5 tips for journalists entering the digital world

At the NCTJ’s Journalism Skills Conference at Bournemouth University, a panel were asked to give advice to new journalists. Here you can find  the five most important tips that were shared that day.

1. Build your own brand
It’s not about the newspaper you work for, it’s about you and only you. You have to become your own brand. This was called the ‘big shift in our era’. For example, on Twitter, by far the most important source of news now, it’s about the individual.

2. Be good storytellers, but also understand the business
It goes without saying that a good journalist needs writing skills. You have to be able to tell a story.

But nowadays it’s also very important that a modern journalist knows his/her programs.

3. Being a curator
The role journalists play in delivering content to their audience is big: through curation and aggregation. They have to make sure the news they produce is real and they have to present it short and clear to their audience. Besides, thanks to the Internet, journalists can add all their source information. There’s no limit.

4. Engage with your community beyond the article
Journalists have the possibilities and the devices to communicate with their audience. That’s one of the biggest changes the last 30 years. But, still they wait for the audience to come to ‘them’. It’s their job to go to them (Liisa Rohumaa).

5. Ask difficult questions
As a journalist, it’s your job to ask questions. Curiosity is the key.

The gap between journalism education and the (changing) journalism profession

“Journalism education needs to incorporate more ‘new skills’ to catch up with what is expected of the next generation of journalists.” This is the conclusion based on a comparison of skills emphasized by media professionals and skills that are taught in journalism schools. 

What are the skills expected from a future journalist? Back in the days you were a journalist when you got on the road and you wrote your article afterwards. Nowadays, being a journalist is different. It’s not more complicated, it’s simply new. Maybe we think of it as difficult, but that’s because we don’t know it. We can divide the journalistic skills into two groups:

The old skills

  • News judgement, reporting basics, news writing, critical thinking, curiosity and knowledge about the world, journalism ethics, media law, video, audio, documents & records utilization, web coding & design, flexibility, passion for journalism

The new skills

  • Storytelling, entrepreneurial journalism, data journalism, photojournalism & slideshows, mapping and geo tagging, real-time reporting, social media engagement, blogging and web writing, mobile & backpack journalism, SEO & audience building, collaboration & crowdsourcing, software and techie equipment.

So the old ones are the traditional ones. The new skills are mostly digital skills. What do we learn at school? Are the journalism educations up-to-date? Do they teach storytelling, data journalism or geo tagging?

We all know the old formula, where the media is divided into three main parts: radio, TV and print. Isn’t this a little dated? A lot of magazines and newspapers are in decline, but there is one booming business: online media. Simply because (almost) everyone has access to it.

The importance of new skills being taught
Nowadays everyone can be a journalist. Everybody can write a story online or publish a post. It’s very important that future journalists know every way to gather news. Journalist educations aren’t that old, but they are already a little bit ‘old school’. Most of the educations focus on the old skills. Nevertheless, AP Hogeschool is doing pretty well I think.

In the first year of the education we are taught Word and Excel. I don’t think that’s really necessary. But instead, I think a Photoshop course would be pretty good. We’re also taught the 4 stages in the journalistic process on the web. Gathering, distilling, presenting and engaging.

In the following year we were introduced to Diigo, WordPress and we learn how to make a site concept and a structure.

Because we chose ‘online media’ as a minor, we’re now taught how to make HTML codes, how to embed videos and we got to know sites such as Open Refine, Feedly, Diggreader. Things like that.

I don’t think AP Hogeschool is ‘old school’, but it could be better. Courses like digital storytelling and data journalism could be very interesting and useful. 

Introducing: Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free Google-service to collect site statistics. The purpose of this service is to give the administrator an accurate insight on page views, visitor rates and traffic sources. By using this service, an administrator can adapt advertisements or parts of the site to make it more suitable for the readers.

Google Analytics offers several important functions, displayed on the dashboard, such as: the number of visitors, page views, average time people visit the site,.. . Also the service gives you very useful information on the site’s findability, a term for the ease with which information contained on a website can be found, both from outside the website and by users already on the website.

Google Analytics: the disadvantages

The service uses JavaScript, which means that it is possible that some visitors aren’t counted. This means that the statistics aren’t that complete and there might be some ‘holes’. That gives you a distorted view of the visitors. Another disadvantage: due to the performance of JavaScript, it sometimes take a little while to load the page.

KPI

Google Analytics gives you the opportunity to see dozens of KPI reports (Key Performance Indicators), but there are so many, even for advanced users. In this blog post, you can find the most important indicators a content creator needs to focus on.

  • Bounce rate: the number of visitors who enter the site and bounce (leave the site) rather than continue viewing other pages on the site. For example: if 90% of the visitors arrive at your site, view only one page and leave the site,  you have a bounce rate of 90%. The lower this rate is, the better. The average percentage is between 40 and 60 percent.
  • Average time on site/page viewers per visit: a high number means visitors are engaging with your contents. Those two rates are not positively correlated: visitors may spend more time reading some selected contents, but view fewer pages during their visit, resulting in a high number in time and low in page views.
  • New vs. returning visitors: this depends on the focus of your site. if your organization is proactive in online marketing or promotion, you should expect a higher number of new visitors, otherwise someone needs to take a closer look  at either the promotion or the contents. on the other hand: a niche or hyper-local site may expect a larger portion of returning visitors.
  • Frequency and recency: how frequently do visitors return to your site within a time frame? If visitors only come once and don’t return you might think that you’re marketing your site to the wrong audience.

    Read the full article here.

Chinese journalist introduces crowdfunded journalism

In a country marked by corruption and state-control, Yin Yusheng came up with the idea of crowdfunded journalism. You pay him, he investigates the story.

Yin Yusheng (43) is tired of the way China censors and controls the (online) media. And he is not the only one. It’s for those people who are –just like him- fed up with the state-run media.

Earlier this year Yusheng lost his job as a journalist at a magazine when it changed from a weekly into a monthly magazine. With this project he is testing whether he can live on online donations.

Once people collect 5,000 yuan ($800), half his wage when he worked daily, he starts investigating a story.  In his online mission statement he writes: “Crowdfunding can make a product successful, save a company and bring donations to the weak and vulnerable. In the same way, it can give us the truth”.

Yusheng already completed his first crowdfunded investigative story. It’s about Chen Baocheng, a Beijing reporter who was arrested during a land demolition in his hometown. Some reports claim that Chen poured fuel on an excavator operator, but Yusheng found out that he only arrived after the operator was doused with gasoline. The state-run media depict on reactions of police and lawyers, but the journalist based his report on more than twenty interviews with police, locals, witnesses and lawyers. He had the required funding within 24 hours. About a week later Yusheng published the report on two microblogs, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo. He spent 1,955 yuan on this case and he uploaded several photos of train tickets and receipts to assure the transparency of his work.

He now risks being the target of the Chinese government oppression on online expression.

The (mis)fortune of the NY Times’ pay wall

In March 2011 the American newspaper the New York Times decided to do something completely new in the media world. They started using a pay wall. No more free news for everyone. People could subscribe and then read the paper’s news. Due to economic reasons the paper was forced to do something. They we’re ‘giving’ their news away for free on their website and fewer and fewer people bought a printed newspaper. A pay wall was the solution and it seemed to work.

Now, a little more than two years later, writer Ryan Chittum states that “the Times’ digital subscription revenue soared past its digital ad revenue”. Digital subscriptions fetched 37,7 million dollars in the last quarter, while digital ads brought in just 32.9 million dollars. So most revenues now come from readers, not advertisers, that’s something that rarely happens.

The massive digital-subscriber growth of the first two years has slowed, which means the newspaper’s upcoming expansion of its digital subscription model will be decisive for their stabilization.

But not everything runs smoothly. Mathew Ingram, online media writer, says that “the problem is not getting better, but instead it’s getting worse”. Although the Times’ digital subscriptions have been  increasing, its overall revenue barely changed. As I mentioned before, both print and digital ad revenues are declining. What may surprise you is that digital ad sales fell even faster than print ad sales. Print lost 1.6 percent, digital 3.4. It’s hard to find the right advertisers, as big companies such as Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. take out large parts of marketer’s budgets.

The NY Times will have to make serious efforts to attract new advertisers. The fact that more and more people subscribe to digital newspapers is a good thing. Let’s hope the newspaper finds a way to manage the advertising issue.

6 lessons from digital-first magazine leaders

Aside

A few years ago I truly believed that printed press would never ‘die’. Now I have changed my mind. When I look at the past 3 years, I already see a massive change. Three years ago, no one had a smartphone. Now everyone has. The iPads have been emerged massively. Practically every family has at least one tablet or  smartphone at home. Basically everyone has access to ‘free news’. When you’ve got Wi-Fi, you’ve got news. Previously you had to go to the magazine shop and buy a newspaper when  you wanted to read the news and you paid about 1-2 euros.

We’re getting used to the idea of free news and I think that the next generations won’t pay those 1-2 euros anymore. The newspapers really have to invest in their digital strategy. That’s what the following article is about. Media consultant Peter Kreisky says that only those magazines who have a digital-first strategy will ‘survive’. He gives us six lessons from digital-first magazine leaders, such as Atlantic Media and the Economist.

1. Organise around markets, not products

Thanks  to the internet, the publishers know who is reading what. Newspapers did the same thing, but not that exact. The newspapers make exactly what their readers want. That benefits for the commercial side of the business. Advertisers know where to put what ads.

2. Print roles ≠ digital roles

Digital business is growth in the future. That increase is funded by the cash flow from printed business. They have to be separated.

3. Create branded business across platforms

The magazine brand isn’t only paper anymore. Publishers are launching new digital editions for smartphones and tablets.

4. Monetise communities

Social media is driving connections between communities. Create a focused community for like-minded people.

5. Invent the future

Invest in the future by restructuring your own business. Invest in adaptions of your news, for example new apps.

6. New organisation and culture model

Kreisky encouraged publishers to keep their business tight and custom made but with cross platforms roles.

If you want to read more about this, click here.

Printed media has to go online to survive. Eventually all the newspapers and magazines will only appear online. But before that will happen, publishers will have to make sure that their digital model is perfect. That is going to be a long road. They will make mistakes and some things won’t work. But in the end, in a few years, digital journalism will thrive.

How & what do mainstream media tweet?

Every newspaper, every TV channel, every radio station and every press agency is using Twitter. Tweeting is a daily job. But how do these organizations tweet? How often do they tweet? What do they tweet? And do they use Twitter to gain insights from followers?

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the George Washington University’s school of Media and Public Affairs studied the Twitter feeds from 13 major news organizations.
The main reason news organizations use Twitter is that they want to spread their ‘own’ news. 93% of the examined tweets sent readers back to their own websites.  There is not much engagement with followers and sharing outside information is rare. The news they tweet matches the news they disseminate on their own platforms.

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Although Twitter offers an interactive service, the news organizations don’t use it in the way it should be used. A service like that gives them the opportunity to communicate with their readers, to get to know them. That would be a good way to give their readers the news they actually want (to read). News organizations mainly only disseminate their own news, in a non-interactive way.

Only 2% of the tweets sent by these media contained information that wasn’t their own. Maybe this is a little bit old school. Of course you want people to read your magazine,  your information, your opinions,… . But there isn’t any moneymaking  involved here, since people don’t pay to read your tweets.

So why would they distribute other people’s news or information that isn’t theirs?

This could give readers the opportunity to create the whole story, with different point of views and opinions. As a journalist, you want to inform people. You’re not Superman and you don’t have to know/write everything. That’s why it would be easy to refer to other content.

Why wouldn’t they distribute other people’s news?

The news organizations simply don’t want people to go over to the competitors. What I said before about the fact that there isn’t any money involved, is not entirely correct. The advertisers won’t give your organization any money if there isn’t any interest in your articles.

So they have to find the happy medium. We can’t force them to share other organization’s work, but a story could be so complete if they did. Then the readers get the best out of the best. Unfortunately, I don’t think this could ever happen. But that hasn’t got anything to do with the ethics of journalism: gathering news, writing good articles and give it to your readers to provide them with the information they want and need.  It’s the serious business of money. It always is.

Read the full article here