Journalism’s problem of scale demands a rethinking of the news product

The newsroom at The Daily Telegraph

The newsroom at The Daily Telegraph. | Credit: victoriapeckham/Flickr

I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to untangle the mass of conflicting visions about the future of the news industry. But recently I heard a phrase of unusual clarity: “Traditional journalism, as a process, does not scale.”

The person who spoke this line was Matt Berger, the director of digital media at Marketplace. What he meant was there is no business model that will support an organization with 100 reporters writing 100 stories (or, as we used to refer to the newsroom, 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters). [Read more…]

Two Days at ONA Hollywood Yield New Web Site Gems

Two days at the Online News Association’s Hollywood conference, and I’ve returned with a handful of business cards, memories of friendly conversations with old acquaintances and most important, a slew of new websites to check out.

That’s part of the fun of events like this – discovering interesting and useful sites you hadn’t heard of before. If you’ve been on the Web for a while, you might remember sites like the NCSA Top Five of the Day and the GNN Select, which delivered a fresh supply of quirky and cool sites to early Web surfers. But in recent years, many of us have settled in with a predictable collection of sites that we check on a regular basis. I know I have, and I suspect many other web surfers have done the same.

So I welcomed this chance to inject some fresh choices into my bookmark list. Here are some sites I gleaned from the ONA conference: Looking for an open source operating system with a 3-D user interface and built on peer-to-peer architecture that will help enable team collaboration on a variety of projects?

OK, if that sentence made your eyes glaze over, let’s try this: Are you a geek? Do you aspire to become one? Then click over to this project, brought to you by some of the folks who developed computing’s first graphical user interfaces. (And, no, that wasn’t Bill Gates … )

Even if you aren’t a geek and don’t want to become one, you might at least concede that geeks build fun stuff that makes great stories. The open source software movement is developing many fascinating tools like Open Croquet, and better yet, the people developing them are willing to talk. Open source program code means none of the nasty non-disclosure agreements proprietary software developers often insist that journalists sign to get access to sources. You can find an extensive list of current open-source software projects on Wikipedia. Need to learn Flash, Photoshop or some other computer tool and you don’t have the time or budget to fly to events like ONA? will hook you up with all the instructional videos you want, served online in QuickTime-format, for 25 bucks a month. Heck, the last ColdFusion book I bought set me back 50 bucks. And that covered just one program.

Five Steps to Multimedia Reporting: Whoa! Not ready to start learning new software yet? Looking for a basic introduction to this whole “online journalism” thing? Then let Jane Stevens at UC Berkeley walk you through storyboarding, fieldwork, editing and assembling your first online package. Even if you’re an online veteran, click through for a welcome refresher course.

Eyetrack III: If you haven’t looked yet at the latest finding from this annual research project, do yourself and your site a favor and click over to the Poynter Institute’s website.

Researchers recorded the eye movements of several readers as they browsed news websites. They then combined those results with the various pages’ layouts to create “heat maps” showing how well page elements drew the attention of readers’ eyes. Researchers tested several layouts for navigation, advertisements and story copy and described each option’s effectiveness. If you are thinking about a redesign, Eyetrack III provides some real-world data that can help you avoid design mistakes. And even if you are not planning a redesign, a visit to the Eyetrack site might convince you to start thinking about one.

The Northwest Voice: The Bakersfield Californian has assembled one of the more sophisticated attempts at community-developed news content in the industry. Sure, other websites have been publishing news and information from their readers for years. But Mary Lou Fulton’s team also publishes the Northwest Voice as a print publication, freely delivering copies of readers’ news and photos throughout the community every other week. The site provides a hassle-free solution for managing digital photos. No, big sites with custom editorial systems won’t need this. But little guys and bloggers looking for a quick way to get their images online might want to give it a look.

Flickr accepts photo uploads from email and camera phones and allows users to publish photos publicly or only to selected users or groups. The site also generates HTML code that users can cut and paste onto their website or blog. Or you can distribute your photos via RSS. The site imposes a 10 MB upload limit on free accounts but allows you to upload more photos for a monthly fee. Ana Marie Cox’s lunchtime speech on Saturday illuminated the rift that persists between online writers with traditional news media backgrounds and independents who got their start on the Web.

As OJR’s Staci Kramer wrote last week, blogging is both a publishing tool and a social culture. If you don’t blog but are looking to find an example of blogging as culture, visit and click on the “Latest Posts” link. That will take you to a page displaying the most recent entries published from the various writers using LiveJournal’s blogging tool. Prepare yourself for a random collection of thoughts, opinions, personal experiences and sometimes … insight.

Balance LiveJournal’s collection of posts with a visit to Technorati to see its list of the 100 most linked-to blogs on the Web. Technorati’s list, which updates constantly, often includes some of the more popular journalist bloggers, including Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan and 2004 Online Journalism Award winner Dan Gillmor.

Which brings me to… the complete list of 2004 Online Journalism Award winners. The BBC once again captured the top award, but the complete list of finalists in all categories includes many great story ideas, reporting techniques and multimedia tricks that any dedicated web publisher could rip off … er, find inspiration from.

Coming Thursday: More from the ONA conference, with columns from OJR’s Staci Kramer and 2004 Online Journalism Awards Finalist Mark Glaser.