Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

Life’s a Derailment: On Train Wrecks, Social Media and Language

May 20, 2013

Metro North pass from New Haven to New York.

Metro North pass from New Haven to New York.

Last week’s train wreck in Bridgeport, Conn. literally and figuratively hit close to home. Since moving to Hartford last August, I’ve become a de facto part time New Yorker. I’ve probably ridden the New Haven to Grand Central Terminal Metro-North line and back close to 40 times. In fact, I took that same Metro North line into The City on Thursday afternoon, about 24 hours before the two trains collided. If a colleague from Georgia had not invited me to a Yankees game on Saturday I could have just as easily been on one of the trains that got derailed. As it was, the only thing that got derailed were my return plans. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share a few observations from my 80 hours in New York this past weekend.

SLOMO: There are different cute acronmyns like “SLOMO” to describe the current era of (news?) media as one that should focus on Social, Local and Mobile. This focus bore out during the train crash. I first learned of news of the Connecticut train collision on Friday afternoon through a push notification to my iPhone through my Associated Press (AP) Mobile APP. One of the ways journalists use social media is to find local sources for a given topic. Over the weekend, I saw numerous tweets from my local newspaper, the Hartford Courant, looking for Connecticut residents who regularly commute to New York for work willing to speak with a reporter for a story he was working on. I first learned about cancellations in train service from New York to New Haven (and all the way to Boston) through Metro North’s Twitter account (it was a retweet of an Amtrak announcement). Social? Check. Local? Check. Mobile? Check.

User-Generated Content: A group of teenagers were skateboarding at the nearby Rampage skateboard park when the two trains collided. They skated to the scene of the wreck and recorded the powerful footage of the crash you see below (warning: foul language). Many news outlets reported and linked to this footage, as is common to supplement traditional reporting with so-called user-generated content (UGC), particularly for breaking news stories.

Language and Word Choice Matters: My first 48 hours in New York were wonderful. I went to an excellent panel discussion on excellence in television at the Paley Center, reconnected with former students and colleagues from the University of Georgia, had drinks with my favorite Bloomberg reporter and explored new areas of the city in three Boroughs (walked the High Line in Manhattan, visited the Museum of Moving Images in Queens and took in the sunset at DUMBO in Brooklyn). The rest of the weekend went poorly. My friend’s flight got delayed so I went to the Yankees game solo. The Friday derailment left me semi-stranded and scrambling to find a way home. This meant I had to miss graduation at the University of Hartford on Sunday so I was deprived seeing my students’ crowning achievement and celebrating a wonderful year with colleagues. And it rained all day Sunday. When people asked how my weekend went, I found myself starting to respond with a phrase like “oh, it was a train wreck.” Or “it was a disaster.” But in light of an actual disaster of a train wreck, such common hyperbole that we use in our everyday language seems silly and ridiculous. The reality is I just had a bad day. Plain and simple.

Roll with the Punches: Even the best laid plans can go to waste. I took an Amtrak train from Hartford to New Haven and then hopped onto Metro North. After the train wreck (the real one), I was no longer able to get back to New Haven on Sunday to catch my return trip on Amtrak back to Hartford. No graduation for me. I was one of the hundreds? thousands? of folks in New York whose means out of the city were disrupted. I had to scramble to get a late bus back to Hartford. My Georgia colleague’s flight to New York got delayed so he had to miss the Yankees game. As work was being done on the Subway stop where I was staying, I had to figure out how to navigate the New York subway system. I didn’t see everyone I wanted to. I didn’t do everything I wanted to do. But in the end that’s life. Life is full of tiny derailments. We laugh about it. Smile about it. Find a new way home. And move on.

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Presenting on a Grand Stage

April 26, 2013

After presenting at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last week, I wanted to share some takeaways/tips on how academics can make a more engaging presentation (particularly on a grand stage like ISOJ). I could easily title this blog post “Presentation Tips (Do What I Say, Not What I Did).”

ISOJ brings together some of the world’s leading journalists, news execs, journalism scholars and students. For the most part, the non-academics delivered far more engaging, dynamic memorable presentations than the academics (myself included). Academics are accustomed to presenting research to a small group of peers deeply entrenched in a core subject area. ISOJ is a whole different ballgame. The crowd is large (350+ in attendance, plus thousands more watching on two livestreams- one in English, one in Spanish). The audience is diverse (people from 30 different countries were present and a mix of different professions as previously noted). The coverage is intense (expect to be tweeted, recorded, blogged about and so forth).

Academics who get the privilege of presenting on this grand stage (acceptance rates are low so it truly is an honor to be selected) should heed the following advice, IMHO:
 
1)Forget the standard academic format. Yes, you’ll want to talk about the background, your research questions and what your findings are, but doing so shouldn’t follow the standard cookie cutter approach that non-academics either don’t understand or eyes glaze over at the verbose language.
 
2)Own the Stage: If you’re like me, you’re used to hiding behind the podium. The podium is a place to see the complex underpinnings of the research you’re describing, or place notes/talking points. Most of the non-academics owned the stage. They stood out front and center with the big screen behind them, much like you often find at a TED talk.

Make Like Don Draper: Channel your inner "Mad Men" when making a presentation. The fictional ad man is brilliant at making a pitch.

Make Like Don Draper: Channel your inner “Mad Men” when making a presentation. The fictional ad man is brilliant at making a pitch.

 
3)Be Tweetable. Have at least one “killer quote” that’s short, memorable and likely to be tweeted- and shared (getting your message to a wider audience).

David Ho of The Wall Street Journal had at least two such moments:

“The first step in thinking mobile first is don’t think mobile last,” he said.

 “The mouse is dead,” he also declared

Longtime Guardian staffer Emily Bell made a great NBA analogy for journalism, declaring “The power has gone from the league to the franchise to the individual.”

Deseret Media CEO Clark Gilbert had a great line about disruption rendering really smart people completely incapable.

4)Think Visually. Graphics and visual imaging tell a story and are more compelling and engaging than text-heavy slides (we all know not to use a bunch of texts but the standard academic study privileges findings).
 
5)Know Your Audience: A typical academic conference is to a small group of scholarly peers that know the subject you’re talking about. At ISOJ you have a mix of students, scholars, journalists and managers from industry and the academy. Keep your language simple and stay on message. Tell a cohesive story in whatever short amount of time you have to do so.
 
6)Show Passion and Personality: Yes, we’re discussing serious matters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also have fun in doing so. The Washington Post’s Joey Marburger explained how the Tardis time machine from the long-running television series Doctor Who is an example of how mobile devices connect people to the rest. Even Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, responded to a question by saying “Whoomp There It Is” (which naturally prompted a tweet with a link to the Tag Team video). Don’t be afraid to use humor in your talk or to show a lighter, more personable side.

In looking back at the video of my presentation, I #fail(ed) to do most of these. After two presentations at ISOJ, I’m confident that the third time will be the charm.  I look forward to the next time I get the opportunity to take the stage in Austin and some stellar presentations from ISOJ2014.

“Learning and leaving footprints:” on Rascals & Pals

January 15, 2012

In every class I have taught since coming to grad school, I have paid tribute on the first day to the UNC journalism professors who inspired me to want to teach journalism.

Jim Shumaker.

Chuck Stone.

Raleigh Mann.

Now, to this list of lions I will add the name of a truly legendary University of Georgia journalism professor.  This man not only reaffirmed my commitment to the calling to teach, but served as a model for what I should strive to become both in and out of the classroom.

Conrad Fink.

Fink, the former foreign correspondent and newspaper executive turned J-school icon, died Saturday after a courageous 20-year battle with prostate cancer.

As I and the rest of the Grady College family mourn the loss of Professor Fink, I am proud to count myself among the legions of Finkites or Finksters whose career was touched by a man whose stature and reputation (like his signature bushy eyebrows) seemed larger than life.

Fink was a mentor, a colleague and a friend.  Fink was and in many ways still is the heart and soul of Grady College.

One of the last occassions I saw Professor Fink,  in his office about a month ago, he was reflective of his life’s work.  He said that he felt fortunate to have had not one, but two, long, successful meaningful careers.  

Fink was the consummate journalist.  I’ve never met a man or woman who loved or cared for the newspaper industry and journalism profession as much or as deeply as Fink did.

 But teaching was Fink’s true calling and where he left his greatest mark.

Look at what Fink wrote in his teaching statement, included in the application material for one of the University system’s highest teaching honors:

For although as a journalist I touched thousands–millions, perhaps, on big stories I covered–my touch was fleeting, the impressions I left soon were washed over by bigger stories that always came rolling along.

In teaching, I found, my touch could be formative, truly meaningful, truly lasting. And isn’t that–learning and leaving footprints–what a creative, rewarding life should be all about?

Fink definitely lived a creative, rewarding life and left behind meaningful footprints. Fink’s impact has been seen by the “rascals” and “pals” he left behind.  There have been many blog posts, newspaper articles, columns, tweets and Facebook rememberances written and shared by Fink’s students, colleagues and friends.

Fink’s reach was far.  Fink affectionately called his students “rascals.”  In this oral history project interview (around the 31:17-33 minute mark on the audio file available by clicking “listen to the full interview” link above the embedded video– I’d recommend the listen, Fink’s warmth and humor comes across in this clip), Fink tells the students, “I’m on a mission to convert rascals to journalists.”

Mission accomplished, pal.

Social media in journalism

September 22, 2011

Here’s the slides from my presentation on social media in journalism that I delivered this afternoon at the Georgia Scholastic Press Association annual conference. Enjoy!

Stories From and For “Followers” and “Friends”

Covering Tragedy: Remembering 9/11

September 11, 2011

The newsroom’s  tiny television sat an arm’s length away from my desk in the bureau office of Durham’s (N.C.) daily newspaper.  The TV was rarely on during the week, unless there was breaking news worth monitoring.  Noise was common elsewhere in the office, which had been converted from a fast food restaurant.  As a part time reporter months removed from college, I had become accustomed to working with loud sounds- particularly from the police scanner that stayed on 24/7 – all around me.  But the TV remained silent.

That changed on Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked America.  As arguably the biggest news story of my career unfolded, as the world as we had known it was coming to an end, the television sprung to life.  Reporters crowded around my desk to watch news updates from the TV, which was suddenly and steadfastly on.  The editor cranked up the volume so she  could hear it through her glass office dubbed the “fish bowl.”  The TV was a constant on this day of covering tragedy.  I’ll  never forget that  television nor what I  wrote on that date.

As I tried to make  sense of the first foreign attack on American soil in my lifetime, to sort through our coverage for the next day’s special edition, and to contact friends in New York and Washington, D.C. to see if they were safe, I wrote.  As the TV so close to me blared reports of some Muslim group called  al-Qaeda  being behind the attacks and replayed those horrific images of the  planes  hitting the Twin Towers, I wrote.  I’ll never  forget the story  I told.  With images of death and destruction all around me, I wrote of …

love.

Yes, love.  The paper had a weekly “Generations” page that primarily catered to senior citizens living in Chapel Hill, N.C., which in addition to being the home of the University of North Carolina is also a popular  destination for retirees with several affluent retirement communities to cater to the elderly from all walks of life.  Deadlines for the page were pushed up earlier than usual to get the routine pages designed and out of the way so we could focus exclusively on our Sept. 11 coverage.

So, as news continued to filter in about the event that  we now simply call “9/11,”  I wrote an evergreen feature about an elderly couple who met at Carol Woods Retirement Center, fell in love and planned to wed one another.  Both had lost previous spouses.  They not only helped each other overcome the loneliness and sorrow at the loss of a longtime spouse, but kindled a romance in the process. The story of a retirement center wedding was certainly a heartwarming one.

And one incredibly difficult to write amid reports of terrorism and American blood spilled.

Now, I would go onto cover many local angles to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – the safety and whereabouts of UNC students in study abroad programs in Washington and New York, memorials held on the UNC campus, peace rallies from area Muslims, stories on area residents with missing relatives, ways local governments responded to the attacks, how communities rallied to send money and care packages to those in need, how area firemen and police officers aided their New York colleagues- but on September 11, 2001,  unlike most of my colleagues, I wrote a joyous story.

A decade later, journalists are now telling stirring stories of remembrance– whether it be sorrow or  joy, of war or of peace, of loss and maybe even love.  In many ways, a story of love is the perfect antithesis to a terrorist act driven by hate.

How journalism is like NASCAR

September 7, 2011

I went to my first NASCAR race on Sunday in Atlanta.  While the Advocare 500 did not take place as planned, I walked away from the experience with a few takeaways of how the journalism profession is a little bit like NASCAR (or vice versa):

The race to be first.  The aim of every race car driver is, or at least should be, to win the race.  This means finishing first.  As fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby put it in the film “Talladega Nights” “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”  Reporters, meanwhile, have long prized being the first to a story.  Outlets love to claim credit for “breaking the news” just as drivers love to turn circles in Victory Lane.

Delays are inevitable.  Even the best made plans can go to waste.  Sometimes, a reporter will work on a nice feature package that is set to run on Sunday.   Then, hard news breaks, whether it is a natural disaster or man’s making, and all bets are off.  The story is bumped to later in the week to make room for the breaking news coverage.  In this case, the race was scheduled for Sunday but because of rain and storm remnants from Tropical Storm Lee on Sunday and Monday, the race was delayed until Tuesday, only the second Tuesday race in 30 years.  The race outcome- Jeff Gordon’s 85th win- is the equivalent of a nice feature story (feature articles on anniversaries and milestones are commonplace).

Know your audience.   Journalists write for a specific audience, whether that be for the mainstream masses of a daily newspaper, the niche audience of middle-aged men for a sports theme magazine or perhaps young women for a celebrity gossip blog.  Audience matters.  While you want to appeal to your base, you also want to grow your readership by appealing to new audiences.  This is the same for NASCAR.  NASCAR has long had a reputation for having “redneck” Southern fans.  While I certainly saw many instances of this stereotype on display in Atlanta, I also saw many other faces in the stands, including a Muslim family, that definitely defy the stereotype.  The point is that NASCAR began with a niche following but has broadened its appeal to the masses.  With 100,000 fans in attendance, everyone at the track had a story to tell about their NASCAR fandom.

Be prepared.  As a journalist, you should have that Scouts’ mentality and always be prepared to cover a story in a moment’s notice.  This means having pen and paper on you (and in this day and age, a smartphone, video camera and audio recording device nearby).  Seasoned vets who have covered homicides and natural disasters know that having a change of clothes at the ready  is also a good idea.  With rain expected for the race, we took a change of clothes, raincoat and bags to the track.  Unlike most sports, NASCAR actually allows you to bring food and drink into the stands.  My group stocked up on water, soda, pizza, sandwiches and snacks for the occassion.

Patience is a virtue.  Reporting is hard work and the best stories take time to develop.  Good journalists must be patient, while also tenacious in pursuing leads and making revisions before they’ll ever see the byline for their efforts.  NASCAR, best as I can tell, involves a lot of patience. And sitting. And waiting.  We sat for about 2 1/2 hours on Sunday night for a race that never came.  Then, we sat in traffic to head home.  But we still had a fun time.

Sponsorships are important.   Advertising helps sustain journalism and pays the bills for quality reporting at most major media outlets.  Sponsorships pay the bills for the race teams, and the track represents a giant moving advertising billboard.  There goes the Lowe’s 48 car!  Look it’s the Amp Energy  88 car.

Do your homework.  Journalists have to do their homework.  This means doing some background research before conducting an interview or covering an event so the journalist has a basic understanding of the subject matter he or she is writing about.  NASCAR fans also need to be informed to truly understand what’s taking place on the track. Sure, you could show up and root for whatever sponsor you like or what car looks cool, but you’d be missing out on important storylines, such as the race to capture the final spots for the Chase, an understanding of how the points standings work, or that the top two finishers were Hendricks Motorsports’ teammates.

And finally,

Passion is important.  The best journalists are passionate about what they do.  This same type of passion for a profession runs deep among many involved in the sport, from the pit crew to the crew chief to the drivers and owners.  NASCAR fans are loyal and passionate about their sport, just as news junkies are passionate about following efforts of top journalists.

 

 

 

SoCon11 Recap 2: The tablet takeover

February 5, 2011

The second breakout session I attended was led by James Harris, co-founder of Elemental Interactive and focused more or less on the social sharing of news content.

According to Harris, 2011 will be “The Year of The Tablet” as about 30 new makes and models flood the marketplace, joining the likes of the iPad.  According to a Forrester study, one-third of all U.S. online customers will own a tablet computer by 2015.  Harris believes that the future of all media will be digital, expertly curated and highly personalized. To Harris, the combination of social magazines and tablet computers leads to a state of reading Nirvana.  He said that backward-looking, month-old printed mail magazine subscriptions will be rendered close to useless.

Harris said that a magazine in today’s day and age should be real time, current and fresh. He considers tablet (at this point really iPad) apps Flud, Flipboard and Newsmix as social browsers (I would add OnGo News to this list) and contends that social browsing allows us to rethink the magazine and newspaper formats.

I agree with the basic premise that Harris lays out about the significance and spread of socially curated news content, as well as the emergence of tablet computers in the coming year.  My overall impression of this session, however, was mixed.

For starters, there was much debate and disagreement over what a magazine is.  I chimed in that while there are standard conventions associated with design of newspapers, magazines and newsmagazines there are also standard conventions associated with the new platform that is a tablet.  The tablet is literally a hands-on device.  The ability to touch, swipe, move and shake adds a much more value-added user experience to the consumption of news.  Murdoch’s The Daily, although only days in its infancy, is a perfect example of combining traditional news conventions with the conventions of the iPad platform.  When it comes to interactivity, The Daily offers an immersive hands-on news consumption experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen or held before.  Simply put, it’s awesome.

The other issue I have about this session is I feel the economics of such “social browsers” was glossed over.  An audience member asked how do you pay for social news.  There wasn’t really a good answer.  But as I’ve written on here before, economics are important.  The Daily is an important first-mover game-changer but I doubt others will be able to replicate its success as what I believe will be a financially-viable iPad-only publication. When discussing the economics of these social curation magazines, there are two points to keep in mind:

1)Legacy media are already getting in on this game.  OnGo News is a joint collaboration of The Times Co., Washington Post Co. and Gannett, aka The Big Boys of News.  The New York Times will soon launch News.Me, their social news answer to Murdoch’s The Daily.  (Harris focused much of his talk on Flipboard).

2)Paywalls will fundamentally change social curation.  Third-party devices like Flipboard effectively poach content from other sources.  In some instances, these are partnerships with willing media partners.  In other instances, it is not.  Once content from The New York Times goes behind a paywall, it will be incredibly difficult if not impossible to socially curate and share that content on a device like Flipboard.  Social curation as we know it is predicated on the ease of disseminating online content that is presently free.  Once you have to pay for that content (and all indications are that you will have to increasingly pay for more and more of the online content we love) , the game changes.  Once the online media eco-system shifts from free to fee, you need platforms, devices and a workable business model that will support the drastic change from the status quo.

Of course, that is an entirely different debate and one  in which the industry does not agree.  I continue to advocate for micropayments, specifically in the modified form I co-developed in the Graybeal & Hayes’ “Modified News Micropayment Model.”  (in press in The International Journal on Media Management).

I welcome discussion on these points.  Thanks to James Harris for sharing his knowledge and starting the debate at SoCon11.

SoCon11 Recap 1: Recapturing the journalism

February 5, 2011

As far as journalism goes, CNN’s Victor Hernandez was the star of the just completed social networking conference known as SoCon. 

SoCon11 was sponsored by Kennessaw State University’s Center for Sustainable Journalism. Despite a journalism center hosting what it billed as the southeast’s premier social networking conference, journalism has never been a central focus best I can tell.  The majority of attendees seem interested in social media marketing, public relations, advertising, entrepreneurship, startups and business ventures (big and small). So, it was refreshing to have a journalist from one of the biggest distributors of television news in our own backyard take center stage.

Hernandez was a member of the keynote panel, and delivered a breakout session about “platform agnostic” journalistic storytelling.  I found myself nodding in agreement with what he said more often than not.  As I tweeted, I wish that all of my News Editing students could hear Hernandez’ talk. They will have the opportunity to do so when he is a speaker at the ICONN conference taking place in Athens in March (rescheduled from January because of the snowpocalypse).

Hernandez reaffirmed that Grady’s journalism department  is on the right track with its curriculum. His philosophy about the changing nature of reporting the news is what we preach in News Editing.  The tools his “All Platform Journalists (APJ)’s”  use are what we teach.  As a journalism instructor, it’s nice to know we’re so in tune and aligned with industry practices.  As journalism changes, we change with it.

A few highlights from Hernandez’ session taken mostly from my live-tweets:

-70% of the “platform agnostic” story content produced by Hernandez’ team of “All Platform Journalists” (APJ’s) is aimed at digital.

-Hernandez’ reporters use Kodak zi8 cameras (the exact same as we use in News Editing at Grady)

-Hernandez said that journalists need to know Final Cut Pro, calling it the gold standard of video editing software used in journalism today. “It is an amazing skill to have and will pay back in spades,” Hernandez said. All journalism jobs will require Final Cut skills in the future, Hernandez said. (We teach the very basics of Final Cut in the News Editing course through Digital Literacy videos).

-Social networks and smartphones are “journo’s bff’s” according to Hernandez. “I can’t say enough about (the importance of) social networks,” he said (talk about knowing your audience haha).

-Journalists should come up with different ways to tell stories and avoid the “zombie effect” of going through the motions to tell the same tired-old cliched story that everyone else is offering. (We stress the fundamentals of journalism as storytelling at Grady).

In my department, Mark Johnson gets all the credit for moving Grady forward with its teaching and technology. He advocated the Kodak zi8’s and teaching of Final Cut and designed an entire digital literacy series of “how-to” videos that we’ve incorporated into the redesigned News Editing course.

Mark is a forward-thinking evangelical journalism educator, just as Hernandez is a forward-thinking evangelical journalism practitioner. Both deserve kudos and respect for charting a new path for journalists in the age of social media.

CNN's Victor Hernandez has the right philosophy about creating journalistic content across multiple platforms.

Who to Watch in 2011

January 6, 2011

“Innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have become buzz words that are loosely jockeyed about when describing the changing nature of journalism.  You know, you’ll hear “newspapers are horrible innovators” on one side of the coin or “journalists need to develop an entrepreneurial spirit” on the other.  These words often appear again and again on both sides of the digital media debate.  The need for innovation, the need for experimentation among news organizations and traditional legacy media is clear; just as evident is the desire to develop new ways of thinking among would-be startups.  With that in mind, I wanted to provide a list of a few people and organizations worth watching this year for their efforts in social media, news, or digital content.  Some are familiar names and faces from conferences I’ve attended, while others are people I’ve never met. These efforts in entrepreneurship and innovation are worth keeping an eye on in 2011.  Any of these have the potential to be game -changers in a big way:

  • Ingmar Miedema: The Dutch businessman contacted Jameson Hayes and I about our Modified News Micropayment Model.  We’ve been in discussions with him about a number of ventures, including an effort to launch the model.  You’ll want to keep an eye on the Netherlands and Europe as Ingmar’s innovative platform comes alive this year.
  • CarrotPay: This Hong Kong-based company also has a “digital wallet” type technology that would enable many aspects of our model to work.  Ricky Rand’s company has been hard at work trying to get news organizations to use his innovative (there’s that word again!) software.
  • Jim Moroney & the Dallas Morning News:  We first heard Moroney speak at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last year. He said that newspapers must do something differently than the status quo and figure out ways to monetize content. The turn of the year brought action as Moroney unveiled new digital pricing structures for the Dallas Morning News.
  • Susanne Rust & HearSay: This Knight Fellow’s project is a social news game that combines points and a rewards system for news consumption on mobile devices, sort of a Foursquare of news.  Aside from a clear way to monetize the content, in many ways this platform would be a ripe avenue to launch the mobile modified news micropayment model we called for in our original paper (note: this opens a PDF).
  • Pinyadda: We really look forward to seeing what this Boston start-up has to offer because the concept of a personalized social news platform really resonates with myself and my micropayment co-author.  This site seems to harness many of the drivers of our model so we hope it is successful.
  • Krissy Clark: Another 2010 Knight Fellow, who studied the digital humanities during her time at Stanford and launched projects surrounding location aware storytelling.  As a former journalist, I love the use of social media to tell journalistic stories and the audacity that “you can click on the world.” Her website is storieseverywhere.org.
  • New York Times:  As the “The Gray Lady” moves its online content behind paywalls, the rest of the news industry will be watching and awaiting the results. I firmly believe that the Times’ effort to charge for content will succeed. Research I did with another University of Georgia colleague, Amy Sindik, found that Millennials were more likely to pay for the Times online than any other newspaper we studied (the Sindik & Graybeal article is in press in the Journal of Media Business Studies).  The Times‘ has a strong enough brand and reputation for quality journalism with content you simply cannot get anywhere else. These are factors that will influence consumers’ willingness to pay for digital content. Nevertheless, the Times experiment could be a harbinger for the rest of the industry considering paywalls and paid content strategies.
  • PayPal: The largest site for electronic commerce has added micropayments and partnered with Facebook. This could go a long way in increasing the popularity and use of micropayments.
  • Other Knight Fellows:  Quite a few of the 2010 Knight Fellows worked on projects with synergies to our work. John Duncan developed audionewspaper.com as an effort to find a way to get people to pay for content, chiefly radio news reports. Andrew Finlayson studied mobile, video, social media and the Semantic web and chronicled his search for a new viable business model on adigitaljournalist.com, while Gabriel Sama’s Thinking Strategically slides (note: links to a PDF) are worth taking a look at (his “DNA of a publication” on slides 43 and 44 is spot on).  We have a hunch that some of these Fellows’ efforts will prove fruitful and that more could come to fruition as a result. We look forward to seeing what else they accomplish and produce in the digital media, journalism and social media realms.
  • John Paton: The CEO of the Journal Register Group has been leading the digital-first charge for newspapers.  Like Moroney, we saw Paton speak at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last year.  He’s an energizing force in an industry often assailed for inertia, a leader not afraid to make sweeping changes. He’s had success with his in 2010 and will be worth following to see if he can duplicate his successes in 2011.

There are many other great minds, dynamic personalities and driven companies hard at work whose efforts could radically alter the Internet and our online media consumption habits as we know them. I, for one, am excited about what changes are in store in 2011, whether they originate from one of the above or not. I look forward to seeing what the new year has in store for social media, journalism and paid digital content strategies. Feel free to join in the conversation and add to the list.

On food, journalism, media and sharing

January 1, 2011

Homemade New Year's Eve meal: apple hash from Rachael Ray, Tofurky vegetarian roast and gravy with sweet potatoes, carrots and onions; Mexican cornbread and Hoppin' John from Mrs. Wilkes' cookbook and sweet tea. Simple photo snapped on my iPhone.

I am a foodie.  Even though for two years I’ve had a restrictive pescetarian diet (I’ll eat fish and veggies but no meat or chicken), I still enjoy eating a nice meal at a fine dining restaurant (particularly when I go to Vegas, which over the years has become a gourmet food-lover’s paradise).  I enjoy perusing the cook books friends and family members have given me over the years and experimenting with new recipes and dishes.  I love sharing about my food adventures and reading about others’ culinary delights. Over the holidays, I’ve done quite a bit of cooking, reading and of course, eating.  I’ve also had time to reflect on the shifting nature of how we write, read and share about what we eat. I wanted to write a short post about this topic. So, here it goes.

A lot has changed in the 6 years since I put down my critic’s pen as one of four reporters on the The Herald-Sun’s staff fortunate enough to write the weekly restaurant review. We strictly adhered to the Association of Food Journalists’ critics guidelines which meant we went anonymously, we went more than once and the paper always picked up the tab. Since we covered the Triangle region, we always had to consult with each other to make sure we had geographic balance and ethnic cuisine balance from week to week (we wouldn’t want, for example, 4 straight Chapel Hill restaurant reviews or 4 straight articles about barbecue joints).  I loved the gig, which I got because of my love for food and having a really cool mentor who offered me the job after he reliqinquished it.  I probably wrote a few dozen reviews over the course of about three years serving as a food critic. I’ve been home for the holidays visiting my parents and we’ve gone to two of the restaurants I once reviewed.  One of the neat perks of the job is seeing your reviews framed on the restaurant walls, even years later.  Bali Hai even has a link to my review on their home page to this day still.

I always tell people I garnered more feedback as a food critic than I did as a local government reporter, which is true.  I always found it a little unsettling that readers got more upset if you wrote something bad about their favorite restaurant than writing about a matter that could directly impact their health and well being, such as a zoning decision to allow a new potentially negative business or voting to raise property taxes.  People are passionate about food, however.  I was a food critic before the Food Network made celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay or Paula Deen household names.  I was a food critic before cooking shows were commonplace on network, cable and syndicated television.  I was a food critic before reality television shows like Top Chef (my personal fave) took us behind the scenes of restaurants and cooking.  In short, I was a food critic before anyone could be a food critic and writing about food was chic.

Fast forward to the present. Now, through the proliferation of social media, anyone can blog about, tweet about, and converse about food, cooking and diet.  I couldn’t be happier about the change.  There’s still a place for the privileged few media elites to write restaurant reviews. In major cities like New York or Los Angeles, a critic’s review can make or break a new venture among a crowded, cut-throat culinary scene.  In Atlanta, I still read reviews from the AJC or Creative Loafing, but I also look for advice from fellow users on Urbanspoon.

Shrimp cacciatore from Casa Carbone, a longtime, popular Italian restaurant in Raleigh, N.C..

In the past two weeks, I’ve cooked recipes I found through Twitter (including this veggie recipe one of my former students shared), saw on Rachael Ray’s television show, and got from old fashioned print cookbooks (Mrs. Wilkes, Paula Deen, Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet and a few others).  I also downloaded my first e-reader cookbook using the Kindle app and bought Mario Batali’s interactive iPad app, which has videos to go along with its recipes.  I follow Twitter accounts of some of my favorite celebrity food personalities like Padma Lakshi and Tom Collichio of Top Chef and the tweets of local restaurants I frequent.  I enjoy reading the food blogs that some of my former students created for class, particularly Cody Thompson’s blog and Remy Thurston’s Beats and Carrots (class assignment) and Thurst 4 Food.  I snap pics of dishes I make or dine on and post to Twitter. I salivate at the delicious meals enjoyed by my friend and followers who do the same.

So much has changed in such a short amount of time.  As a critic, anonymity was extremely valued.  Students like Cody and Remy, however, put themselves front and center. There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, in some ways it’s refreshing to see their passion and personality come across on the cyberpages of their blogs.  Cooking, and eating, are both labors of love that should be shared.  Now, thanks to simple tools and technologies, anyone can be a cook.  Anyone can be a critic. Anyone can easily share in that conversation.  As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.

Happy cooking and bon appetit!