Journalism needs some new ideas. It needs to let go of some of its traditions and experiment. It needs to find new ways to tell stories that engage readers and deliver revenues.
Certainly newsrooms have begun to change: long-serving subs laid off and replaced with new, younger staff who know about video and HTML, while editors get excited about the iPad.
But there has not yet been the fundamental shift in thinking about news and how it is delivered that is needed. For journalism to remain relevant, engaging, accessible and financially productive, it needs to let go of some of its traditions and prepare to innovate.
The global financial crisis and the emergence of new digital publishing platforms has forced a rethink of business models, which has highlighted the importance of content how to make it worth paying for.
This focus on content is good for journalism and could help it more clearly define itself from other creators of digital content. But for practitioners what is really exciting is the possibility of doing things differently, to experiment and to push journalism practice in a new direction.
Here are five trends that could help shape how journalism is practiced and news is told in the future.
Social networks, blogs, wikis and photo sharing sites are fairly established as essential tools for sourcing stories, distributing content and building brands. But the potential for social media to be integrated in a multimedia narratives is only beginning to be explored.
One of the most innovative storytelling projects last year came from French filmmakers David Dufresne and Philippe Brault. Their web documentary Prison Valley, combined video, music and still images with user navigation, submission options and profile building.
Viewers logged in via Facebook or Twitter and there was a forum, interactive map and the ability to revisit the documentary – picking up where you left. The production is in multiple languages and is available of multiple platforms – iPhone app, web, social media.
In this context, social media is more than a tool for sharing content – it is a integral part of the story experience.
You only need to look at some of the interactive information graphics from the New York Times or the Guardian in the past year to see the potential of data visualisation as a storytelling tool: The US budget inspired a treemap chart of President Barak Obama’s proposal; while WikiLeaks’ Afghan war logs provided the basis for an interactive map on IED attacks.
Such projects are among the hundreds of experiments being undertaken by designers, statisticians and journalists in an effort to provide context and narrative to the vast amounts of electronic data that is available. Interactive visual stories can help provide depth to coverage and give readers the opportunity to engage with the story.
Data visualisation is in the experimental phase, with editors and designers grappling to find the balance between allowing the user to control the experience and the need for the journalist to drive the narrative.
However, as techniques become more sophisticated journalists will need the ability to conceptualise data stories. They will need to be able to understand data, extract value from it, visualise and communicate it. To do this they will need some design, programming and statistical analysis skills.
Apple’s launch of the iPad last year got newspaper editors excited – here was a platform that encompassed all that was great about newspapers, and it was digital, and mobile.
Newspapers editors like the idea of a tablet because they can publish their content to a mobile device without compromising wordcraft or altering editorial judgement. The newsroom can make decisions about stories and deliver them according to the same conventions as they have always done.
But this is missing the point. The iPad, and devices like it, offer an opportunity to invent new ways of telling stories, of using new templates, new structures and new processes to tell stories differently.
Increased use of mobile phones – and smart phones in particular – means hyperlocal news can be delivered directly to people at specific locations. Users might pay for a service that delivers to their phone details of road closures or traffic conditions on their route to work. Or, in a disaster situation such as the recent Queensland floods, details of water heights, power cuts or emergency assistance in specific areas could be sent to people in those locations.
The loss of control over news and its distribution has caused headaches for media bosses, however, innovative journalists have been making the most of the reduced barriers to entry into the publishing world.
New, independent production houses such as MediaStorm, DuckRabbit and journalist Adam Westbrook, have demonstrated how strong, journalistic storytelling can be sold as a service – independent of a media corporation.
Meanwhile, newswire Demotix draws on the efforts of 17,000 citizen photographers to report of stories around the world, which it then sells to the mainstream press.
Such businesses sit at the intersection of journalism, new digital platforms and emerging business models. For journalists it means skilling up – learning how to edit, shoot video and take photographs. It also means getting to grips with banding, clients, and revenue.
The demand for such skills is likely to grow. In Australia, the rollout of the National Broadband Network (or whatever we get instead) is forcing the hand of government and organisations, which are looking for ways to distribute information.
Can journalism learn something form gaming? Certainly the idea of using games to tell stories is not new, but the levels of user engagement games generate and the fact that multimedia is the language of gaming, mean newsrooms should take notes.
Publishers are using interactive graphics and games to compliment coverage of a story. Marketers too are using games as a way of attracting website traffic and engaging audiences. Examples include:
Marketing aside, serious games, such as Darfur is Dying, show the potential of games to facilitate engagement in social and political issues. One of the challenges is fitting production of complex interactive projects into the daily news cycle.
In a new book, Newsgames: Journalism at Play, Ian Bogost and his co-authors use the term newsgames to describe a “body of work produced at the intersection of videogames and journalism”.
They note that the creators of current event games “must balance timeliness with quality, deciding whether games should cover an isolated political issue or an ongoing social issue”.
Current event games, they say, have “to work hard to ensure their players immediately understand the context and constaints of the topic and the game’s approach to it”.
Any large-scale integration of games into newsroom production processes would require creative thinking on the part of editors, but, as Bogsot assumes: “journalism can and will embrace new modes of thinking about news in addition to new modes of production.”
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 19th, 2011 at 15:05. It is filed under Blog, Media industry, Storytelling, Trends and tagged with Adam Westbrook, Bogsot, business models, content, data, Demotix, DuckRabbit, graphics, guardian, innovation, interactivity, ipad, journalism, journalism trends, media production, MediaStorm, mobile, multimedia, newsgames, nyt, prison valley, production, social media, Storytelling, video, visualisation, wired. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.