Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pioneer puts digital concepts to work

You may have first read about emPrint here on this blog. It is an electronic version of the newspaper invented by a professor at MU. Now, the Society of Professional Journalists is taking notice. Learn more in this article written by Michele Holtkamp Frye for the SPJ's Quill Magazine, published December 2007:

In 1981, Roger Fidler wrote an essay for the Associated Press Managing Editors about what newspapers might be like in 2000 and beyond.

Fidler, now the director of technology initiatives for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, envisioned a successful digital alternative to print that would be portable, durable and easy to use and would preserve many of the features that people have come to appreciate about print media.

The display device in his mind needed to weigh less than 2 pounds and be easy to carry.

His prediction was laughed at in the age before IBM personal computers were produced.

Now, a product he has developed is one of an array of products newspapers are exploring that marry the conveniences of the Web with the characteristics of a newspaper.

“We will eventually see all-digital publishing, but we’ll have print and digital co-existing for quite some time,” Fidler said.

“Papers that only publish in print will disappear over time. But not any time soon,” he said.

Digital publishing isn’t just dumping stories onto a Web site.

The product Fidler has developed includes a series of sophisticated PDFs that allow users to jump back and forth between stories but doesn’t involve a lot of scrolling around to read full stories. It also has the interaction of the Web.

He calls it eMprint, and it was field tested in 2005 at the Columbia Missourian.

EMprints are portrait oriented and designed to take full advantage of the Tablet PC, which has a rotating screen, or the upcoming generation of portable devices.

Display devices can’t just take the traditional newspaper and scrunch it down. That product would be hard to read and involve a lot of navigation and scrolling, besides not adding any significant value to the work.

The key to getting people to read full stories on screen is to provide a mobile reading device that is lightweight, is comfortable under any lighting, can store the information and has a lengthy power life, Fidler said.

Some wonder why more devices are being developed for digital publishing when people already carry cell phones and laptops, Fidler said. The thought is that all technologies will merge into one, he said.

“That is not the vision of convergence as I believe,” Fidler said. “As technology develops, we end up with more (devices) rather than fewer. History has shown that.

“We like our gadgets.”

Fidler said one of the highlights of eMprint is that the format has a beginning and an end. The Web is endless, but people don’t like to search on and on forever.

Readership patterns on the traditional Web show that readers don’t go much deeper than one story, he said.

Fidler said he can convert the print edition of the Columbia Missourian to eMprint in eight hours, but the time involved depends on the size of the publication and how sophisticated the newspaper wants it to be.

For example, to convert the metro edition of the L.A. Times fives days a week would probably require four full-time employees.

Additional advertising was sold for the Missourian and 5,000 people signed up. The newspaper has about 7,500 subscribers, and about 10 percent of the eMprint readers held subscriptions to the newspaper.

Readership of eMprint has been stable, but the newspaper doesn’t have a large marketing budget, which is a challenge seen across the industry, Fidler said.

“We think a house ad in the print product is enough to market a product,” he said.

EMprint continues to be published twice. Newspapers must begin exploring digital publishing, Fidler said.

When new reading devices are readily available, any entrepreneur can become a publisher because the cost of starting a newspaper will be dramatically reduced.

Which news organizations survive will depend on the talent newspapers can hire to be reporters, editors or sell advertising.

To see how these news organizations are implementing multimedia or other new technologies, visit these Web pages:

Columbia Missourian eMprint edition.

The Times of Northwest Indiana text message alert partnership.

Spartanburg Herald-Journal audio slideshows.

Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Bakersfield Californian.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why do journalists do what they do?

Why do journalists do what they do?

In September 2003, I was at a media conference where Dr. Jack Hamilton, Dean of the Louisiana State University Manship School of Mass Communication, gave a presentation entitled, "Why Journalists Do What They Do."

Hamilton is recipient of the 2003 Freedom Forum Journalism Administrator of the Year Award and a former reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, People, the Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine and ABC Radio, among others. As a foreign correspondent, he had assignments in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. In addition, he has written numerous books, including Hold the Press: The Inside Story on Newspapers.

During his 45-minute presentation, Hamilton gave three major criticisms of the news media. One was that journalists do a poor job of covering news that stays the same.

“For example, how many stories have you seen about the number of safe airplane landings? Instead, the news media focuses on events where something goes wrong and this results in a tendency toward negative news,” Hamilton said.

Instead, reporters tend to focus on what is changing, not on what is staying the same. In doing so, they sometimes miss the real story.

“For example, when China opened their economy that made news, but what stayed the same -- China is still communist -- may be the most important part of that story,” said Hamilton.

Second, Hamilton wonders why the trend is for journalists to hide behind “objective journalism” in order to say what they are doing is not about selling papers. Historically, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Newspaper publishers who wanted to sell more newspapers -- not high-minded academics or reporters who were pursuing an improved ethic -- dreamed up the ideal and practice of objective journalism,” said Hamilton.

U.S. journalism has gone through many phases. At first, the government licensed the press, and then it became independent and aggressive during the revolutionary war. These phases impacted the way in which reporting was done.

In the first phase, the purpose was simply to sell more newspapers. So, American newspapers printed news taken from overseas newspapers (this wouldn't get you in trouble with the British government). Then came the Stamp Act which hit newspapers in the pocket book.

At this point, American newspapers began to develop as two different strains, a partisan press (supported by political groups) and a commercial press (elite but fact based).

Then came James Gordon Bennett and the penny press. He provided news driven by what people wanted to read in a “one size fits all package.” He also discovered that crime news was very interesting, well read and cheap to get.

“This discovery caused objective news reporting to begin leading the way because it sold more newspapers,” said Hamilton.

Newspapers also discovered early on the need to keep readers “by making the news.” For example, press conferences are designed to make news. And sometimes, according to Hamilton, interviews and investigations became ways to make news.

“One of the earliest examples of this was when Mr. Stanley (a newspaper reporter) was sent to find Dr. Livingston in Africa. His travels and search was an early example of making the news and reporting it,” said Hamilton.

Because of Stanley's success, and the discovery that exploration trips and adventure stories sold newspapers, more and more news outlets started funding adventure trips.

“Soon, journalists were learning how to make the news and publishers were finding that if you provided factual news you could make even more money,” said Hamilton.

Not long after this phase, journalists decided they didn't want to be compromised so most newsrooms became separate from ad sales and they developed their own rules of ethics.

"But objective journalism developed because reporters didn’t' want to think they were selling newspapers, but in fact, that is what they have been doing all along," said Hamilton.

And finally, Hamilton thinks the news media needs help, especially from academics and professional communicators.

“Not even the casual observer can fail to notice that the media are unsure of themselves. They are grappling with new media technologies, with greater public ownership of their enterprises, with political interests that have become highly effective at manipulating communication, and with an increasingly distrustful audience,” said Hamilton.

As a result, Hamilton thinks media scholars and critics are more important than ever in designing best practices and ending bad ones. He believes someone needs to be critically assessing the professional standards that underpin media and shape its discourse.

“Journalism is too important to be left to journalists alone. Scholars must look over their shoulders. If journalism teachers and academics and practicing journalists do not do this, shame on us. We not only concede strength, but also an obligation,” said Hamilton.

The Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press noted in the late 1940s that “no public service was more important than the service of communications.” It also pointed out that the freedom to perform that service was fragile. “The press itself,” the commission concluded, “is always one of the chief agents in destroying or building the bases of its own significance.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Andy Griffith Show and Media Ethics

I had the honor of visiting the campus of Evangel University on Wednesday, Dec. 6 and leading a class session for a group of college journalists. I appreciate getting the invitation from my friend and former classmate, now turned professor, Melinda Booze.

I used an episode of the Andy Griffith show to foster class discussion about media ethics and libel. It was the same episode I've used with high school journalism students in the past, most recently at Aurora High School.

The story line for "Opie's Newspaper" (Episode 153 which originally aired on Mar 22, 1965) is as follows:

Opie's friend Howie has received a small printing press as a gift and the boys decide to publish their own newspaper. Their first edition of The Mayberry Sun covers events from the fifth-grade class. The initial sales are kind of slow. Barney and Andy encourage Opie to not to give up and to widen the scope of the paper to attract more readers. In their effort to widen their scope, Opie and Howie look to the big Mayberry paper for ideas. The boys decide to emulate the most popular news section, the gossip column called "Mayberry After Midnight." The boys spice up their penny newspaper by publishing gossip they overhear. When Barney and Andy get a look at the new issue, they have to scramble to collect the copies before they are read by the rest of the town.

The episode is funny, and it strikes a cord with all of us, because it is so truthful. Just like in Mayberry, "gossip" still sells newspapers. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the publications available in the checkout line next time you are at Wal-Mart or the grocery store.

Those same publications are also competition for local newspapers which have become more feature oriented and also print more "Hollywood" or celebrity type news to try and keep up. And, when celebrity news is getting printed other information important to our local area, or our democracy in general, is not.

This Andy Griffith show can lead to discussion about why newspapers exist (as a public service or to make a profit), what type of journalism sells more newspapers, libel, proper reporting techniques and the state of American journalism.