But now I’m wondering if what I consider “reporting” is just a form of aggregating, of skimming, of lifting the best parts of a scientist’s work and repurposing it for my own interests. These scientists have spent many, many years doing research, much of it at the very edge of the knowable, where finding a new piece of solid data is a laborious process that may require long nights at the computer or the laboratory bench, or mulling a bust of Galileo, and this work has to be slotted among other obligations, including grant applications, peer-reviewing papers, teaching, advising graduate students, holding office hours, serving on faculty committees and schmoozing at the faculty club. And here I am calling up and saying: “Give me the fruit of your mental labors.” Asking for the ripest fruit, as it were. Asking not just for information but for wisdom. Give it to me! For free. And they did, because they always do, because we have a system of sorts.
Some degree of perfectionism turns out to be good for business, and absolute perfectionism can prevent great journalism from ever happening at all. Journalists haven’t found a magic answer—the Knight Foundation just issued a $320,000 grant to support development of software that determines if viral videos are real. And the audience remains uncertain about what standards to apply: Twitter addicts are far more forgiving of mistakes than, say, subscribers to print newspapers, or readers of The New Yorker.
In every newsroom I visited, The New Yorker’s iconic fact-checking system was mentioned, not so much as an ideal, but more like an impossible standard that no mere mortals could reach. Despite the difficult advertising climate, The New Yorker still employs full-time staff checkers to verify every assertion in each piece. For an article I wrote last year, the magazine assigned two checkers who devoted much of their time to the story for more than five months. Each set of checks opened new avenues for reporting, immensely strengthening the story. From the perspective of a newspaper guy, the experience seemed to take place on a different planet from where I ordinarily live.
In one of the sessions at DJ@DJ, a Wall Street Journal training course which I dropped into when I was at head office in New York last week, Neal Mann talked through developments in mobile at the Journal and beyond.
Neal, who is multimedia innovations editor (and @fieldproducer on Twitter), pointed out this WSJ video on how mobile phone consumption is changing journalism (you’ll see a few familiar faces there).
A former Sky News field producer, Neal may have trained in creating TV packages – which he said haven’t changed in format in 50 years – but is now rethinking video with mobile in mind.
The digital news industry has long been accustomed to creating web-native video, framing and cutting for desktop, but Neal is now pushing for fast-speaking explainers, quick cuts, holding attention with questions, and (not too small) graphics, all designed for the mobile screen and the intimate relationship you have with your phone.
Here’s an example:
Neal also talked though how Circa organises news by ‘atomic units’, allowing users of the mobile app to follow stories.
He explained how the pyramid news triangle has been pushed aside in favour of a concertina or accordion containing story elements. (Incidentally, I saw Daniel Bentley from Circa later that day who told me how the Circa-designed CMS for mobile stories works. I’m hoping Daniel will blog about the story workflow and why building stories with reusable blocks of facts and quotes is an ingenious and efficient way to work, with output growing at an exponential rate.)
Neal also flagged up Yahoo News Digest, an app which was born out of Yahoo’s purchase of Summly and launched at CES earlier this month. It’s not yet out in the UK but Neal convinced me that it will be worth downloading once available outside the US. Digest provides 8 stories in the morning and 8 at evening commuter time and sends push alerts which entice you back in when the next digest is published.
Thinking mobile first
In a separate session David Ho, editor for mobile, tablets and emerging technology at WSJ, made some great points about thinking for mobile and touch screens. His terms to avoid (for obvious reasons) are:
- 'Actual size'
- 'Click here'
- 'See video below'
- 'Mouseover this'
Check everything on a phone and avoid Flash, he said.
David also flagged News Corp now defunct iPad-only title The Daily. David made a great point about 3D and tactile storytelling and creating ‘something physical’ on mobile touch devices.
An article about the ocean asked readers to swipe down. And through that action, the swiper got a sense of depth, he said.— Sarah Marshall (@SarahMarshall)January 16, 2014
News on your face: The Journal on Glass
And as well as thinking mobile, the Journal is also going Glass. Erin Sparling was in London in the Autumn and told Hacks/Hackers London about the WSJ app for Google Glass that was at that stage in development.
That app has been released and is available here.
Incidentally, I wrote this post on an iPad and am editing on a mobile. The joys of Tumblr and mobile journalism.
AllThingsD gives us an idea of Circa’s success: according to Flurry, users stay 50 percent longer in Circa than in other news apps. Of users who open the app more than once a day, more than half return twice daily for their breaking news. Galligan even mentioned in an interview with Jason Calicanis that there are users who, between Monday and Friday of a given week, had opened the app more than 100 times. That’s a whopping 20 times per day.
Like boxing, writing is a skill that has little to do with how angry (or emotionally honest) you may or may not be.
What is The Editor’s Prerogative? It’s when you take a piece of journalism and make it huge in scale and elaborate in delivery so that it is more in line with how important an editor thinks the story is than how new audiences actually want to consume it.
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