Web Traits

Want to be a successful jurno? Want to start a thriving Webcentric news organization? Want to rejurno your news organization from [print, radio, TV]-centric to one that’s Webcentric?

Here’s a basic formula:

Success = Understanding the Nature of the Web.

This post covers how to think differently about doing journalism in Webworld. Other aspects of doing journalism in Webworld include how to report differently, how to create a structure (Web shells) that integrates content from members of the community the journalist serves and content by the journalist, how to manage that community (which includes members of the community that sell products and services), and how to market this network of news, information and stories. Those topics are (or will be) addressed in other tabs at the top of this blog. With your help, I’ll keep updating them as Webworld keeps changing, seemingly at an Earth-like clip — that’s 67,000 mph (18 miles a second) — as we speed through space and cyberspace.

The Web’s home — the Internet — looks like this. [The nodes are IP addresses; lines represent time; colors are .gov, .edu., .org, etc.]

Image of the Internet, 2005

Image of the Internet, 2005, by Matt Brit

That’s what it looks like. Here are its basic characteristics:

— — — –Participatory!!!!!!

— Contextual or immersive
— Immediate and Continuous

— Solution-oriented

— Personal
— Media choice appropriate to the info or story

BIG difference from TV or print. TV’s characteristics: one-way communication (journalist to audience), moving visuals, action-oriented, immediate, stories are episodic, little context. Reporters jump from one story to another. Print’s characteristices: one-way communication (journalist to readers), still visuals, text-centric, depth with little context (except sports, entertainment and business).

Why is understanding the nature of the Web so important? As people migrate to a new medium for news and information, their expectations of their old news sources change. If their traditional news sources can’t do what the new medium can do, they’ll stop using the old ones. This happened when TV replaced radio as the King of News in the 1950s. And it’s happening now.

If jurnos understand the Web medium, they can take advantage of all that it can do to serve our communities better, do better storytelling, and do a better job at performing our role in democracy.

So…the Web is built on and intertwined with the Internet. The Internet began as a solution-oriented medium — a person typed in a question to search other computers connected to the network, with the expectation of finding an answer, and usually obtaining an answer. So, the Internet’s basic characteristics are that it is interactive, participatory, and solution-oriented. With the advent of the Web and faster connections came an emphasis on visuals and immediacy. With Web 2.0, social networking software spawned organizations like Facebook and MySpace, and massive multiplayer online games (MMO)

What does this mean for jurnos? Let’s take one trait at a time:

— Participatory!!!!!! The community drives a jurno’s network, site, news organization…..whatever it’s called, thelist community is the engine. Its members and what they say, do, show and discuss are the visual and functional centerpiece of the site; they’re not segregated or shunted off to the side. The community interacts on social networks, wikis, forums, community blogs, commenting, aggregating, and games. Jurnos serve their communities. The list at the left shows the major players since the birth of the Web and is a reminder of the Web’s vibrant and vital participatory nature

— Contextual or immersive. The advent of Webworld signaled the end of been-there-done-that journalism. At its core, Webworld requires a contextual, continuous and immediate solution-oriented approach to news and information. That means when jurnos cover a topic, such as education or health, they provide context in the form of databases, resources and backgrounders; continuous and regularly updated coverage; links to the people and organizations involved in an issue or beat…..all wrapped up in a Web shell. Some people call this “immersive”. The site/network/shell becomes the go-to place where members of the community the jurno is serving can experience stories, use information, and obtain answers to their own questions or links to the people and organizations who are solving problems.

— Immediate and Continuous. Most journalists grok “immediate”, in the sense of putting news on the Web first and immediately. “Immediate” also means providing news/information/social networking how and when people want conent. That means packaging content in different formats — short video, audio, photo and text via email or blog or complex multimedia story — over different platforms — laptop or desktop, mobile, podcasting, print, TV, radio.

“Continuous” is also still a challenge. Weaving “immediate” and “continuous” will become an ever more delicate balancing act. That’s because news is moving from being a product (which it’s been since the cereal-company managers replaced journalists at the top of news organizations) to being a process. That means the blog replaces the traditional daily print story format, which is 12- to 15-inches of stand-alone text, and the traditional daily TV story format, the 30- or 60-second standalone video. NOTE: The word “blog” refers to a format, not content. A jurno can use a blog to relate personal information and opinion, or a jurno can use a blog to cover a beat. (Didn’t journalists use the format of a column of type to tell a story OR write a personal column OR an editorial? Blog’s the same thing.) For more details about this, check out the Beatblogging site.

Suffice it to say that jurnos use the blog as their primary vehicle to interact with their community as they’re covering an issue. Besides thewestseattleblog examples on the Beatblogging site, here are two others: WestSeattleblog and RepJ. Jurnos can tell their community that they’re working on covering an issue. They can report in parts, as they obtain the information. They can incorporate information from their community members. They can present the information in some combination of text, video, still photos, audio, or graphics. They can return to the issue at any time, and link to what they and the community have done before. No more artificially stuffing a round narrative peg into the square hole of continuously evolving news and information. There’s a place for iconic narrative storytelling, and it works better in another spot in the Web shell.

— Solution-oriented. This is so critical to jurnos that we may as well tattoo the word onto the insides of our eyelids. Everyone ‘s main mode of interacting with the Web is to ask a question, via the search function, and expect an answer. No other medium works that way. Every aspect of the Web reflects that approach. So, when jurnos report on an issue or cover a topic, we have to go beyond what we’ve been doing in traditional print and TV reporting: pointing out the problem and walking away. Not any more. If we’re pointing out a problem, we must do our part in helping the community solve the problem. That doesn’t mean we jurnos provide the answers. It means we link to resources (people or organizations), to the people who are working on the answers, and to information that provides understanding. AND provide a place where members of the communities we serve to do that themselves. AND we follow through until the community decides on an answer, or they have resolved the problem. AND, in our watchdog role, if that answer or approach isn’t resulting in what the community said it wanted (or there’s corruption or people being victimized, etc), we point that out.

Bob Brown, chief operating officer of Swift Communications, a group of publications in Colorado, Nevada, California and Oregon, recently explained the difference: A fire occurred in an apartment house. The local traditional news organization reported the fire: how it started, how long it burned, how many people were displaced, how many firefighters worked to put it out, what time it happened. The Swift news organization identified and talked with all the people who were displaced, and, through their Web site, linked them with other community members to find them temporary homes. In Webworld, jurnos do both.

Another example: say a jurno looks at domestic violence in a community, and discovers that none of the local battered women’s shelters have Spanish-speaking staff. The Spanish-speaking community makes up 20 percent of the local population. Research shows that domestic violence occurs in every country, and in every ethnic group. So, the jurno finds Spanish-speaking women who have been victims of domestic violence, and, out of desperation, have set up a shelter in a woman’s home. But without enough room for all the Spanish-speaking women and their children who need the service, they turn people away. The traditional print or TV journalist would end there. A jurno begins blogging about it, engages the larger community in finding a solution: a way to serve the Spanish-speaking community. The community responds through the blog, and other media used by the community, to ask for Spanish-speaking volunteers for the shelters. The jurno manages a discussion about how to find funding to hire full-time staff to serve the Spanish-speaking community, examines and provides information about other communities who have faced this issue and solved it, and follows through with their community until the issue is solved, i.e., the Spanish-speaking women who are abused by their spouses or partners can find shelter.

Webcentric storytelling. For complex multi-part features, jurnos and other storytellers in the community use some combination of video, text, audio, still photos, graphics and gaming. These can be iconic stories — they capture the pathos, joy, complexity, humor and/or tragedy of a situation. They live for as long as the issue remains unresolved, and then move into history, or archives. A good example is Luis Sinco’s Marlboro Marine. The reporter or story-teller decides how the parts of the story are best told, to choose the appropriate media within the given resources and time. Many people think video and still photos in slideshows are separate formats; but it seems that, for storytelling, the Web really likes those two formats integrated, i.e., in a single story, the storyteller mixes video and still photos, each medium used and integrated for maximum storytelling impact.

— Personal. There are two aspects to this. First, one-to-one personal communications. The first big app on the Internet was email. That set the standard: one-to-one personal communication, with content that is attached to a person, so that another person can communicate directly with the person who generated or passed on the content, whether that person is a reporter, a mayor, a presidential candidate, a trucker, a contractor or a veterinary assistant.

Personal also includes the ability for a member of the community to personalize news and information. This fits into another reason why it’s so important to construct a Web shell that contains relevant databases, resources and calculators. A jurno may do a story about how industrial pollution affects the nation’s schools, and then provide a way for people to search a database and map to find out how their local schools are being affected, as USA Today did in a special report called “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools”

Jurnos can’t get by with just telling stories. We’ve got to provide useful information that members of the community can personalize. On a traffic site, that could include a commute calculator (is riding the subway or bus cheaper when gas hits $3.00 a gallon?), a trip planner, and gas-prices map. On a health site, it could include quizzes, fitness calculators, and a ratings system for physicians. On a growth and development site, it includes a game in which people can assess the community consequences of building a 1,000-home development, or adding 1,000 homes by building in numerous empty lots in the city.

— Media choice appropriate to the info or story, emphasis on visual. Last but not least, jurnos and community members have the choice of using any medium on the Web. The best approach is to figure out which medium or media that best tells the stories or parlays the information or presents the news. Generally speaking: To explain how something works, for example, a graphic might work best. To linger with the emotion of a moment, still photos and audio. To show action, video works best. Text can be short, fast and sweet (Twitter), for history, work in blocks in a graphic, and, at this point, is the main communications medium in blogs.

So how are jurnos embracing the Web’s unique traits?

Generally speaking, the beats that have morphed fairly successfully to the Web are sports, business, especially technology, and entertainment. The CBSSports.com family of sports sites provides a good example of how one organization bought sites to build a large network that uses all the characteristics of the Web medium to provide an immersive experience for its high school and college sports communities.

— CSTV, which was bought by CBS Sports in 2006, produces 215 college and university athletic sites, such as the University of Missouri Tigers and the University of Kansas Jayhawks. Although you can still see the “cstv” tucked into many college athletic sites urls, such as the Jayhawks, CSTV’s been absorbed into CBSSports.

Max Preps, which was founded as an independent site in Cameron Park, California, covers high schools sports in high schools in every state in the nation. The bulk of the content is sports scores, data, stills and video sent in by participating high school coaches, players and students. It was bought by CBS Sports in 2007.

TruPreps provides a way for high school athletes to showcase themselves and to build social networks with other athletes. Athletes can pull stats directly from Max Preps to build their profiles.

— The social networking is covered by the Fantasy sports section, and Fans Only, which CBSSports turned into its “community” section. People can set up blogs, participate in forums, and create groups. Bloggers operate under a peer-rating system.

UWire features stories, including sports stories, from college news organizations.

4 Responses

  1. […] to be a successful jurno?” reads the intro to ReJurno’s “Web Traits” tab. “Want to start a thriving Webcentric news organization? Want to rejurno your news […]

  2. I agree with everything that was posted in this blog, I’m a loyal reader so please keep updating so frequently!

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