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Dear Digital Journalism, Are you Hiring?

  When I tell people that I’m studying to be journalist I feel like they give me a stare. Not the good kind of a stare, but the long deep eye piercing stare that makes one uncomfortable and self-conscious. The stare that reads, have you picked up a newspaper lately and read about the fall of journalism as we know it? Do you know what the internet is and how it’s taking over? Have you heard of this Digital Journalism phenomenon?

It’s taken me a while, but I’m more confident now than I’ve ever been when I stare back at them. Now with eyes bursting with intent and excitement I can say, Yes, I’ve heard about the fall of journalism (No, didn’t get it from the newspaper, I haven’t picked up one of those in over a year, that stuff is posted on the internet for free!) and yes I have heard about this Digital Journalism phenomena…and I’m ready for it. With change comes the invention of new techniques, fresh ways of thinking, and innovative ways of working. Digital journalism represents that for me, a fresh change to a struggling enterprise. Fortunately, I am the cusp of the change. I know more about the new wave of media and technology than I do about the old ways.

 One-man-band reporting, content curation, crowdsourcing, blogging, social media, long hours with little pay….that’s the only news industry I’ve known so the change for me isn’t swift…but that doesn’t mean that I’m without hesitations.

With digital media comes “digital money”—which is basically the lack thereof. With news programs relying upon user generated content with as much fervor as they are relying on the content of their staff, media jobs are not only diminishing but their becoming glorified permanent internship-esque positions. The idea of “making your way to the top” is being replaced by “we’ll call you when we need you and pay you for ½ the work you do”. There’s no money in digital journalism and if that doesn’t freak out a journalism student, I don’t know what will.

But as they say, there are two sides to every story. Because so many media industries have begun to lay of their staff, their staff has in turn looked to the media to find their own voices. Ex reporters, photographers, editors, and the like have created media sites, blogs, and curation websites to create a mega market of online “news centers”. The pro to this, is now journalists (and literally anyone with access to the internet who can put two sentences together) can submit reports and writings to a plethora of online media enterprises…the downside though goes back to the point in the last graph, there is no money in it for the reporters, hence the glorified internship-esque comment.

So, what is a determined reporter (who also enjoys eating at least two meals a day and plans on paying off school loans) to do in times like these? Simple: Make Digital Journalism work for you. Most of the trends we’ve discussed this semester deal with having more control over content. It is up to the determined reporter to learn more than just their “job/s” but keep up to date on changing patterns, new technologies and fresh ways of thinking. If you keep in touch with digital journalism, digital journalism will keep in touch with you, see Clay Shirky’s blog on ditching old media models and adapting with new ones.

 Even after the millions of stare’s I’ve received from strangers and pessimists of digital journalism, my passion for the industry, news and innovation has not wavered…but I wonder as I write this appealing blog spot a week before I say farewell to academia and hello to bills and responsibilities if in the meantime, digital journalism has a job to spare.

AOL plants a SEED

 

Clay Shirky recently blogged about how traditional media business models can not withstand the changing dynamics in news. Shirky says to the traditional model, that it is not “whether the internet is going to alter their business, but, “he says, “about the mode and tempo of that alteration”. 

In other words, it is not a question of IF the internet is changing the dynamics of news and how we get, produce and illustrate it, but the media’s response to that changing dynamic as a testament to their viability and longevity in the industry. There is no doubt that the industry is changing- there are no more “IF’s” about the internet and new wave journalism–because that’s a ever-growing reality–the only question now is, what do we do with the old business models of media now that we are in the new wave of media and news gathering? Shirkey’s reponse is simple, media groups needs to change their practices and become flexible with the changing news gathering atmosphere. In this blog post he writes:

“Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond. In retrospect, this can seem mystifying. Why didn’t these societies just re-tool in less complex ways? The answer Tainter gives is the simplest one: When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.”

 The key here is re-tooling or restructuring the way the way things were with the way things are now. Enter SEED, an AOL parented blog site that uses “user-generated” content to produce a “wire service” esque online venture with other sites of its kind. At SEED writers and photographers can submit their own work, usually based off the assignments board on the right corner of the page that SEED uses to post current projects they need contributors for, and have their work submitted to various online blogs and sites WHILE GETTING PAID!

And if i had time in this blog i would point out why the last three words in the above graph is probably the most important thing in this blog post…but i digress

At SEED, the traditional model of media, news gathering and news consumption has been replaced. The model at SEED is: You Create it. Your heard. You earn

At SEED the idea is about crowdsourcing (cheaper production) and media Curation (which is cost effective and a great marketing tool). AOL has allowed themselves to forgo the traditional business tools AND news gather techniques to create SEED. AOL took a chance. They flexed their flexibility and didn’t fail to respond to the circumstances of the industry. Instead, they took advantage of it, they planted a SEED.

Enter-Active at MinnPost

This is a generation of interactive users. Nowadays it’s not just about telling the news, but showing it with maps, photos, audio files, databases, etc.  Users want to see the materials for themselves, not just believe what the reporter has to say about it.  But with the lack of interactive content on Minnpost, editors of the site might want to enter-the-active part of multimedia journalism at Minnpost to keep their readers interested, active and coming back.

When I last took a look at the content pages on MinnPost, those interactive tools were missing.

News articles were bare, only still photos and texts…where’s the proof? Where’s the pudding? Where’s is that side bar option for me to play with different ideas with maps and other cool things that pop out and make the site worth coming back to?

But, maybe Minnpost gets a A for effort for redeeming themselves with the online job database? In these times, I’m pretty sure the database gets a lot of local users.

And although the job database is good touch…it’s surely not enough for users to get their interactive news meal from Minnpost.

Some ideas for the editors would be to require reporters to do more than just contribute text. Push reporters  for a copy of the documents from the press conferences or investigative stories, urge them to obtain maps from the scene that they could turn into a interactive visual for readers on their post, convince them to create databases of their content.

All these things will surely add more pizazz to the site, while also making sure readers come and STAY at MinnPost.com So come on, Minnpost ENTER-ACTIVE content on your site.

If it aint broke, don’t fix it

They say first impressions are everything…but Minnpost.com may need more than just that first impression to keep readers interested. It seems that they’ve decided to forego some “laws” of online website organization and harmony to create their online news website, but did breaking the rules, cause a break down in their online presence?

Take the homepage for example. If you look at the screen grab below, what news article seems to pop out first?

Now that might be trick question because if you’re like me (and the couple of people I’ve asked while completing this evaluation) a news article isn’t the first thing that pop out on this page. Rather it’s the “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” advertisement in the upper left corner of the screen that takes the show. Scan the webpage again, and your second glance could be the Coleman V Franken discussion advertisement at the top left. This is a format that seems to be great for advertisers –hey they are getting prime space here, but it doesn’t exactly make sense for a reputable online news site.   

The opposite of harmony is discord…and if I had to rank Minnpost as having either harmony or discord….I would probably have to place it towards the latter.  Minnpost is known for their reporter caricatures that accompany various news articles:

…but they are also known for publishing drawings,

…and typical news photography

But can this “discord” of caricatures, drawings and news photography lead to confusion or increased interest for the readers? Personally, the various ways to present images spark my interest…it keeps things interesting and relatable. By keeping the readers intrigued and entertained by the still images on the website, Minnpost.com is able to relate their creativity and spark, which can come in hand for a locally based online news site.

But while the images keep the readers entertained, I don’t believe that they single-handily distract the viewer. Granted, minnpost.com isn’t your typical news website…and I don’t think they’re trying to be. Minnpost, because of its local connection and “youthful” vibe, can break some of the rules that bigger websites like NY Times can’t afford to break.

Is the homepage the epitome of simplicity….hardly…but is it distracting….not for its audience. Because it’s a niche site, the lack of uniformity actually tends to creates more cohesion amongst the folks at Minnpost.com and their hip and savvy readers.

So are rules meant to be broken?? Probably not always, and if the site’s not broken now…why bother to “fix” it?

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