Challenges And Opportunities For New Media Communicators 2


“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Thomas Jefferson, 1787. (The Yale book of quotations By Fred R. Shapiro)

By Margarita Persico

Introduction

As new media communicators, we face many new challenges unknown to journalists in the past. The way the printed newspaper has served the communities throughout the approximately 600-year history is changing, as you all know. The new media—if I may still say new media since students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published the first Internet newspaper, The Tech, on May 1993—has revolutionized how news is disseminated. “The first complete daily online” non-student Newspaper, The Mercury Center, a Knight-Ridder Inc. newspaper, was published merely 3 years later, July 12, 1996, on the World Wide Web, according to Business Wire. Knight-Ridder had been providing online services with America Online since 1988 (the year I got my first work e-mail account).

The Internet is nearly 20 years old. Many people are, however, still new to the Internet. Social media is even younger — Facebook was founded in 2004, Twitter in 2006.

Social media makes it possible for me to communicate with my cousins throughout the world. When I think of new technologies of social medias, I usually think of Facebook and Twitter. For me it is a great opportunity to use them at a personal and at a business level. When I graduated in 1981 in computer science and business, I never thought of the possibilities we have today such as of interacting so easily with people all over the world through social media. I never thought the days of reporting, writing a story and filing it for publication with photos and forgetting about it would be a thing of the pass. Now after filing our stories we promote them. And sometimes we are expected to also produce multimedia shows and do our own public relations, promoting via the many social medias.

These are really exciting times and challenging times for journalists and media outlets. The way we tell stories and the tools we use are new — some very simple others complicated. From my colleagues, which include award winning journalists, newspapers and from my point of view, I will share with you some challenges and the opportunities we are facing.

Challenges

These challenges are a common denominator to all news media regardless of size or if privately own by an independent blogger or is part of a news communication. How news is being disseminated is new and everyone is exploring and learning what are the best ways of doing it.

“The problem is that nobody really knows what’s going to work for multimedia journalism. … It’s about experimentation right now.  And then we could use that as reference for the future,” says Mark Luckie, The Washington Post’s National Innovation Editor.

News organizations like The Charlotte Observer, The Washington Post, El Nuevo Día and Primera Hora (the last two in Puerto Rico under Grupo Ferre Rangel), and the independent bloggers and journalist such as 10,000Words.net, AlamoCityTimes.com, TheDailyTail.com and LatinasContraCancer.org are using multimedia and social network—they are learning and/or training their staff, and all are trying something different in order to reach their audience.

Tommy Tomlinson, a columnist for The Charlotte Observer since 1997, whose employer has had an Internet presence since the 1990s, believes the biggest challenges have to do with scheduling publications.

“Stories that we normally get on a print deadline, how do we get them to a deadline that is 24/7 all the time,” says Tomlinson, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary in 2005.

The online newspaper has changed the way they schedule work. Newspapers are no longer just published with deadlines for print edition towards the end of the night.  Now publishing online has spread out also towards the very beginning of the day, says Tomlinson. “We have a fairly substantial staff of several people who now come in. Some people start working at maybe four in the morning,” notes Tomlinson. He adds that they have three or four employees dedicated to web site management at any time. Journalists are responsible for print and online content and their work deadline is spread throughout the day.

“I think the only big challenge process is getting out of the mentality that we just write text or we just do written word story,” says Tomlinson, a Harvard University Nieman Journalism Fellow who holds the title of best local columnist in America by The Week magazine in 2004 and whose work appears in “Best Newspaper Writing 2004” and “Best American Newspaper Writing.”

At Puerto Rico’s two largest circulation papers El Nuevo Día and Primera Hora, Brenda Perez Lastra, Editorial System Associate Director, says their biggest challenge is training.

“In recent years, we have worked to have both newsrooms evolve into multimedia newsroom where both editors, reporters, photographers and staff who work in newsrooms changed and adapted from the traditional way of working to a more current. Before we worked the news that would be publishing for the morning newspaper, now we work for the news for now [today] and develop or investigate it for tomorrow. In other words, first published in the web and then processed into the print,” says Perez Lastra.

She says among the challenges they find is adapting to the new technological tools.

“Now, reporters go out with video cameras, audio recorders, cameras, depending on the type of coverage. Photographers now have camera and video camera and they determine what to used as the news evolves,” Perez Lastra adds that they work “in live streaming coverage, video chats, photo galleries, social networks (facebook, twitter) are used and thus reinforce the news.”

Though for most newspapers and nonprofit organizations challenges come in the form of technology and training, for five-time Texas Emmy Award winning journalist Patricio Espinoza of the AlamoCityTimes.com one of the biggest obstacles is funding.

“While there are many options out there for nonprofits and institutions, it seems independent efforts do not have many other than self-funding,” says Espinoza the self-taught web developer who has launch his online ventures on his own and serves at NAHJ’s Board of Directors as VP of Online.

Online news efforts have different forms and shapes, for Daniela Caride—a Brazilian award-winning journalist who transitioned to English journalism in Cambridge, MA—is reporting on The Daily Tail, a pet’s web site that carries stories, tips, reviews and fun posts about pets. She believes the challenges journalists are facing now are actually opportunities to develop into a “complete professional” able to convey information in many ways—video, radio, word, and live streaming.

New Tools of the trade

To convert those challenges into opportunities there are many tools reporters and newsrooms staff are using.

“The journalism part of it I think it’s really exciting.  The tools have gone down to a level of simplicity where just anybody can use them,” says Tomlinson.

They might be simpler than they were years ago, but to many they are still challenging and overwhelming. As Tomlinson mentioned, sometimes the challenge is getting away from the mindset that we only write text.

“The technical challenge is enormous,” says Caride, who adds that there are numerous hardware and software options to convey whatever message you are sending. Below is an overview of some of the popular tools, hardware, software, resources and skills, which I think are essential for new media communicators. I’ve divided in three parts: language, hardware and software.

The first one is to learn English well, since it’s an important research skill, one I take for granted since I learned both languages at the same time—I was born and raised in New York. My parents are from Puerto Rico and though it has been a US territory since 1898, they’ve kept the Spanish language and culture even when English was taught as a first language in Puerto Rico. But for Daniela Caride, whose native language is Portuguese, she values English as a research tool. When Caride worked at Gazeta Mercantil a decade ago, Brazil’s leading business newspaper at that time, the paper had an entire research department that sent information by fax to reporters.  Now with the Internet, the information is all out there. The possibilities on the Internet are infinite.

Second, hardware for recording is essential, and there are many to choose from depending on the likes of individuals. Personally, I never leave my home without a camera. Mine does video, still, and audio. I have a little older camera, a Panasonic Lumix. When I know I’m interviewing, I take in my handbag a Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder, camera, tripod and extra batteries, extra SD memory cards, electrical cord and recording medias.  My computer is my production studio, a MacBook Pro. I would like to get upgrades to all my equipment—I’m working with none HD camera and an old Mac, but don’t have the money. In my wish list is also an iPhone since it’s a production studio built on a phone.

“I can create slideshows. I can create videos. I can do photos,” says Mark Luckie who usually uses a Cannon Vixia-HD video camera. “So if I’m doing something and I don’t have my professional video camera with me, my iPhone is really that essential multimedia tool that I use all the time.”

For Espinoza and Caride it is a Flip HD Camera. You can shoot a video and also capture frames of the video for still pictures.

Third, the software is not as simple as the hardware. For many it is the most overwhelming and time consuming to learn. When I refer to software, I refer to all: computer, Internet and social media. I try to keep it simple and inexpensive. I use the software provided by Apple—iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, Garage Band, Keynote, etc. If I need more, I download free software. I recently produced a 22-minute documentary, which all I used was the software that came with my computer. And this summer I downloaded Adobe Flash demo for a free month use. I’d love to buy it, but I’d need a journalism job first.

For those that are in a Window’s platform there are equivalent software for free or inexpensive, says Mark Luckie, who is also founder of 10,000 Words and author of The Digital Journalist Handbook. He says there are many options such as Window’s moviemaker and audacity for audio.

Attracting regular readers to your web site

Now journalist and newsroom employees do their public relations, which makes it even more challenging for journalist. At Apex Technologies in Puerto Rico the IT team is composed of 60 employees supporting all their newspapers (El Nuevo Día, Primera Hora, etc.). One of their websites, El Nuevo Día, has approximately 200,000 unique visitors daily says Perez Lastra. Caride, who now is self-employed, spends three hours daily promoting her work using social media. Her web site, The Daily Tail, has between 9,000 and 30,000 daily pageviews. (Disclosure, I’m one of the editors.) She has explored all social medias, though admits that for now what works best for her is Facebook and in second place is Twitter. “My Space did not work, it’s old,” she shared.

“You are calling people, you are attracting people to your content through Facebook. But It’s not enough for you to post a blurb and a link on Facebook—you have to have a good picture otherwise people won’t read your blurb. You have to answer comments. You have to build relationships with your fans,” says Caride.

She also recommends researching what other people are doing and talking to them on their walls about your work. That’s all part of your public relations in Facebook. Caride also recommends to constantly monitor your material, especially if you allow people to comment on your wall. You could get spams and nasty comments. “You have to be on top of it,” she says.

A web site may offer many ways of subscription. Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, etc, are ways of subscribing — people follow web sites through these channels. And I’m sure in the future there will be more ways of subscribing. Who knows, perhaps replacing Facebook and Feedburner. For Caride nearly 70 percent of her web site visitors are first timers.

If you want to attract many readers, the key is to give the reader what they want. Statistical diagnostic tools tell us what the reader’s want. Now usually responding to more visual content, which is why multimedia is so important. Youtube recently upgraded to HD. More and more news outlets are posting their news there, for example, the Associated Press.

“I never had more than 1,000 people [viewers] on a written article, and I have maybe 100,000 people watching one video,” says Caride.

For other journalists, it is a way to explore related areas or charities they support. For example, Ysabel Duron, an award winning TV broadcast Californian journalist with 38 years of experience uses New Media — social media — to spread the word about her nonprofit organization, the Latinas Contra Cancer, raising awareness and money to continue the work that is needed to help the community. Duron adds that without the web site they would not have been able to do as much as they have. Veronica Villafañe, an Emmy award-winning journalist, describes Duron’s work on her blog.

Tommy Tomlinson at The Charlotte Observer also has a blog where he explores various topics.

Opportunities

Everyone measures achievements and opportunities differently, but all the above mentioned something they all have in common: the love for what they are doing. For example, for Daniela Caride and Tommy Tomlinson, the opportunity is to bond with their readers and help form a relationship by responsible reporting. For Mark Luckie, 10,000 Words, is sharing the knowledge that he would otherwise keep to himself. For him it translated in an extended readership as with Caride, worldwide travel to educate reporters personally as far away as Russia and two job opportunities including the Washington Post and his last position at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

“I think the biggest opportunity is in hyper local, which is concentrating on various small communities, and even focusing on the subject-based community’s needs,” says Mark Luckie about filling in the gap of “communities that are not being covered by mainstream organizations.  … Just because the local newspaper doesn’t have the resources to cover the local community it doesn’t mean that communities doesn’t want to be covered.”

It is also the opportunity to share with the world what a newspaper, a blogger, a photographer or a reporter is doing at some part of the world. It is also the opportunity to store online published stories perhaps for indefinite time.

“Among the achievements we now have more people visiting us on the Internet than before and the change has been rather favorable,” says Brenda Perez Lastra.

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Article researched, reported and written by Margarita Persico

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MORE FACTS AND LINKS

Multi-media Website projects:

One of the most visited posts:
http://www.thedailytail.com/pictures/instant-dog-mom/
How you generate valuable content using image, words and video:
http://www.thedailytail.com/videos/the-only-ball-geppetto-hates/

Coming soon: The Healthy Dish http://www.thehealthydish.com/

The Healthy Dish is a blog about healthy living, eating and recipes that won’t break your budget.

Streets of Dreams Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s official site — En Adobe Flash Player – Audiovisual (http://cronkiteworks.asu.edu/streets_of_dreams/index.html)

Bart – (http://barthood.news21.com/) — Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stationdeveloped by five fellows at the University of California, Berkeley in the summer of 2009 … Where transit hubs meet neighborhoods, there is a story.”

Hunger in the Golden State – (http://hungerincal.uscannenberg.org/ )

These sites include print stories, slideshow, movies, radio and social media.

Giving Attribution:

It’s so important to credit photographers and contributors and thank them by hyper linking to their sites, for example, in a travel article I posted: ¡Olé! España

I not only credit South Africa photographer Warren Rohner for letting me use his photos of the World Cup, but I also place a hyperlink to his site. He was happy—I would have been too.

Coming soon:

The Healthy Dish http://www.thehealthydish.com/

The Healthy Dish is a blog about healthy living, eating and recipes that won’t break your budget.


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2 thoughts on “Challenges And Opportunities For New Media Communicators

  • Patricio Espinoza

    Thank you Margarita for sharing ours and others challenges, tools, passion, and love for what we do in the public interest.

    On funding… this wknd we happened to publish our first story with SPOT.us Community Funded Reporting support via social media recruiting for donors. I raised enough to pay the time of two reporters, and a rich multimedia story, a showcase of today’s digital tools and what they can do in the hands of a journalist: http://bit.ly/a6nIob

    Patricio
    @espiblog
    @alamocitytimes