Ten changes in 10 years for journalists

1 From a lecture to a conversation

Perhaps the biggest change in journalism has been the increasing involvement of – and expectation of involvement by – ‘the former audience”. Readers’ letters and phone-ins were one thing – this new relationship between publisher and reader is something else entirely.

Perhaps it started with the accessibility of email; perhaps it was the active nature of the internet, where ‘readers’become ‘users”.

But the change really gained momentum with…

2 The rise of the amateur

The blogs of 11 September; the camcorder images of the Asian Boxing Day tsunami; the mobile phone images of 7 July ; the Facebook pages of Virginia Tech. The spread of video and photo-enabled mobile phones, blogs and social networking made publishers realise they were not only competing with each other, but with the readers themselves.

When a story broke in public, they needed to be able to harvest what has become known as UGC: user generated content. Thankfully, the NUJ‘s suggested term of ‘witness contributions’didn’t catch on…

3 Everyone’s a paperboy/girl now

Distribution never used to be a journalist’s problem. Online, however, it’s part of the job, whether signing up to Facebook groups, creating blog feeds or posting video on YouTube.

Meanwhile, newspaper webpages have come out in a rash of ‘Digg/Blog this’buttons, and experiments with Facebook applications have demonstrated how important it’s become for newspapers to be where the reader is, rather than the other way around. Partly because of…

4 Measurability

Most-read, most-commented, most-emailed. Hits, page views and unique visitors.

If you felt your editor’s news sense was as bad as his fashion sense, the measurability of the web gave you valuable ammunition; but if you thought performance-related pay was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

5 Hyperlocal, international

Released from the limitations of physical distribution and radio waves, the idea of a journalist’s ‘patch’has been redefined, from the ‘hyperlocal’Teesside Gazette to the international editions of The Guardian and The Times. Readership is

different – for many newspaper websites overseas visitors outnumber domestic ones.

6 Multimedia

If the pen is mightier than the sword, what does that make a microphone, camcorder and laptop… in a wifi hotspot?

Video really took off in 2006 – suddenly crumpled hacks had to worry about their appearance and diction. Now print journalists are learning about white balance, and broadcast journalists are learning about local news.

And everyone is waiting for an almighty fight.

7 Really Simple Syndication

RSS is one of the most underestimated innovations in journalism. At a basic level it means journalists can subscribe to dozens of feeds in one RSS reader – and so not have check dozens of websites for updates.

But the more is done with the technology, the more is being achieved. For one thing, RSS enables niche audiences: readers can subscribe to one newspaper section, one writer, or the results of a search.

For savvy editors, RSS enables different bits of news to be aggregated into a single page. Well, it works for Google News…

8 Maps

2007 saw some real experimentation with mapping in UK newspapers, from fatal shootings in Manchester and a ‘killer heron”, to roadworks, speed cameras and fuel prices.

But 2008 should mark the year mapping gets serious. Journalists at Archant can now draw on a map or enter postcodes to identify locations when they submit a story; The Telegraph has its dynamic UK political map; while the BBC is using maps for its proposed local website plans.

9 Databases

The biggest untapped potential in journalism online.

So far we’ve seen some impressive demonstrations of database power: crimes, house sales and schools have been mapped by ChicagoCrime.org, the LA Times and the Washington Post; The Herald Tribune allowed readers to drill down to data in a specific school in its coverage of the handling of complaints against teachers.

In the UK, The Telegraph is leading the way, with football coverage that pulls up player statistics to rival ProZone, and a recently unveiled political map that presents information on local services ratings.

Developments such as these have generated debate about whether journalists should be taught how to program. The conclusion was that it was easier to teach programmers how to do journalism.

10 Just a click away

Finally, amid all the Web 2.0 hype it’s easy to forget the fundamental characteristic of news in the online era: everything is connected; and the reader is only a click away from something else. This has created major opportunities and challenges.

On the one hand, journalists can now link to full documents, previous reports, and raw material. On the other, so can the readers.

Material culled from second-hand copy is more easily spotted; holes in your story can be quickly highlighted and discussed.

And while doorstepping used to be between you and the Dear Departed’s family, its digital equivalent is so much more public. The game has been raised – but have journalists stepped up?

Paul Bradshaw also blogs at Online Journalism – see onlinejournalismblog.com

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