What does the digital journalism industry want right now?
It wants journalists who can do a little coding, do some data scraping and parse the meaning of website analytics, but do it all as part of their storytelling mission. (UT app development class may help you accomplish this mission, as a journalism student, I felt grateful that I took this class.) That’s one of the main things I learned at the International Symposium for Online Journalism last week.
Mobile: In its various forms, has taken over as the dominant means for consuming news, but the industry seems split about whether native apps are still useful or whether the focus should be on websites with responsive designs that adapt for all platforms.
Education: There was hand wringing over whether J schools are keeping up with the need to teach technology skills, particularly in the areas of data visualization and coding skills. There was also some criticism of the “teaching hospital” idea for reforming journalism education, in which schools would essentially produce a lot of content and compete with but also supplement professional media.
The argument was that teaching hospitals work for doctors where there’s plenty of money sloshing around and the students come in with a college degree, but probably won’t work in the much poorer, less prepared and less committed world of undergraduate journalism education.
One speaker talked about instead adopting an “entrepreneurial” orientation, but he didn’t mean creating mini-businesses. Instead, the idea was that an entrepreneurial approach would have students questioning old methods and approaches and trying to come up with solutions that fit the times.
Advertising: There are a lot of new ideas being tested to bring new advertising dollars into newsrooms, most of them involving their online content.
These ideas fall into two camps. One is to take advantage of the news “brand” to sell products ranging from events (where sponsors pay to get before readers) to consulting services. Another approach, embraced by a variety of speakers, was to adopt sponsored content or “native” ads that echo the look and feel of the content. It all sounds great but success or failure depends on subtleties such as exactly how seamlessly these ads mesh with the expectations of readers.
Where the jobs are? A variety of speakers said variations on the following: They’re hiring, but mostly nerds. They said they want people who can find, clean and present data-centric stories, either in a conventional print form, visually through data visualizations, or both. That doesn’t mean the person has to be able to code everything from scratch, but they at least have to know the lingo so they can work as part of a team without asking the impossible.
Engagement: National Public Radio’s Andy Carvin, a self-described “informational DJ,” who is probably more engaged with his audience via Twitter than any other journalist going, had this to say: “I don’t mean engagement like encouraging them to ‘like’ us on Facebook or click the retweet button. That is not engagement.”
That pretty much summed up the sentiment, too many news organizations are thinking of “engagement” as just getting people to click “like” buttons, and then quickly trying to tabulate the ROI on their efforts. Most speakers agreed that news outlets needed to stop expecting any quantifiable return on these efforts but should work hard to find ways to credit and use audience-offered content. News organizations, in other words, are takers but not givers when it comes to engagement, and that’s got to end.