I just got a new tech toy in the mail that I think could be pretty effective in journalism.
“Could” is the key word.
The GoPano Micro (around $80) allows your iPhone to record and upload 360 videos that lets users to zoom in/out and scroll while watching the video. (I didn’t know this, but they have adapters and software made for better-than-iPhone cameras.)
It’s pretty easy to install and start recording. First, you snap on an iPhone cover and pop in the periscope-looking lens. Then you install the app and creating an account. That’s it… you are ready to go.
You can record, view and share your 360 videos through your phone. The videos are even embeddable.
It’s all pretty simple.
Except for one significant issue… the image focus is not good. It’s bad.
Here are two tests I did: USC Heritage Hall
My USC office
The @GoPano Twitter account did respond to my request for times on how to improve the focus by providing me with these links:
They didn’t really improve anything, but I appreciate their responsiveness.
I think software/app tweaks could really improve this device. Perhaps allow touch focusing as the video is recording… that way we can really control what gets in focus, rather then everything slightly blurry.
If the quality of the image improves, I can easily see this in a variety news situations and events. Can you imagine how awesome this would be in the middle of a riot?
Outside of the obvious need to improve the image, the next cool feature would be to live stream the 360 video.
There is no doubt that the technology is coming… I just wish it got here with my GoPano Micro.
@talkJournalism or #tjwm hopes to be an entertaining and insightful look into the minds of some of the country’s leading journalism thinkers/doers. The informal ‘show’ is held through a Google+ Hangout and broadcasted out using UStream.
Here’s the first episode… you will notice it’s a work in progress… it did not pick up my audio for some reason.
There *will* be another episode. Trying to align the schedules of the next panel.
In a few paragraphs, you get randomly selected journo-buzzwords mashed up with every refresh/page load. Thanks to the randomizer, you get things like:
hyperhyperlocal plagiarism trolls TBD 5%”
Patch stupid commenters”
Jeff Jarvis prostate do what you do best”
election-night hologram media bias”
the medium is the message if the news is that important”
Aron Pilhofer Android”
if the news is that important, it’ll find me dead trees”
layoffs put the paper to bed”
It’s useful for dummy text, but also as a good lesson on how taking words out of context and randomly mashing them together is unintentionally hilarious.
While I love it, is a generator potentially a bad idea?
My gut tells me, this was a good idea on paper… but not such a good idea in practice… especially because it’s connected to journalism.
These are real people, companies and brands that are being randomly paired with words they most likely want to avoid.
I guess I’m sounding like a wet blanket… I know. But there’s a reason why we use Lorum ipsum: It’s to avoid awkward phrasing and taking random words out of context!
If it were me, I’d unplug the word generator/randomizer portion and just display a dozen or so paragraphs of Journo Ipsum text … I’d even edit some awkward ones out. You’ll still offer the awesomeness of the concept, without having the, for the lack of a better word, liability.
But hey… that’s just me. What do you think?
Also, join the unintentional hilarity of the randomizer by tweeting out your finds, using the #JournoIpsum hashtag!
Well, what I can say for sure is that I’m glad I’m not a big enough name to be in that randomly mashed up mix!
The next immediate question was, why stop there… while there is a ten-person limit in a Hangout, how can I broadcast this and make it a live talk show?
Today, I found the answer!
Some background: I’ve been experimenting with livestreaming at locations for a few years. At Seattletimes.com we experimented with a few setups that led to live shots from bars, outside Safeco Field and an MST3k-style commentary of a governor’s debate.
Oh the challenges we faced… but the setup has been pretty much perfected by the crew since I’ve left, but I recall the hacker tools like the “Wok-Fi.”
Justin.tv, Qik, UStream and Livestream have been the key players exploring the live streaming space, each one releasing something new and advancing the technology.
I flipped when UStream released their mobile app that allowed streaming directly from your phone over the 3G network. There are more apps that offer this now, including Twitcasting.
But today’s tech development goes to Livestream.com (formerly Mogulus) that has been owning the desktop/laptop broadcasting space. They have a downloadable application called Procaster.
The piece of software has a simple interface and is loaded with a ton of features, including the ability to broadcast your desktop. What’s also great is that you can zoom in/out to frame your shot, which makes it the ideal Google+ Hangout broadcasting tool.
The first minutes of the video are of me setting everything up, but jump 7:30 minutes in to see the start of the finished product. The main need to tweak is to amplify your Hangout colleagues’ audio, but that’s an easy fix.
All you need is a free livestream account, a Web cam, strong audio speakers and people to join you in a Hangout.
There are those that blame the digital age and the Internet as the cause of our short attention spans and disinterest in longform storytelling. Then there are those that embrace the technology and develop tools or a platform that harnesses the tech to not only coexist with longform narrative, but also advance it.
For this week’s post, I spoke with Evan Ratliff, freelancer for publications like Wired, The New Yorker, and others, turned digital entrepreneur and – if you believe some of the press – possible savior of the longform narrative with his new project, The Atavist.
NOTE: We met on a collaborative document and you can playback our unedited conversation here.
Evan, thank you for taking the time to “meet” for a quick chat about the project you are working on.
So, let’s start there… can you describe what The Atavist is?
Sure, so The Atavist is a kind of hybrid publication: We sit right in between magazines and books. From the magazine angle, what we do is called “longform nonfiction” or “longform journalism:” We produce stories that are 6-7,000 words and up, all the way to maybe 30-35,000. All nonfiction, all written by people who have spent weeks or months reporting them. They are published digitally, through our app for iPad/iPhone, through Kindle (Kindle Singles, which we can talk about), and Nook. From the book perspective, they are almost like short ebooks.
We also license our software, but that’s our more non-journalism side of things so maybe less of interest here.
How did this idea come about? You have a background in longform storytelling… but how did the idea of an app and this “concept” of a custom storytelling platform come about?
It started with a pretty basic, and unformed, idea: Was there some way to do longform writing/journalism online. It was an idea I’d been thinking about for a while, but not doing much if anything about — I applied for a Knight foundation grant but didn’t get it, in maybe 2008 (2007? Can’t remember). Anyway, originally Nick Thompson, my editor at Wired, and I were just saying that there must be some way to do longform that was more designed for the digital world. Instead of just translated straight from a magazine. The real conceptual ideas of how it might work didn’t come about until we sat down with our other partner, Jefferson Rabb, who has both the design sensibility and coding chops to actually conceive what something like that might look like. It was in talking to him that we stopped talking about the Web and started talking about an app.
Technically speaking, you could do these custom, interactive stories on the Web… what made it appealing on the iPad, Kindle, etc.?
I think that first, we just wanted to kind of get away from the idea of people reading it at their desktop, where they are skipping from one bit of information to the next all day. The emergence of phones—and actually we first were looking just at smart phones, noticing how much we and other people were reading on them—and then tablets, ereaders, etc, pointed a way to a different kind of digital reading experience. Marketing types now call it the “lean back” experience, which I don’t cotton to that much but the point is the same one we were going for: this is a different kind of reading than you do on the Web.
Full disclosure, I think the concept and platform is a fantastic idea… and it’s an ideal mashup of interactive/digital and traditional storytelling. I’ll embed the video from the site, but can you briefly list the features/media/interactivity/etc. a user would find in a “typical” Altavist story?
So, I should probably first offer the caveat that of course you get different versions of Atavist stories in different environments. On Kindle—for the moment—you’ll get just the full text of the story, and photos, maybe some footnotes. In our app, the standard features are a bit different, just because we are able to control the whole environment and use multimedia however seems to suit. The standard features on every story in the app are: the text and full page photos (of course), an audiobook version of the story (you can flip back and forth between reading and listening), usually some elements of other media (music, video, woven into the narrative), and then what we call inline extras: Parts of the story that serve as a kind of substrate. These are links to characters, photo galleries, maps, timelines, audio clips that you can turn on and off. If they are on, you tap a word or phrase and the feature pops up.
I purchased and read your piece, Lifted, and thought it was a natural experience… I did find myself torn between reading or listening to the audio version of the story (I am a podcast junkie, though). Granted, you’ve just launched, and this is a brand new form of storytelling… custom-crafted, interactive pieces for each story. What new things do you have to factor in that you never had to think about in the past… like when you wrote a Wired piece?
It’s true, all these new questions arise pretty quickly, and we’re still trying to figure out how to answer them. Take the video, for instance. That piece Lifted had a critical piece of video, the surveillance tapes from the heist that was portrayed in the story. I wanted that to form the lede of the piece. Which instantly created two problems; no, three: 1. How do you write a kind of secondary lede, to follow a piece of video? Do you assume that, with a written lede, someone will have read everything up to that point? Or might they have skipped part of the video? 2. What to do on other platforms, where the story would not have the video? The text itself had to work as an intact narrative, without the video. And 3. What to do about sound? The video had no sound, so it can’t really be “included” in the audiobook version.
Those are all questions that obviously wouldn’t come up when writing a magazine place, not to mention: where to put it, how much to use, how to edit it, whether and how to score it, etc. etc.
What’s also exciting, is that those questions were tied to that one story… they may not be asked again or exactly the same in another Atavist story, right? Or the answers would be different, depending on the story. With what you’ve produced so far, can you say what makes for a good Atavist story?
Right, some of them may be moot in other stories. We had another piece with a lot of music in it, and it had a whole set of other questions around the soundtrack that haven’t come up elsewhere.
I think we’re still feeling it out when it comes to what works well. There’s no question that the story—as in the real plot and characters portrayed—is always going to make the biggest difference.
Well, let me ask a basic yet complex question… how is this whole thing going?! Are you a zillionaire? Is this a new revolution you are a part of? Have you ever thought you’d an entrepreneur? How’s the experience of launching The Atavist been?
Let’s just say this: If things keep going like they are, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to get a new chain for my bicycle. Which I think we both know that only a hundredaire could do.
HA! I love that journalism pays the same in all platforms. But it’s a passion project with endless possibilities, no?
Indeed. But there is a financial element that is not as bleak (I hope) as I tend to joke. So, there’s a few levels I could talk about how it’s going.
Without a doubt, you have a business model that makes sense… in fact you have two. Individual stories and licensing.
Yes, so let’s take the stories first. We knew going in, and nothing has yet proven us wrong, that it’s very difficult to build up a readership from scratch. If you recall the heyday of big magazine launches, they would do things like buy up subscriber lists and just send them the magazine, and lose millions of dollars trying to gain a substantial readership. Our marketing budget so far topped out at right around $0. So we’re pretty pleased with the number of readers we’ve had (everybody asks; we always say “tens of thousands total, for all the stories,” but not much more than that). We’ve used the first few stories to get enough revenue to fund some more, which was our first milestone we were aiming at. Next up is proving that this sort of small-scale, small-team version of longform journalism can consistently make the money to be sustaining. That means getting more readers, and getting them to come back.
On the licensing side we haven’t announced anything yet, but we’ve found a huge, frankly kind of shocking to us in size—we can’t deal with the influx of interest at the moment—interest in utilizing the app platform and CMS for different types of publishing. Some of them you’d only loosely think of as “publishing:” in the financial field, the medical field. So we are really hoping that that side can help support the journalism side while we are starting out, to give us time to grow the readership.
And maybe even pay ourselves something some day!
It will be a new, gold chain on that bike! Seriously, it’s no easy task what you’ve done. Congratulations, by the way. Do you have any lessons you’ve learned that you can share with those thinking about experimenting, developing an idea?
Solid gold. Thanks! It’s been a bit harrowing at times.
Well, a couple things I learned quickly: In the digital world, if that’s where your experiment is going to exist (and most do these days, I suppose), you have to find a designer/developer who understands what you are trying to do. In our case, we got incredibly lucky with Jefferson Rabb, who not only understood, he actually was able to create it in ways we hadn’t thought of. Now, if you are one of those new-style journalists that can do it all: write and report and code and design, well, that’s amazing. But if not, befriend great coders! Find ones who like to read!
The second big thing is—and I think I probably used to scoff a little at “entreprenurial journalism” courses, or that sort of thing (I didn’t go to j-school, so it’s all a little foreign to me)—knowing how to do really mundane things to make a business work is actually incredibly useful. I’ve lost hours, nay, weeks, months, and lots of sleep, and probably hair, trying to puzzle out issues that were easily solved by someone who knows the first thing about running a business. So if you can get that somewhere, through experience or coursework or whatever, it’s going to save a lot of time that you could be spending on the thing you love, which is the writing and editing and publishing.
Great advice… you mentioned find developers who “like to read” … you spoke at SXSWi about longform storytelling and a lot of articles about The Atavist focus on the “death of longform” and how this may “save it” (no pressure, by the way). What do you think of the tltr (too long to read) culture. Is there a real threat here? Is this hype? Or is it all true and you found the silver bullet to save the world (no pressure).
Yeah, I love those stories…
To be really honest, I have no idea. I’m always asked, in panels like that, what I think of it, and I hate being the guy who just makes shit up because they happen to be connected to a field. My answer is: I don’t think anybody knows, and mostly the folks who pontificate about attention spans and reading and news are substituting what they do and want for what “readers” do and want. At some basic level, obviously we are ingesting a lot of information in shorter chunks, more constantly, and all of that, which is written about ad nauseum. At another basic level, people still buy a lot of books. People still buy a lot of nonfiction books. People are buying more and more ebooks, in huge numbers. So for us, I don’t really care if at some broad level, some people are saying “nobody reads long stuff anymore.” It’s just not true. The only question for us is: Can we get the people who do read long stuff to read our long stuff. And I think there are plenty of those people out there, and (as Byliner, newly launched, is also proving), maybe even untapped folks who are ready for / looking for great stories of this style and length.
I completely agree with you. People are consuming more media in more ways. But, a good story is still a good story. Make sure you are using all the new — and old — storytelling techniques to engage your reader/listener/viewer/user.
Right, and it’s the same with multimedia. People say: “Readers don’t really want videos and audio in their story.” By which they mean, they don’t. But some people do. And if the story is better told with it, why not try to find that balance that makes for the most gripping possible narrative?
So, I just “tweeted” (I feel awkward typing that word rather than saying it) out that I was chatting with you and am crowdsourcing any questions. I got one from @mattvree, who asks, “Any plans to move beyond just longform written journalism, and expand to multimedia and documentary?”
Not at the moment. We’ve got our hands full with our current efforts. Of course we think about the possibility of expanding into different areas down the road. But we feel like we’re barely getting started with our current approach, and it would be madness to try and take on new types of efforts before we feel we have the old one nailed. One thing we may be doing is a piece or two that are more visual than they are textual. So the current balance of text-to-image is almost reversed, and the story is told primarily through visuals. But that’s still in the works.
Let me ask you some questions that I, some type of Web journo nerd, routinely like to ask other journos.
First, I’m always fascinated with names/branding, so where did the name The Atavist come from? I assume it wasn’t inspired by the metal band Otep, which put out an album with the same name (thank you Wikipedia).
It’s out today!! We’ve really been anticipating the release date, because our Twitter stream is filled with absolutely insane OTEP fans who have been counting down the days for almost two months.
HAHAHA! Okay, so, what’s the backstory to your use of The Atavist?
But no, not inspired by. I started using it as my personal domain years ago, it’s a tiny sideways allusion to Hunter S. Thompson‘s work; atavist and atavistic are words that, if you read a lot of HST (as I once did), he drops in quite often. And then when we wanted to start something, we went through literally hundreds of possible names. Actually Jefferson once made an app that just randomly generated names for us. But then we came back to it, and decided that the actual meaning, a biological feature that’s disappeared and then suddenly reappears, had some salience. Storytelling reappearing in the digital realm, or whatnot. And it’s fairly unique, which means people can find it in the app store — more important than you’d think. Some people seem to hate it, but overall it seems like people are ok with it.
Second, this has become one of my standard questions…. in these “tough times,” why are you a journalist? What drives you and keeps you going in this field?
For me, it’s probably not as noble as it is for some journalists. On the writing end, I just really like digging into things, getting obsessed with topics, meeting fascinating people, and getting to go interesting places. On the publishing side of things, now I want to give other writers the chance to do all of those things. Of course sometimes the more noble aspects are part of it: shedding light on an important topic, investigating some malfeasance. And sometimes the least noble parts: seeing ones name as a byline. But mostly it’s just fun to go out into the world, find a story, and then figure out how to tell it.
And as someone who has freelanced for 10 years, it’s always seemed like tough times. It’s always full of rejection, and failure, and dry periods, and occasionally empty bank accounts. So I don’t see much difference now from when I started (although of course I realize other folks do).
Well, Evan… thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I hope this format wasn’t too awkward. I really enjoyed out conversation and wish you luck on your current and new adventures.
Without a doubt, the leading news organization covering the historic Middle East unrest is Al Jazeera. Available in limited markets here, their Web site has been the home for its impressive coverage.
“We had figures that indicated that we had 2,500 percent increase in traffic; 60 percent of that traffic was from the United States of America,” said Satnam Matharu, the director of communications, in a recent interview with NPR.
From my point of view, the lack of distribution for the English broadcast, the use of technology in the unrest and the quickness of the evolving news has been a prefect combination that has enabled Al Jazeera to be a leader in coverage and use of tech.
For this week’s post, I ‘interviewed’ Online producer for Al Jazeera English, Bilal Randeree. Because of the time difference and the constant news developments, Randeree and I ‘met’ on a collaborative document to have this conversation over several weeks.
First, Bilal, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you and the entire Al Jazeera crew have been extremely busy. Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself, your role at AJE, and how you started in journalism? Also, while it’s clearly been a newsy few weeks… how does it compared to your usual daily routine?
Hey Robert, sounds good. Really busy with Libya at the moment – I’m sure you’ve seen all my tweets (@bilalr) – our live blog is hugely popular once again!
I’m going to give a few very brief answers now cos I’m taking a quick break from the shocking news, so here goes:
I’m from South Africa – worked in banking for a few years, based out of Johannesburg – I then moved to London, but the timing was bad cos the financial crises hit as I was settling in!
As a freelance writer at the time, I was constantly asked to cover the crises from the ‘inside’ – what I learned then made me realize that working in corporate was not for me. I went back to school and did a post-grad in journalism. It was that degree together with my experience in corporate that landed me the job at Al Jazeera as a Business Journalist.
However, after moving to Doha I soon changed over to a general Online Journalist. I write for the Al Jazeera website, and update and maintain our various social media and online platforms. The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, with most of my colleagues and I working long shifts, day after day.
Can you describe the online operation at Al Jazeera? How incorporated is the Web staff? Do the different ‘sister stations’ with different languages have different Web staffs?
The English and Arabic channels are largely editorially independent – and so are the two websites. However, there is always the necessary collaboration and exchange of information, sources and resources.
The English website actually started before the English channel, but I’m not sure how things operated back then. These days, the website news desk is in the AJE newsroom, so we interact with broadcast quite a bit.
Typically, broadcast has reporters around the world covering the news for us – they are limited in terms of time on air, so the website is where our audience comes to for in-depth coverage and analysis of international news. Together with news from our reporters, we use the main news wires as sources, together with good old fashioned telephone journalism – the internet is a major source obviously, and we are constantly finding and using new online tools for news gathering and contacting sources on the ground.
Bilal Randeree, lower right hand corner, works a only few feet from the set.
So, when it comes to AJE, the Web site came first … that’s a quite different experience from most newsrooms. And it sounds like it has had some interesting effects. How would you describe the culture of the ‘converged’ newsroom?
Well, to be honest I’m not in the ideal position to answer this question, seeing that I’ve been here for a year now, and the English channel has been running for a good few years already. In terms of convergence, its a constantly changing relationship – broadcast and web are continually finding new and better ways to work together and support each other, over and above the obvious. The most recent development, starting with our Tunisia and then Egypt coverage, has been the ‘Web Desk’ that TV hosts – they prop a presenter in front of the camera, that discusses what is going on online, how readers are interacting with us on different platforms, and also what is being shared, discussed and debated on the internet.
Can you talk about, and perhaps list, all the different Web platforms and tools AJE employs (Twitter, Tumblr, iPhone Apps, etc.)
I have only recently started the Al Jazeera Tumblr account, but we’ve been active on Twitter and Facebook for a while now. The New Media team has traditionally been very strong and innovative, but the link between the tools they develop and experiment with, and how they are used on the News Desks was not at its best about a year ago. In that time however, Network wide training courses in Social Media were held, and the change is quite noticeable – besides the Web team, lots of other AJ people are active on different platforms.
Our live blog has been the latest hot development and we are seeing an incredible following, mainly for the hot news events that are constantly developing – first with Egypt, and now with Libya.
I tweeted that I was interviewing you and got this question from @Abdulla_AlAthba. He asks ‘Did twitter make it easier for [journos] @ AJA to track the news?’ Can you talk about how technology has changed the way Al Jazeera does its reporting.
Well, while Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic both form part of the Al Jazeera Network, the two stations operate relatively independent of each other. There is collaboration between journalists on both sides, but not all stories are covered by both, or in the same way.
In my personal experience, from the beginning, when things started in Tunisia and English broadcast was not covering the story in depth, due to a lack of sources on the ground, I was able to build up a good network of trusted sources through Twitter. While Twitter does alert us to events that are unfolding, its rare that Twitter itself will be a source – rather, a journalist can find sources and make contacts on Twitter, and then follow up with phone calls or emails, etc.
What stands out for me, when I look at Al Jazeera, is how technology is so embraced and employed in all different types of coverage. What do you think is the reason why it seems to be more open and willing to embrace technology, while other news orgs may be… a little… more reluctant. Or, is it my imagination, and Al Jazeera is facing with the same tech cultural issues other newsrooms are?
Well, I can’t speak for how other media organizations work – and for us at Al Jazeera, it’s not just the way we embrace technology, etc that makes us stand out from the rest, but rather almost every aspect of our coverage.
I would assume that compared to most other big media organizations, the fact that we are still not able to be broadcast extensively around the world, we know and value the importance of the internet more, and hence make more/better use of it.
Can you talk about the equipment/gear Al Jazeera reporters, those that cover breaking news and file for the Web, carry with them? I hear Flipcams and phones instead of laptops.
We have been using Flipcams for a while now, and have some cool campaigns running where we give citizens Flipcams and they produce content that feeds back to us.
For reporters and producers that cover live events, there are a few different tools they use – mobile phones for tweeting, sending through Audioboos and Twitpics, from places where there is no internet or the internet gets blocked, we issue Thuraya IP modems.
Our New Media team also has iPhones and BB‘s that they issue out to anyone going out into the field, that has all apps and software, customized and tested for ease of use.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I know you’ve been quite busy!
Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.
Thanksgiving is traditionally the time distant family members come together over a delicious meal… and, well, fight. Last week a fight (okay, more like a heated debate) broke out over what skills a modern day journalist needs to have.
If you don’t know these names, you should. They are some of the most innovative minds in the industry … and I happen to respectfully disagree with all of them.
Well, sort of.
To be honest, I think there is more of a misunderstanding rather than a disagreement here.
Before I go on, let’s address a question that may have popped into someone’s mind: Who the hell am I to weigh in on this debate?
I’ve been a Web journalist for more than a decade and, prior to coming to USC Annenberg, I was the director of development for seattletimes.com where I led a team of engineers and designers. We developed and innovated projects for the site ranging from a taxonomy to geolocation to a custom commenting system to hijacking/hacking the print publishing system to data-driven special projects.
So, allow me to set up the framework from my point of view.
The skills that make up a successful, modern newsroom are as diverse as the communities it tries to cover and serve.
There are some traditional, fundamental skills that are still the unifying foundation, but there is also a new (really, not that new but not yet standard) set of skills each journo needs to have.
And let’s just say it: because our industry has been evolving/changing/etc., there are a lot of unknowns (and fears) about what that set of skills is to be a successful, modern journo.
Of course there is no shortage of opinions, including my own, trying to address those unknowns. But also among them are, well, some opinions spreading hype and bad information.
To be clear, the guys I mentioned above are not the problem.
Not even close.
Who I am referring to (and who I believe Mark was too) are the folks that are telling reporters – all reporters – that they need to stop the craft of writing an engaging story and replace it with the craft of writing innovative code.
They have also said things like photography is dead and copyediting is expendable, but that’s for another post… let’s focus on programming.
Their message essentially is if you don’t master programming skills to create an app or database, you don’t have a future in journalism.
And again, to be clear, the guys I mentioned above do not agree with that statement, at least based on what I’ve seen of their writings and work.
But that hype and bad information I described does exist. It has for years.
I can’t tell you how many times a panicked mid-career journalist or an aspiring student has freaked out asking me for advice on whether or not they need to be a developer/programmer or database engineer or Flash developer (three different jobs that share some similarities).
So cut to the chase Hernandez… what’s your take on the required skills to be a journalist today?
I do not believe you need to master programming to succeed in journalism.
I do believe you need to respect and understand the power of each and every craft, not just programming, but photography, design, texts, etc. that make up journalism. They are not as simple as hitting a button.
I also believe, at the most minimum, EVERY JOURNALIST (whether be it reporter, editor, photographer, etc.) of EVERY BEAT needs to be proactive in spotting opportunities to best use the diverse crafts.
I believe that, in terms of the data-journalism, EVERY REPORTER needs to know the basics of Excel and be able to function inside a database to find the story. But they do not need to build one from scratch.
But the reality is, depending on the size of your shop, you may be required to wear multiple hats that can touch on programming, photography, social media, etc. The good news is that there are tools and communities out there to help you.
NOTE TO PUBLISHER/EDITOR: Please realize that you need engineers/developers in your shop. You probably need twice as many as you current have. Don’t take this post as buzz or get it twisted thinking you shouldn’t hire more. You should. And you should also invest in training your newsroom in a variety of skills ranging from programming to photography to social media.
I agree with DeBarros and do not believe programming replaces the story. Never has, never will. When was the last time you had a driveway moment with a database?
But when was the last time you were able to understand the weight of 251,287 cable dispatches without a database?
Those are made possible because of different, yet equally important, skills. And thankfully, regardless of your answer, we don’t have to choose.
We need these diverse set of skills, of every level, populating our newsrooms. We need them to influence each other. We need them to work together. We need them… to survive and evolve.
We also need to acknowledge that not everyone will be able to do these skills. Some will be better than others. But, guess what, that’s okay.
Because if we are to attempt to serve our communities that are consuming and expecting our news and information in a variety of ways, we need a newsroom full of diverse people bring different experiences, skills, perspectives and ideas to the table.
We can’t afford to get distracted by feuding over something like this. We’ve got too much work to do.
Imagine you go to the World Trade Center’s Ground Zero in New York, pull out your mobile device, turn on its camera and through it you see how the area looked days after the 9/11 attacks. You pan to the left and see the surrounds. Hit a button and see how it was before the attacks. You can immerse yourself in these different scenes from the past as they come alive while standing on the actual street corner of the scene.
This technology already exists and it’s called Augmented Reality – which is created through the merger of your mobile device’s GPS and camera. And while some of us have been thinking about it and trying to come up with journalistic ways of using it, it occurred to me that this experience was demo’ed in a cool way.
In a pivotal scene in SyFy‘s mini series The Lost Room, the main character pulls out an “object” and has this virtual, immersive experience inside a mysterious hotel room:
SPOILER ALERT-ish: This is a key scene, but this video clip is in Spanish… so at least you can see what I’m talking about.
Swap the Polaroid for today’s smartphone and imagine having these experiences now. Let’s say a street perform digital embeds a show in the subway location he typically performs at. When not there, someone waiting for a train can pull out their phone and experience a show.
Um, so what is stopping us from experimenting with this stuff?
NOTE: If you have not seen the AMAZING series, you need to. My mind was blown!