journalism

Ask not what consumers can do for news, ask news what it can do for the consumer

If there is anything I have learned over the last few weeks it is that the consumer is king. Through my various experiences with entrepreneurship and conversations with entrepreneur Diana Kander, this point has been pushed above all others. So this week I decided to see if I could learn a thing or two about how people consume news on their phones, by, well, talking to a few strangers. I focused my questions on phone use habits to discover how people use their phones during free time. My hope was to gain some insight into the needs and desires of young phone users to have a better understanding of how news companies could target these people. I was especially interested in people my own age because I believe their news consumption will hugely impact the future of the industry.

Tanzi, 20

photo 1

Can you tell me about a time you had a free 10 minutes and were on your phone?

“Usually I go through Instagram or play 2048 because I can’t beat it. Or I’ll go on Twitter. I’m a j-school student and I follow a lot of accounts with news, but I don’t always click on the links.”

Why do you like to visit those sites?

“I like finding a different ways to connect with people and see what they’re doing and see if they’re close by. If I’m on the quad, I’ll post a picture of where I am. I want to share a part of my day with someone else.”

Why do you like to connect with people and share parts of your day?

“I’m a big experience culture person. Even though I’m an introvert, I like to know what people are doing with their life.”

What’s a problem that you have that you think news could solve?

“Sometimes I’ll be sitting and I’ll hear people talking about news, and then I’ll feel behind because I’m not caught up on it.”

Josh, 19

photo 2

Can you tell me about a time you had 10 minutes of free time and were on your phone?

“Usually I check my messages, but I don’t text all that much. Usually I’m trying to avoid looking like I’m not doing something, or I’m browsing the Internet.”

Why do you try to look like you’re doing something?

“It seems in today’s culture everyone has to look like they’re doing something. It’s socially awkward not to be doing anything.”

Why do you think it’s awkward?

“Maybe it’s just become the norm because everyone’s on their phones.”

Why do you think it’s the ‘norm?’

“I just don’t feel productive whenever I’m not doing something. Idle hands are the devil’s play things. Maybe I feel like I’m not progressing enough in life.”

Where do you get your news?

“Usually I go to Reddit because of the vote based system on what gets seen.”

Why do you pick that over local media?

“Well, the Missourian doesn’t really have people’s input. It’s not a community based thing that can rank its importance.”

What’s a news app you think you might use?

“An app or something with local events going on or summaries of world and local events.”

Emily, 19

photo 3

What do you do when you check your phone?

“I check up on Twitter and then when I get to the end of my feed, I’ll go on Pinterest.”

Why do you like to visit those sites?

“Twitter I visit because I follow things I enjoy. I don’t always tweet a lot, I’ll just read. Pinterest, I pin a lot of things and I have a lot of boards.”

Why do you like those sites?

“I really like books and movies, so anything that references those I enjoy, and I also enjoy anything that makes me laugh.”

How often do you read news?

“I don’t really read news. I guess it’s our generation. Sometimes I’ll see things on Twitter, but I don’t pay much attention.”

When you see news links on Twitter do you click on them?

“If it’s something I feel connected to or interested in I click on it, otherwise I just skip over it.”

What’s a problem in your life, big or small, you wish you could solve? How do you think an app could solve it?

“I’m bad with patience. So something that controls patience. Maybe an app that gives rewards for waiting.”

Conclusions

Although I only talked with three young students for a few minutes each, I learned quite a bit about their phone use habits. The thing that was most interesting to me was how technology seemed to be such a go to for people my age. Nearly everyone I saw on the quad was on a phone or computer. Yet, after I approached these people (A couple of them even had headphones in at the time), they warmly responded to my conversation and presence. Josh’s comments about the need to seem busy in today’s world were especially thought provoking.

News organizations have a huge opportunity to reach people on their phones. Like Josh said, people have a need, especially a social one, to solve the problem of free time using the technology immediately available to them. But even though these consumers were all alone when I talked with them, most of them were in pursuit of a social experience of some sort online. They had free time and they were by themselves, but they didn’t want to feel alone. It wasn’t acceptable to spend free time idly. What an opportunity for news.

Yet, every person I talked to didn’t primarily use their phones for news consumption. And, if they weren’t consuming news on their phones, they also weren’t consuming much news anywhere else. This is troubling because reading the paper used to be a socially acceptable and common way to solve the problem of free time. Now though consumers have an overwhelming amount of distractions to chose from. They want to feel connected to people and they want to pursue their interests. A plethora of social media sites target these needs well, and my generation is hooked. However, they’re not flocking to news apps like they are to social media sites.

I would have to talk to more people to further build research about phone habits, but the experience gave me some thoughts on how news organizations could better target millennials on their phones.

Ideas for news organizations:

  • Emphasis on social commenting platforms like Kinja
  • Competitive elements based around the news consumption (Ex: social consolation of some sort for winning a contest)
  • Tailored news according to location and previous searches
  • Convenience-designed mobile content (Ex: a feature story on a coffee shop that gets pushed to a phone when user is close by)
  • Elimination of paywalls (Paywalls, at least on a mobile phone, will turn users away from a “quick” experience)
  • Partnerships with other apps to include relevant news (Ex: money management tips from experts promoted under a news brand within a banking app)
  • Social emphasis on mobile apps (Ex: voting system exists within news app only)

How do you think news organizations should target millennial mobile users?

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J/i Day One

Day one of Journalism Interactive is wrapping up at the University of Maryland, concluding a full day of presentations on topics ranging from emerging tech trends to teaching strategies. This day was packed with new ideas and interesting discussions. Check out some takeaways from a few of the sessions today:

9:15 a.m. “The Future of Visual Storytelling”

Journalism Interactive kicked off this morning with this presentation about digital and visual storytelling from Richard Koci Hernandez, journalism professor at UC Berkley. Hernandez told the audience he would share 15 semesters worth of information about visual storytelling, and he certainly promised on his goal of providing a wealth of information. I particularly enjoyed how this talk praised risk taking in journalism. Hernandez encouraged experimentation and original thinking.

Takeaways:

  • The Internet is not a dumping ground for media created for other platforms
  • Web is its own platform
  • Visual journalism does not exist on a single canvas
  • Creative approach is more important than skill and technique

Favorite quotes:

“I’m not making you a designer, I’m making you a design thinker.”

“The edge, the secret sauce to mastery is not waiting for perfection, instead, start where you are with reckless abandon.”

“It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.”

Tools to try:

  • Timeline JS – interactive timeline tool
  • visual.ly – Visual content sharing space
  • X WordPress Theme – User friendly, interactive WordPress theme that minimizes required code knowledge

10:30 a.m. “Top Tech Trends for Academics”

Following the opening session, digital strategist Amy Webb gave a fantastic presentation about tech trends. I have read a number of her predictions about tech trends through classes and on my own, so I was particularly excited for her talk. Webb challenged the audience to embrace emerging tech trends in order to better engage an audience. Webb’s talk was by far my favorite presentation given today.

Key tech trends:

1) Tech first versus digital first – Essentially, all journalism organizations should already be digital first, and to be truly innovative, organizations must embrace new technology. Being digital first alone doesn’t acknowledge consumer behavior, competitors and new revenue streams, for example.

2) Anticipatory computing – New search tools will analyze previous search conversation and context in order to predict and deliver calculated search results to an audience.

3) Robo journalism – “Bots” can be utilized to generate basic news stories to save reporters writing time for in-depth pieces, and computer assisted editing can analyze long news stories and generate summarized versions of the most important information.

4) Computational reporting – Tools such as WolframAlpha can be utilized to provide more complete, data-driven search results that can aid reporting.

5) Aggressive versioning – Content should be delivered based on situation and individual, instead of just device. For instance, tools can deliver different versions of the same story according to how fast a person is walking with their device (which indicates how much they want to read of a story).

6) Experiential journalism – Simulation devices can be used to actually place a reader in a story like never before.

Recommendations to journalism professors:

1) Open source journalism – Students and faculty would both benefit from better communication between schools and more open source projects.

2) Show students more options – Faculty should better acknowledge non-traditional media outlets, and prepare and inform students of job opportunities in those companies.

3) Market yourselves better – Journalism schools must embrace technology fully and not just create “trendy” classes in order to attract highly intelligent students with an interest in tech.

Favorite quotes:

“Smart kids want tech degrees because j-schools don’t make journalism sound interesting.”

“It makes no sense to fail a student for one AP Style error. Make them worry about something else.”

3 p.m. “News Startups and Innovators Panel”

The afternoon session of day one of the conference, allowed participants to choose their own adventure. This startup panel peaked my interest with its combination of journalists and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial journalism is an area I want to learn as much about as possible, and this panel offered a variety of interesting perspectives. The panel featured speakers from Trove, Newspeg and InfoActive, all startups.

Takeaways:

  • News startups are easy to start because they are cheap and business advice is easily acceptable. However, news startups are hard to sustain because finding an audience and making money is difficult.
  • Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, but all journalists can benefit from the relentless testing, thoughtful decision making and business knowledge entrepreneurs have.

Tools to try:

  • Trove – Compiles news stories based around interest of reader and recommended by users
  • Newspeg – Acts as a sort of Pinterest for news stories, allowing stories to be “pegged” to site
  • InfoActive – Creates interactive infographics for complex and ongoing data sets

These takeaways highlight just a few of the new ideas I learned about today. I also attended sessions on social metrics, digital teaching strategies and algorithms. So many ideas and conversations happened today!

To follow more of the conversation, check out the conference on Twitter @JIConf and #JIConf.

 

Curiosity and some code experience essential for journalists

Tonight I was trying to think of ideas for this blog, which led me to two articles which consider the value of journalists being able to code. At that point I could have very easily written a blog based off the thought provoking articles, but instead I spend an hour on Codecademy. I earned this HTML Basics badge:

codeacademy

The time spent on Codecademy brought me back to some reflection on the articles I read earlier. The first article called, “Should journalism schools require reporters to ‘learn code’? No” by Olga Khazan at the Atlantic is a personal reflection from the writer, who learned to code thinking it would give her a leg up in the journalism job market. When the skill failed to do so, she came to the conclusion that learning to code was a waste of time. The second article called “Those required courses in journalism school are there for a reason” was written by journalism professor Robert Hernandez in response to the first article. Hernandez discloses that he was once Khazan’s journalism professor, which made comparing the articles especially interesting.

The two articles present two vastly different perspectives about code. Khazan writes about her very negative personal experience with learning code. She writes of her experience, “If you want to be a reporter, learning code will not help. It will only waste time that you should have been using to write freelance articles or do internships—the real factors that lead to these increasingly scarce positions.” Hernandez, in contrast, writes that though a journalist may not use code on a regular basis in a career, digital literacy and knowledge of some basics like HTML and web development are important. Learning code beyond HTML and CSS, however, are not necessarily essential for every journalist he writes. “A modern journalist needs to know how the web works, needs to be exposed to and respect all journalistic crafts (including code), and needs to know their role in working with others. And that role is an active role, not a passive one. They need to use these digital tools to produce relevant, quality journalism.”

I absolutely side with Hernandez after reading both articles. Journalism schools tend to allow students to pick specific areas of emphasis or areas of journalism specialization. For instance, I am pursuing an emphasis in Entrepreneurial Journalism. This means that I am required to take a few core convergence classes, in addition to 10 elective journalism hours and three basic journalism courses all journalism students take at Mizzou: Principles of Journalism, News and Multimedia. Mizzou’s j-school recognizes that having an area of expertise is important, but it also allows students to add relevant skills along the way. In today’s competitive journalism world, there’s no such thing as begin too digitally literate.

Earning the HTML Basics badge on Codecademy tonight was probably the highlight of my night. My work for Silicon Prairie News over the last few months has made me particularly interested in learning code. This weekend I finished up my article about Jim McKelvey’s new initiative, LaunchCode, which helps aspiring programmers get jobs with awesome companies. Not every journalist will be as interested in code, but it shouldn’t matter. The take away point for me reading these two articles is that the best journalists are the curious ones. Good writers compile the necessary amount of research article to article. The best writers are constantly striving to learn about anything and everything because they love to learn and want to teach readers something valuable. As Hernandez writes, code is tool that can help a journalist “produce relevant, quality journalism.” If learning code can help a journalist deliver content in a more meaningful way, why not learn as much of it as possible? This is the kind of question, a curious journalist – the best kind of journalist – asks.

A career for social good

In any beginning journalism class, young journalism students learn a basic list of newsworthy elements. The list I learned included proximity, timeliness, prominence, conflict, impact, human interest and at least one other category that I can’t seem to remember. Every high school and college journalism student across the country is likely to learn the same list. I loved this list, was married to this list, in fact, until I took a Principles of Journalism class for the second time as a college freshman (I took a similar class in high school). Memorizing the list for a second time made me realize how many gaps there are in the journalism education schools are providing to students. What about fixing problems? What about community building? What about education? What about solution journalism?

At first I didn’t fully understand solution journalism because many media organizations also don’t quite understand solution journalism. Dowser, a news organization at the forefront of solutions journalism, addresses its concerns about the lack of solution journalism in media in an article called “Defining Solution Journalism: It’s About Real News, Not Feel-Good Stories.”  The site points out that CNN has a segment called “Heroes” and ABC News likewise has a “Person of the Week” feature. This is not solution journalism. Pointing out something that seems good with little thoughtfulness and critical thinking only further drives the problem in mainstream media today. For every five stories of conflict, war and generally discouraging stories, it is difficult to find five news pieces that offer answers or forward perspective, the site points out in its about page.  The goals of Dowser are highlighted in this short mission statement video:

Sites like Dowser are effectively bringing solutions to journalism, but the world also needs solutions and journalism to merge in areas of non-traditional communication. Take the non-profit sector, for instance. Last winter break, I volunteered at a non-profit in my hometown. I used my communication and journalism skills to design flyers and postcards, and devise and implement a ramped up social media strategy. The organizers I worked with at the non-profit were incredible people. They were at the organization for the right reasons and had invaluable planning and business skills. The non-profit was well known in the area, but I recognized that the non-profit’s outdated website and promotion strategies were holding it back.

This week I came across an organization called The Girl Effect, that is using multimedia strategies to promote education, health, safety, economic security and citizenship for girls around the world. The organization has an enormous network of supporters including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nike Foundation. Not every non-profit has the resources or communication talent to use multimedia for effective social good, as the organization does, but using organizations such as The Girl Effect as a model is a good start for melding solutions and journalism. Below is a video promoting the organization’s The Girl Declaration:

When people ask me what I am majoring in at Mizzou, they say I have an interesting combination of passions. This mostly just means they have never heard of any viable careers that combine all of my pursuits. I am currently a journalism and international studies major with a minor in entrepreneurship. My interest area in journalism is called Entrepreneurial Journalism, which means I am taking primarily convergence and multimedia courses and will eventually take classes on app development and 21st century news models. My focus in international studies is peace studies, which is the most interdisciplinary focus area. I am taking Spanish courses for the degree and hope to take a variety of classes exploring world cultures, religion and gender issues. The entrepreneurship minor requires me to take business and entrepreneurship classes.

To many, these three areas seem to pull my life in three vastly different directions, however, I finally feel like I’ve found this incredible trio of interests that capture everything I want to do with my life. For instance, I see myself working in communications for an international charity, looking for solutions to problems that give those in poverty long term financial, career and education solutions that will be self-sustaining after I leave. Journalism alone wouldn’t be enough because I would be recognizing problems without offering solution. International Studies alone would leave me without the tangible communication and convergence skills necessary to tell a compelling story about an organization I am passionate about. Entrepreneurship alone would leave me too focused on business solutions alone, without a larger perspective on the world that journalism and international studies could offer me.

My goals may change. I may focus on one over another. I may find 10 more passions I didn’t know I had. No matter where my life leads me though, I hope I am part of a solution.

Exploring the intersection of art and journalism

Can journalism be art? Where is the line between journalism and art? At what point does the creator lose control of the story, letting it become a creation of its own?

This week I have been considering the distinction (or lack thereof) between news and art, authentic and designed and unplanned and calculated. Journalism sometimes can and should capture a story as it actually happened. Other times, stories require different untraditional techniques to tell the story accurately.

In my multimedia lecture this week, my professor showed us a short film by Tyler Stableford called “Shattered.”  The film combines beautiful video of a mountain climber in Telluride, Colo. with a rhythmic, poem like narration of the inner thoughts of the climber. As aesthetically pleasing as the video was, I was confused by why we were shown the video: The short film wasn’t journalism after all. It was scripted, created and devised. As I considered the video more, however, I realized the short film captured the feelings of a climber better than any traditional journalistic video could. Sometimes “based on a true story” is better than the complete true story, even in journalism.

Every year Columbia, Mo. hosts two wonderful film festivals. This weekend I was lucky enough to see the closing film of the CItizen Jane Film Festival with the group of freshmen I teach every week as part of my Peer Advisor position with MU Residential Life. The festival showcases a variety of films made by women.  I saw “The New Black” Sunday night, which is a documentary about LGBT issues in the black community. The film’s storyline focused on Maryland’s 2012 referendum that allowed voters to accept or reject a bill to legalize gay marriage. The film was really beautiful. It captured two very complex sides of the issue, and investigated the perspective of a community mainstream media doesn’t always cover. While the film contained more traditional journalism elements than “Shattered,” it still had a number of artistic elements to it. It wasn’t a 5-minute video on a news website, instead it was a full length film.

Last year as a warm-up to Columbia’s annual True/False Film Festival, MU held an event called “Based on a True Story: The Intersection of Documentary Film and Journalism.” I didn’t get a chance to go last year, but the event discussed issues of journalism and film in-depth. The event’s website mentions popular documentaries such as Michael Moore’s “Sicko” and discusses CNN’s addition of a documentary film unit.

This kind of work certainly dives into an unfamiliar realm of journalism. In my class this week, I am working to produce two videos. I hope I can capture the news of what I’m covering foremost, but I also hope I can add the kind of artistic flair that makes films like “Shattered” and “The New Black” so compelling.