily viewed across all digital platforms. I’d include video, audio, photos, graphics, comments and social media.

And speaking of platforms, the fourth thing I’d do is get rid of separate media. No more radio news, television news, print news and magazine news on campus. I would make one converged newsroom to allow students to gain skills across all platforms, and disperse the news accordingly, using rolling  deadlines.

Sue Robinson wants journalists to think of journalism as a process. She says that journalists and journalism educators need “to stop thinking about the news as a discrete product and to start considering its production and dissemination as a never-ending cycle of community dialogue among different platforms:”

Jeff Jarvis first coined the term several years ago (many journalists and mediawatchers have taken it up, as well) and the industry itself has been moving toward this conception. But it’s been slow to catch on among some newsrooms, some professors, and many college papers. In their Carnival posts, Jack Rosenberryemphasized digital first and multimedia, Steve Fox encouraged accurate reporting even on Twitter, and Steve Outing listed ways to be innovative. All of these pieces of advice subscribe to the notion of journalism as process.

How do you do this? All of the blogs in the Carnival will have great suggestions, given the incredible breadth of experience represented in this group. You can find a round-up of them here this weekend. It’s not just about doing video with your story. It’s not just about slapping a commenting section under your articles or a forum on your site. It’s not just about pushing your stories in your social-media platforms. It’s about embracing in a real way the (actually VERY) traditional notion that journalism is about inspiring citizens so that they become more civically engaged in democracy and public life on all of its levels — politically, culturally, socially. It’s about not only informing people with the who, what, where, and why, but to provoke thought, encourage conversation, and improve our public deliberation so that we can have better government and also just be better people. We have more ways of doing that than ever before.

Paul Bradshaw says there is no such thing as a ‘student journalist:'”

Students of journalism no longer practise their work in the seclusion of a classroom. They do not write solely for lecturers, or even for each other.

Any student on a course with some awareness of the modern media world publishes their own blogs; their student media is accessible around the world. They contribute to networks, and build communities.

Even if their course provides no opportunities to do any of these things, they will have Twitter accounts, or Facebook accounts.

All of which means that they are publishers.

Emma Carew says student publications should be a playground, a place where it is safe to fall and get hurt. She also says students need to graduate with “a deep and diverse portfolio:”

I would love to see student publications require all staff to spend their first year rotating through different positions in the newsroom: copy editing, web desk, visuals, multimedia, etc. And I believe student publications benefit from having the involvement of a professional journalist on some kind of advisory level. We joked about our newsroom being “Kid Nation,” but there were definitely times when it wasn’t a joke, and things really did feel all Lord of the Flies.

But the end game is this: students need to graduate with a deep and diverse portfolio, which many are failing to do. Stories about the Math department offering free pizza on the lawn and canned classroom exercises aren’t enough to instruct the next generation of journalism. Publication and creation must be mandatory for students graduating with a journalism degree.

Aram Zucker-Scharff wants college journalists and student media organizations to know that you’re the local journalism now:

With the collapse of Big Media hyperlocal (Patch, EveryBlock and the continuing compression of Gannet local papers) there isn’t anyone covering most of the communities that surround campuses.

The biggest missed opportunity in student journalism is that they are perfectly positioned to step in to hyperlocal with commercial success.

College media should cover beyond the campus borders to everything that is relevant to students, which absolutely includes the community surrounding campus.

More than that, they should be a news organization for the local municipality because there is a journalistic responsibility to cover local that has been falling by the wayside.

Finally, they should do so because there will be no better way to get the clips, skills, experience and hand-on knowledge that they will need to succeed once they leave campus.

Kathy E. Gill asks, “what is the role of journalism education:”

But if we think about the public nature of many – not all, but many – institutions of journalism education, then to me there is a clear path. The academy has a responsibility to the public, as do students.

This means that there should be an emphasis on watchdog journalism and the role of a free press in a democracy. The academy should be serving the greater community by doing investigative or informative work that is no longer performed by the commercial press. Surely the linkage of NPR radio stations and university campuses reflects this ethic.

Carrie Brown wants to see college media organizations reinventing themselves like startups:

This doesn’t mean that they have to or should throw out everything that they are doing now, but it does mean that they need to do some hard, creative thinking about the audiences – and the advertisers – they serve, what their needs and problems are, and what kinds of key digital products and features they could offer that will meet those needs.

In other words, instead of getting mired in the endless debates about what skills they need to master [are blogs journalism? do you need to code? etc. etc.], they can learn the PROCESS of innovation , and THEN develop the skills they need to make the create the kinds of news products they and their audiences decide they want.  Bonus is that it is far more motivating to learn skills in this context than purely in a classroom setting, and as a professor, I’d also be happy to adjust my teaching to what students told me they wanted to learn for this purpose.

Shaminder Dulai wonders about the wisdom of getting wrapped up in tools when they are changing so quickly:

Rather, let’s teach students the fundamentals of how to gather and report information. How to look for information, how to gather it, what to look for and how to conduct yourself ethically.

Journalism is no longer a ladder, it’s a gauntlet. The old model: get an internship –> start at a small paper –> medium paper –> large paper –> retire and write a book or something. Those days and that model of paying your dues are gone.

Today it’s about finding the means to tell the stories you want to tell and finding ways to pay for your next story. Weather that’s inside a news org or as an independent, it’s largely driven by you and it’s not an easy road to navigate.

Jonathan Groves says that j-schools need to teach the art of curation and the importance of verification:

Good curators such as Maria Popova ( and Nathan Yau ( are creating something new in their compilations. You hear their voice in their posts and glean insight from their analyses. In Yau’s case, he weaves his own posts about data analysis and visualization into the mix. As I noted in an earlier post on curation, the curator is adding something of value to the collection process.

It’s a skill necessary for developing your own journalistic brand. You learn what your audience wants to know, and you provide value by scanning the information-overloaded landscape and teasing out the valuable tidbits. Though journalists have been doing this type of work for decades, it is more difficult today to find the uniquely insightful slices that haven’t already gone viral and provide value in the collection.

Sheree Martin has a list of “10 things we should be teaching today’s college students. Here’s a taste:

9. We have more opportunities today than at any time in history.

Today, it’s possible to create our own media empire using free tools readily available on the internet.

For the price of less than 2 lattes each month you can buy a custom domain and a web-hosting package to create an online portfolio and/or business and, with desire, effort, and perseverance, create a life you love.

Paul Bradshaw was so inspired by this conversation that he wrote a second blog post, “We’re not just teaching journalists any more – we’re teaching citizens #Jcarn:

Kathy Gill has written a rather wonderful post about the public service responsibilities of journalists educated with public money. It’s worth reading in full (that summary doesn’t do it justice) – and I wanted to add my own experiences around a change in journalism education which I only realised a few years ago.

It is often overlooked when people talk about journalism and media degrees that many students realise during the course of their studies that the journalism profession is not for them.

Donica Mensing writes about the ebbs and flows that student media experiences when some years editors and staff members are engaged and others they are not. She has some suggestions for how to spur innovation in college media:

Value the work: Consider offering course credit or internship credit for participating in campus media. This would enable students to commit more time to their efforts and cause educators to take the work more seriously.

Improve recognition of high quality, innovative work: When students produce exceptional work, take notice. When they do something radically experimental, recognize it. Encourage regular post-production quality review; build a school culture that recognizes and makes explicit standards of excellence in regards to journalistic quality and to innovation.

Who needs a business model, anyway? Online journalism does. #jcarn

This post is for the Carnival of Journalism. Every month some of the top journalism thinkers around get together to debate topics in journalism.

What’s the biggest problem facing journalism today?

Lack of journo-hackers? Not enough staff resources? Too little focus on mobile? Not enough data? Print curmudgeons? Lack of free coffee for employees?

No. The biggest problem facing journalism today, particularly at legacy news operations, has nothing to do with journalism. The biggest problem facing journalism — a traditionally ad-supported industry — is the inability to support itself with ads via the Internet.

This is the last year of the Knight News Challenge in its current form. It’s had a few notable successes — Spot.Us and Everyblock. It’s had far more failures than successes and a bit of redundancy. But that’s to be expected and encouraged.

After all this competition is all about taking risks and trying new things. The problem has been Knight’s insistence on not caring about whether or not projects could make money. I had a high ranking Knight News Challenge person tell me that Knight doesn’t care if every project fails to be able to support itself financially or if every project just plain fails.

I think it’s time for that to change. In fact, it’s time for Knight to start funding projects whose only objective is to help news organizations make money. And I think it’s time for Knight to care that some of its project succeed.

Last year Windy Citizen’s real time ad project was funded. Will it succeed? Not sure yet, but more ideas like it would really help journalism.

I guarantee you we would have a lot more innovative ways to do journalism and inform the public if we had more ways to financially support journalism. We’re seeing a rise of non-profit journalism, which is good, but we’ll need more than that.

How about an open source Groupon competitor that news orgs could install? How about a new classifieds platform that crushes Craigslist on usability and experience? How about an open source self-administered ad platform ala Facebook ads?

These are all things news organizations could use. These are all ways news organizations could better support themselves online. But what about business ideas that no one has even thought about yet?

One of things I love most about Spot.Us is that it’s a project that has the audacity to ask, “How will we fund meaningful journalism?” To me that’s what Knight needs to get into the business of doing.

Good journalism requires money. While funding mobile application projects may be en vogue, these projects won’t be self sustaining, nor will they get to the heart of what is ailing journalism today. Not to mention that its expensive to develop a good multi-platform mobile application, and it will require years of continued development (which it doesn’t appear many of these applications and best winners are factoring in).

I do believe that journalism itself is changing and that we do need new ways to tell stories. There is no doubt about that. But until we find a way to properly support these new ways of telling stories, will it really matter?

News organizations need to rethink staff resources in order to promote innovation

It’s a simple question: What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?

And it’s a simple answer: News organizations should stop pretending like it’s the pre-Internet days. Most news organizations are still legacy-first. Newspapers still care more about the print edition than the Web edition. Beats are still centered around making content for print edition.

The same goes for broadcast. Even the best news organizations often have separate Web staffs that produce editorial content for the Web product. But that makes no sense.

Why have two staffs to produce editorial content, when most employees could be creating content that works on multiple platforms? That’s what I mean by rethinking staff resources.

It’s simply a matter of making employees and content work for us. Duplication of work is a great way to stifle innovation, because most news organizations are under a tremendous budget crunch and can’t afford to waste resources like that.

It’s easier to go from Web-first to print than the other way around. Why? Because the Web is incredibly flexible.

It can do all sorts of content incredibly well. Print, for instance, can only do writing, and photos to an extent, well. And print even has major limitations on written content that the Web doesn’t have (arbitrary story lengths, anyone?).

Let’s take the example of a beat reporter. Some beat reporters have begun blogging, but their blogs are often treated as one more thing to do. That’s hardly a way to promote innovative content. In fact, one-more-thing syndrome is a good way to promote staff burnout.

Rather, a blog should be the heart of a beat reporters arsenal — not the 15-inch story. Any time a nugget of information comes in, a beat reporter should blog about it (or post to Twitter or both). As news comes in a blogger can either add to his original post or make a new post.

Twitter updates take seconds to write, but make fantastic notes for longer written pieces later on. This keeps readers updated and interested.

At the end of the day, when the dust has settled, it will be a lot easier to put together a 15-inch story. A beat reporter will already have notes (Twitter is great for this) and several post of content to work with.

But imagine the reverse scenario. A beat reporter concentrates on producing copy for the print edition first. This means no meaningful content will be posted until a story is completed for the print edition (or stories). This also means the story may be an aribitrary length to fit print needs — not the story’s needs. Many beat reporters who operate like this will occasionally dump smaller news items into their blogs.

When people ask “how can we make more time for innovation,” it’s really more about using time more wisely than about making more time. Think about it. Blogging and Twitter are naturally mobile friendly, which saves us even more time while reaching an even broader audience.

That’s another bird killed with the same stone. Any good blog has at least one RSS feed (if not multiple ones for comments and sometimes categories). Google Reader is a fantastic (and free) mobile RSS reader. Without doing any extra work your content is already mobile friendly.

And I don’t have to explain how ridiculously mobile friendly Twitter is. So, now a beat reporter isn’t actually doing any extra work, but he is hitting the Web and mobile with full force. And because of the way blogging and Twitter work, it’s extremely easy to make a print story from all writing that has already been done.

We need to make our content work for us. This means making our content smarter and rethinking how we us staff resources in news organizations.

This is my May post for the Carnival of Journalism. It is currently hosted by Ryan Sholin over at Invisible Inkling.

Rewriting (rethinking) written content on the Web

The inverted pyramid might still have a place in journalism, but it doesn’t make sense as the dominant writing style on the Web.

In fact, the beauty of the Web is that each story can have a different writing style. And story lengths are no longer dictated by arbitrary space constraints in print publications. The Web has liberated journalism writing.

Blogs have flourished because they don’t have any legacy writing ideals to uphold. Bloggers just write, and they write in the formats that make sense for each individual post. Bloggers also aren’t afraid to make short posts every time new information comes in — instead of collecting all the information for one long, inverted pyramid story.

It’s time for publications that haven’t started rethinking written content on the Web to do so. There are some mainstream journalists already mixing things up, and a great place to look for inspiration is the world of sports journalism.

Most sports journalists become journalists because they love and want to cover sports. Many news and features reporters become reporters because they love to write. That’s a large disconnect that explains why most of the more innovative written content on the Web comes from sports journalists.

That’s why places like don’t have problems breaking standard journalism conventions. The people who work for love sports. And while many of them might love writing, sports is their real passion.

Ultimately, we are in the reporting business. Our job is to report in the most concise and appropriate form possible. Even now that we have a myriad of tools like video, audio, multimedia, databases, etc to work with, written content still makes the sense for the majority of stories (I often won’t click on stories at that don’t have a written version. Sometimes I just don’t want to watch a 3-5 minute video report.).

When we talk about writing on the Web, however, we shouldn’t look to print as an inspiration. Writing for print, especially newspapers, has several limitations. Space being a major one.

Many reporters are told they need to write a 15-inch story, for example. Not because the story should be 15 inches, but because that much space must be filled in the newspaper. So, the story might be stretched a bit, or simply cut short, often leaving out important details.

Thats the kind of pitfall we can avoid on the Web. Sometimes a story only needs a few paragraphs, other times it needs more. That’s a fact that bloggers have been exploiting for years.

The inverted pyramid makes sense for publications that have to worry about space. When someone writes a story in that format (most important information first, least important last), it makes cutting words, sentences and paragraphs for space really easy. But space (in that sense) is not a consideration.

But that’s just the tip of how we can rewrite and rethink written content on the Web. One of the most useful ways to write on the Web is completely unlike the inverted pyramid or the standard five-paragraph essay we wrote in school — writing with vignettes or bullet points. is filled with a ton of written content. Much of, however, is not like standard journalism writing. Mel Kiper Jr., for instance, graded every NFL teams’ draft today, but he didn’t write it like a standard story. He broke it down in 32 individual vignettes that fit together into a total package. It allows users to easily find which teams they care about, while also not making this written piece seem as long as it is (it’s about 4,500 words, but it feels like a breeze). also had a fantastic draft blog by Pat Yasinskas. Some posts are more than 600 words, while others are two sentences. Other posts are mostly bullet points.

One things you’ll surely notice is how each post is clear, concise and to the point. The posts are not written in the standard inverted pyramid style. They are just written in a logical way that makes sense.

In our Army/Navy special feature from last fall, I compiled some key statistics about the game. I could have written it like a standard story with complete sentences and paragraphs, but it made much more sense to break it down with bullet points. I wrote another piece for that feature where I created four vignettes of key players. instituted a great feature last year where they put bullet points at the top of each of their written stories that give people the major points of the story. Some journalists would probably hate to see their hard work distilled down to four bullet points, but it’s an incredible feature for users. A person can now read the headline, the lede (I hate this archaic term) and the bullet points and get the general gist of the story in about 30 seconds.’s way of handling written content makes sense in a world where people read stories in RSS readers, on the go and in general consume a lot of content very quickly. When journalists don’t concern themselves with trying to collect clips or win awards, they can begin to create written content that really works for users in the 21st century.

Ultimately, journalists need to understand how users use news on the Web. It’s vastly different than how people use dead tree publications. This means a lot less feature ledes (I often will close out of stories I find on the Web that have feature ledes when it’s a hard news story), getting away from the inverted pyramid and embracing more immediate and less encumbered forms of writing.

This is my April post for the Carnival of Journalism. It is currently hosted by Yoni Greenbaum over at Editor on the Verge.

Journalism students need to know marketing

Maybe you’ve heard the news by now about how traditional journalism — especially the print side — is having a tough time.

This is not the time to despair. This is the time to create new ventures and take journalism to a new — better — level.

(This post is a follow-up to Journalism students need to know business)

Students looking for jobs in traditional journalism roles and in mainstream media jobs will be sorely disappointed with the job market. There simply are not a lot of jobs available in those areas, nor is there any growth. But there are journalism jobs to be had, and there is a lot of growth in online journalism.

The thing about online journalism is that many of the jobs aren’t with traditional MSM companies. And many non-MSM jobs are found through non-mainstream sources. Having a printed résumé and searching doesn’t cut it anymore.

Students need to understand marketing and how to market themselves. I suggested in my previous post in this series that every journalism student should be required to take an economics or business class. It also makes sense for every journalism student to either take a marketing class or, better yet, a class on entrepreneurism.

Gone are the old, outdated concepts that journalists only produce content. New media companies like Engadget and Tech Crunch have been popping up. It’s not just the content that sells those sites, but rather it’s the ability of their founders to understand business and marketing — along with content — that has helped make those sites a success.

Even if a student wants to take the traditional media route, learning how to market one’s self is a helpful skill to have. It will help students get more job offers and better job offers. It will also help students break into new media.

How to market yourself:

  1. Digital résumé – I’ve touched on this many times before, but every student needs a digital résumé with a personal Web site and/or blog. Online journalism content — especially multimedia — doesn’t show up properly on a printed résumé, which is a major reason why every journalism student needs to make a digital résumé. Plus, digital résumés can be accessed from anywhere in the world and are search engine friendly (SEO is the way of the Web).
  2. Personal Web site / blog – You can’t have a digital résumé without a personal Web site or blog. Ideally, a personal Web site would be a gateway into a journalist’s work and talents. Preferably, a student would have both a blog and a personal Web site that showcases a variety of journalism and Web talents. But a blog at Blogger or isn’t a bad option for students who don’t want to get a personal domain name. And blogging is a great marketing tool. Many, many people have been offered jobs because of their blogs. If your blog becomes popular it will encourage people to view your digital résumé, and it will get your name out in the journalism community.
  3. Online presence – When someone Googles your name, the search results should be littered with it. This mean having strong SEO on your personal Web site and blog. This means being active in social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Delicious, Digg, etc. And it also means using your real name with your social networking accounts to increase your online presence and searchability. No one in their right mind would hire someone to be an online journalist who didn’t already have a strong online presence.
  4. Be professional - Having an e-mail address with your real name in it is a must, but many students still use personal e-mail accounts that don’t exude professionalism in the least. The best option would be to have an e-mail address at your personal domain name. That takes it to the next level. Act like you’ve been there before.

All of these suggestions are aimed at making students look like professionals, like someone who gets it. You want to make people want to hire you and work with you.

That’s what personal marketing is all about.

This is my March post for the Carnival of Journalism. It is currently hosted by Will Sullivan over at Journerdism.

Podcasts can drive traffic for newspapers

Newspapers have really done podcasting wrong, and that’s a shame because a lot of people listen and watch them daily.

Papers have either ignored podcasts or have managed to do them really poorly. But a good podcast is a great way to inform people, and there are several really good podcasts out there.

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of (good) podcasts. I subscribe to several of them and have been listening to podcasts for years. eMarketer predicts that the overall podcast audience will reach 28 million people in 2008 and podcast related advertising will reach $240 million this year. That’s pretty good news, because podcasts audience growth had stagnated for years.

Many newspapers have shied away from podcasts because there hasn’t been a lot of revenue in them. The problem isn’t the format, but rather newspaper podcasts themselves. Most news podcasts, especially from traditional news sources, aren’t very good.

I remember when The New York Times launched several podcasts a few years ago. I tried a bunch of them and stopped listening immediately, because they weren’t very good. The Times’ Front Page podcast is a perfect example of why I stopped listening.

It provides a summary of what’s on the front page of the Times every day. It, however, doesn’t discuss in detail the front page stories from the paper. This mean if you want to know the full story, you’d have to read the paper, because you certainly aren’t getting the whole story from this podcast.

A cynic would think that newspapers shouldn’t get into podcasting because they aren’t popular with newspaper audiences. That’s not the problem. A lot of people really like podcasts, and 28 million people is nothing to sneeze at.

But I guarantee there would be a lot more people listening to podcasts if there were more good podcasts. Below I list five really good podcasts. None of them are from a newspaper.

A lot of the best podcasts have advertisements in them. Advertisers are willing to pay for quality content, and people are willing to sit through ads if the podcast is good.

How to do podcasting right:

  1. A podcast should be able to stand on its own — A lot of newspapers offer headline podcasts, which really, really suck and do not serve users best interests. These podcasts tend to be short, only go over the biggest stories of the day and usually do not delve deeply into the stories. They are meant to drive users to read the stories on the Web or in print. That’s the wrong approach with podcasting. A good podcast should educate someone. It should not require that someone have to consume another form of content to get the full story. The problem is that most newspapers try to use podcast to push users to their primary content. But people listen to podcasts because they like podcasts. If people wanted to be reading stories they would be.
  2. Don’t worry about length — Amy Gahran recently wrote that newspapers should keep podcasts short. I strongly disagree with that recommendation. A podcast — like a good written piece — should be as long or short as it needs to be. A good podcast — like a good written piece — should be distilled to its core essence, eliminating extraneous content. But some topics take awhile to properly discuss. Many of the most popular podcasts are on the longer side. These podcasts stand on their own. Buzz Out Loud usually runs between 30-35 minutes. This American Life (often the most downloaded podcast on iTunes) is an hour long radio program that has become an immensely popular podcast. Now do not use this advice as carte blanche to not cut anything out of a podcast. A good podcast needs editing. I’ve heard many podcasts (like the Macworld podcast) that need editing because they are way too long and often seem like they were created for the staff and not users. Remember, your audience is who you make products for. **update** See Amy’s comment below on how her advice about keeping podcasts short only applies to headline podcasts.
  3. Think outside the box — The best and most popular podcasts are different than traditional news content. They are lively, they are fun and, yet, they are educational. They aren’t like a typical news story — written or broadcast. This American Life has won a lot of awards because it is considered fresh and innovative.
  4. Educate people — A good podcast should leave a listener better informed by the time the podcast is over. Many podcasts only cover one topic per episode and that’s fine, as long as that topic is thoroughly discussed. If you leave a listener better informed by the time a podcast is over, you have done your job. This is the reason why headline podcasts don’t work. They leave listeners puzzled. Instead of informing, all a headline podcasts does is provide more questions to be answered for listeners.
  5. Show notes are a must — A good news podcast always has show notes. This is how you drive people to your other content. Instead of having a headline podcast that forces people to read stories so they can understand what the hell is going on (if they even keep listening to a weak podcast like that) provide show notes for your podcast so people can delve deeper into a topic if they want. This is a subtle, but important distinction. Show notes are there so people can learn even more, but your podcast should still stand on its own. In addition, show notes let people know where you got your sources from, which is very important. The best podcasts, like Buzz Out Loud, link to other organizations content in addition to their own. Don’t be one of those news outlets that only links to internal stories because our job is to ultimately inform our users to the best of our ability.
  6. Podcasts aren’t like newspapers — Don’t mimic newspaper content when making a podcast. People use newspapers in different ways than podcasts. People tend to read newspapers when they get up in the morning or after they get home from work, devoting their attention and time to the paper. People tend to use podcasts while doing other things — riding the subway to work, driving in a car, cutting the grass, working at a computer, cleaning the house, etc. This is why headline podcasts don’t work. Most people listen to podcasts when they can’t read a newspaper or Web site, and it might be hours until a person is able to read a newspaper or Web site. This is why a good podcast will fully inform someone, and podcasts like that provide stronger advertising opportunities.

The best podcasts:

  1. Buzz Out Loud — This is my favorite podcast by a mile. Every person and newspaper thinking of doing a podcast should listen to this daily podcast from CNET. It’s one of the most popular podcasts in the world for a reason. The show discusses the biggest tech news of the day, but it doesn’t attempt to be some boring, drab headline podcast. It gives stories context. This podcast also shows how important it is to have good hosts. Tom Merritt, Molly Wood and Jason Howell make this podcast because of their personalities. They are fun, lively and they joke around with each other (compare how this podcast sounds to the NY Times Front Page podcast). They don’t take things too seriously, and tech news doesn’t really need to be taken that seriously. Yet, they get fired up from time to time. This podcast is a perfect blend of news and commentary and it is incredibly educational. I am always better informed after I listen to this podcast, and I wish it was even longer. It’s that good.
  2. This American Life – This show has long been the darling of Chicago Public Radio and now it is the darling of the podcast world. No one will argue that this is a typical news show, but it does tell the American story in a very powerful way. Host Ira Glass has created a journalistic non-fiction show that weaves in many non-traditional elements into journalism to tell powerful stories about the American experience. This show is so hard to describe, but it is so beautiful, so different and yet so educational.
  3. Best of YouTube — This is a daily compilation of the best clips on YouTube. This is a video podcast that is perfect for how many people use podcasts — on portable media players like iPods or on break while at work. Got a few minutes to spare? Why not watch some of the funniest/coolest/craziest clips on YouTube. It’s always entertaining. Sure this isn’t related to news, but it’s important to understand why certain podcasts are popular (this was the most popular on iTunes today by the way).
  4. The Real Deal — This is another podcast from CNET. CNET gets what makes a good podcast. Many “traditional” news companies may not think highly of CNET, but CNET gets what Internet users want. Unlike most podcasts, this podcast focuses on one topic per episode. It strives to help people understand complicated tech topics by discussing them in detail. The Real Deal can often be 20 minutes on one topic, but I guarantee that by the end of each podcast you’ll understand the topic at hand, no matter how difficult. Imagine if CNN had a podcast like this. They could discuss the whole Super Delegate mess in detail. Instead most people don’t fully understand what Super Delegates are and what purpose they serve.
  5. Newshour — For whatever reason, this TV program works well in audio form. Perhaps that’s an indictment of the visual aspects of the show, but I listen to this show in podcast form everyday because podcasts allow me to consume content when its most convenient. One of my favorite parts of this podcast is how the show is broken down into individual segments. That way I can listen to the parts of the show I want. Some days I listen to every story, other days I only listen to the stories that interest me. Each story, however, tells a complete story. It’s not some overview like many news podcasts are. I feel more knowledgeable after I listen to these podcasts, which is how every news podcast should make me feel. I don’t have to read or watch anything else to get the full story.
  6. Hey Tony! — I threw this one in here at No. 6 because it’s not a podcast that will appeal to a huge swatch of people, but it is right up there with Buzz Out Loud for my favorite podcast. It’s awesome. It’s a weekly podcast by the Plain Dealer’s Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi. This podcast might irk some old-school-ink-stained wretches, but that’s exactly why it works. Tony — huge gasp now — gives his opinion on the current state of the Browns, and that’s the best part of the podcast. There is not a journalist in the country that knows the Browns better. He has followed the Browns for decades, and he knows the ins and outs of the team, the staff, how they are playing, etc better than anyone. So, instead of just merely telling us what happened at the last Browns game or during the draft or whatever, he gives his expert opinion. Perhaps the best part about this podcast is that it is a live chat. While listening to the chat, users can submit questions to Tony. The moderator selects the best ones, and Tony answers them. This podcast manages to combine both being incredible informative, while also being interactive. If you miss the live chat, as most people do, you can download it in podcast form. And hey, this podcast is from a newspaper!

Newspapers need to stop thinking of podcasts as some sort of loss leader to drive people towards traditional content. Podcasts can stand on their own. They can generate their own revenue.

Podcasts are a lot like blogs. When done poorly, they are a waste of staff resources, and they can cause people to question the journalistic mission of a news organization. When done well, however, both can take journalism to new levels by covering news in new and innovative ways — in ways that our audience likes to consume news and content in.

This is my February post for the Carnival of Journalism. It is currently hosted by Innovation in College Media.

You can’t teach culture (Carnival of Journalism No. 2)

Not every staff member can become an online or multimedia journalist.

And if they aren’t really great in their traditional media role, they probably don’t have a long-term role in your news organization. That’s the sad reality, but it’s the only way for newspapers to evolve.

You can’t teach culture.

A lot of journalists are complaining that no one is teaching them what they need to know to survive online. No one is teaching them how to be an online journalist. I’ve got news for you: you can’t be taught how to be an online journalist.

Either you are or you aren’t.

You can’t teach culture.

An online journalist is just a journalist who is online, who gets the Internet and is Web savvy. Online journalism is so much more than knowing Soundslides, video editing or some HTML tags.

Do you read blogs in your spare time? Are you on social networks like Facebook, Twitter,, Digg, LinkedIn, etc? Have you experimented with HTML just because?

Have you played around with blogging software? I can teach specific skills to a person like that — skills like multimedia reporting with Soundslides. I can teach them how to conceptualize and build special features.

I can teach individual skills.

I can’t teach culture.

The leading online and multimedia journalists live, eat and breathe the Web. It’s their life blood. You can’t teach that.

Many journalists still don’t have Internet in their homes. I’m 23, and I have had personal Internet for more than half my life. I grew up with the Internet.

I remember a time before AOL had buddy lists. I remember when Geocities (a free Web hosting service) had those annoying pop-up ads. I remember when a lot of companies only had content on AOL, not on the Web itself.

I was building rudimentary Web pages in middle school just because — not because someone told me I had to learn to build them to keep my job. Because I wanted to. Because I enjoy being on the Internet and connecting with people all over the world.

Do we honestly expect people who haven’t already embraced the Web to become online journalists? We all have colleagues who don’t have the Internet at home or still use dial-up. People like that don’t get the Web and never will (unless they live in one of those areas that doesn’t have broadband options).

Paul Conley and others have begun hitting on this issue since I started writing this post. Conley doesn’t see the point in trying to teach people a culture:

For someone to work on the Web, they must be part of the Web. That, after all, is what the Web means. The Web is a web. It exists as a series of connections. An online journalist isn’t a journalist who works online. He’s a journalist who lives online. He’s part of the Web.

It’s a waste of time and money to teach multimedia skills and technology to someone who hasn’t already become part of the Web. And there’s no need to teach skills and technology to the journalists who are already part of Web culture, because the culture requires participation in skills and technology.

Or, to put it another way — I cannot teach the Web. No one can. Yet all of us who are part of the Web are learning the Web.

Conley and I disagree on one thing: I still believe in training. I just believe in offering training to those who will most get it — I need ROI.

I think Conley would agree with me that the kind of training we can never offer is how to be an online journalist. We can only offer people with online skills the opportunity to learn more skills. You know CSS, well it’s time to learn javascript/Ajax. That sort of thing.

Mind McAdams says even her students (mostly 18-21 in age) usually cannot be made to get it:

Sometimes I despair at how many young students we lead to the multimedia trough only to see them decline to drink. Sometimes I feel like the only ones who “get it” are the ones who already “got it” before we got them.

Learning the Web is not like learning statistics or history. It’s not taught in some class. It’s just something that you do because you want to do it.

I can’t teach you how to love cars and what’s under their hoods. Sure, I could teach you how to change the oil or add coolant, but I can’t teach you anything meaningful. Certified mechanics know a lot about cars long before they ever have any formal training.

They grew up with cars. They know cars. They love cars.

When they are given training, it’s usually to learn something specific about a make or model, not to learn about cars in general. They are expected to know that, and they all do.

That’s how online journalists are. Sure, they can always learn new skills, but they get the culture. They understand the Web.

You learn because you spend time on the Internet in your free time. You experiment. You try new things just because, not because someone told you to do it.

Just because.

This is my January post for the Carnival of Journalism. It is currently hosted by Adrian Monck.

Tear down barriers to convergence

Newspaper employees have to stop thinking about just their traditional roles and begin embracing convergence much earlier in the process.

This mean thinking of different ways to tell a story before reporting or interviewing, not after. It means bringing in Web people before a project is done, not after it is ready for publishing. And it means having reporters do more than just take written notes when covering an assignment.

Andy Dickinson says we need to think about convergence more seriously if we want to succeed (his first Carnival of Journalism post):

To make convergence work we need to make newsrooms behave in the way we are expecting the audience to work. We need to bring convergent behavior back in the newsroom, away from the point of publication. That means reporters need to take stills cameras out with them every time they leave the office. They should be recording every interview with a digital dictaphone. That doesn’t mean that they should be doing anything with that content. They should be making that content available, where appropriate, in the same way we know they should be using Delicious or a blog.

I think we need to change the mantra inside the industry to

Gather everything: Share

We need to do that well before we even think about where its going to go.

Dickinson has some good points. Most organizations still tack on multimedia at the end. “Oh, we have this big print package, let’s add some Web component at the end.” Or “the Web people can capture audio and do that multimedia stuff later on.”

That’s the exact wrong way to approach innovation on the Web. We have to think about the Web and multimedia content before and during our reporting.

Every print reporter should have a camera and get training in photo journalism. Those same reporters need to know how to work a digital recorder, in case an interview is worth posting on the Web. It would be great if all reporters knew how to use Twitter and blogging software.

Mindy McAdams implores us to quickly destroy all silos — or perish:

The TV and radio news people talk about putting their existing content on a Web site and teaching the kids to write “briefs” for the Web. The print people talk about writing and linking. The online people (always outnumbered, always out-gunned) try to talk about reporting in new ways — but no one ever seems to hear what we are saying. If the journalism schools could break out of this trap and “think different,” we could provide a great service to this field we all love.

Unfortunately, we are far away from this being reality.

Outsourcing will help a lot of newspapers

If you haven’t been following the Carnival of Journalism, what have you been doing these past few days?

Nothing of importance I’m sure. I’m going to be commenting on all of the carnival posts in due time, but there is one that editors, managers and publishers should read over at Journerdism ASAP.

Will Sullivan blogged about how high tech freelancers are helping to fill gaps in new media teams at newspapers. Maybe, it’s just a sign of the times or a cold, hard reality, but most newspapers don’t have nearly enough technical talent. That’s not good news.

But many realize that they don’t have the budget or the mindset to hire the right people. So, instead of trying to find their own programmers or Flash developers or whatever, they outsource. It’s a good idea for many companies for a few simple reasons:

  1. All newspapers need to be making compelling digital content right now. If you don’t have the staff to do so right now, find someone who does. You can’t wait around to make compelling features until you have all the personal in place, which may never happen anyway.
  2. Some of the best talent is just too expensive. Newspapers do not pay well. That’s a fact of life. If you are really good with programming or Flash or another skill, you could get paid a lot more working for another company. Plus, many programmers and developers find working for newspapers to be very restricting, especially since their bosses are often extremely glib about technology and online journalism. Newspapers can’t compete with the money or freedom that technical people can enjoy elsewhere, but they can hire very talented people and companies on a per project basis.

If your company doesn’t have the talent or the knowledge to deploy that talent, top editors should strongly consider outsourcing to high tech companies that get the Web. Will sums it up well:

I think this can be a symbiotic relationship for both parties – papers and freelancers/agencies. The freelancer/agencies get more work, more freedom, don’t have to work in the traditional newsroom and get to avoid the cubicle “Office Space” life. Newspapers can combat their brain drain, get to do cool projects quickly and perhaps get some fresh, non-traditional ideas about information and storytelling in their newsrooms.

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.