The Mrs. and I attended an information-packed panel discussion at U.T. this morning on "Online Journalism and News Web Sites." The panel was part of the U.T. College of Communication and Information’s Journalism and Electronic Media Week.
The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Sam Swan, interim director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media. The panel members were:
Dr. Jim Stovall, incoming Meeman Professor of Journalism at UT
Dr. Bob Stepno, lecturer at the UT School of Journalism & Electronic Media
Katie Allison Granju, Online Producer for WBIR-TV
Jack Lail, Managing Editor/MultiMedia for the Knoxville News Sentinel
There was a lot covered during two hours of lively presentations and discussion. Here’s a summary:
Katie Allison Granju, WBIR
Katie talked about the convergence of broadcast and online/web-based news and some of the challenges facing TV news operations such as WBIR:
Katie stressed to the journalism students that journalism is first and foremost about writing.
Writing broadcast scripts is a lot different than writing articles for print and online media. One of the challenges is to get TV reporters to write for readers v. viewers. For example, a report designed for reading, whether print or online, needs to be more descriptive than a broadcast report that has accompanying photos/video to set the scene.
Writing great headlines v. great lead-ins is also critical. For example, an original headline at WBIR.com said "Journalist's family honors wishes." Katie changed it to "Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s remains to be shot out of cannon."
Creating an online "community" is a critical part of online publishing. (I was hoping there would be more time to talk about this but there was a lot of ground to cover.)
TV stations have traditionally had technically-oriented "webmasters". The trend now is "online producers", who have a background in journalism with writing and editing skills.
There is a culture change underway in TV news rooms as reporters and producers adapt to online news. New reporters must now have more writing skills.
Video is an advantage for TV news operations moving online. With wider broadband access, online video has "exploded" over the past nine or ten months. People are becoming more comfortable with viewing video online and are getting better computers.
Salesmen prefer to sell TV advertising because it’s more expensive and they make more money. But, less expensive online advertising is bringing new advertisers.
Jack Lail, Knoxville News Sentinel
Jack talked about the Knoxville News Sentinel’s online operations, and had some interesting demographics and statistics.
The Knoxville News Sentinel first experimented with online news around 1994-1995 with a dial-in BBS type system.
There is an Internet 2.0 boom underway in the online news business, and there is a transformation underway in the newsroom.
The KNS online operation is a separate division from news, editorial, and advertising, with its own managing editor, reporters, and bloggers. Later in the presentation, Jack said that online revenues are growing at the rate of 40% to 50%, and that the online operation has been profitable for several years.
The KNS is trying out innovative ways to package online news and interact with readers beyond just an online version of the newspaper, including the "reader’s network" which has been an effective tool to get reader input and help with stories, reporter/feature blogs, focused election coverage, podcasts, "Your Hub" reader blogs, tying print stories to enhanced/extended information on the website, and more ideas to come such cellphone news distribution.
The Knoxnews.com website typically covers 20% to 30% more local news and information than the print edition.
Jack believes that the news media has reached a tipping point and that the rules are changing. Revenues are on the decline for newspapers, including the KNS. The business model for newspapers has been "disrupted" by the internet, which is now the dominant media for news.
Newspapers are looking for reporters with more diverse skills. In addition to writing skills, photography, videography, and even technical online publishing/web skills (with a background in journalism) are increasingly valuable because of the convergence and blurring of lines between online and print media.
Jack’s greatest challenge is moving from a print news model to an online news model without "bleeding the newspaper to death."
Jack then presented some very interesting statistics and demographics for KNS online readers:
The KNS has 422,048 registered users. 42.54% are female, and 57.46% are male. Jack attributes this to their sports coverage.
The Knoxnews.com website had 501,530 unique visitors and 6,896,637 page views during the first quarter of 2006, up 53% and 30% respectively from Q1 2005. 85.9% of visitors use broadband.
Ranked in comparison to the KNS’s target market/demographic (with an exact match being 100), the 18-34 age group scores 62 for the daily print edition, 73 for the Sunday print edition, and 126 for the online web edition. Clearly, younger readers prefer to get their news online. The results are opposite for 55 and over, as you might expect.
More readers with incomes over $75K also get their news online, as do college educated readers. My guess is that those last two are some pretty sweet target demographics for the KNS, and that the 18-34 group is the future.
One disappointing statistic, to me anyway, was daily print edition readership in homes with children, which only scored 82. It’s a shame more parents don’t subscribe to their local daily paper. When I was growing up, in my house we got both dailies (back when there were still two) and it helped develop and improve reading skills and also stimulated family discussion of current events. Maybe the KNS should consider an outreach program of some sort, similar to their Newspapers in Education program.
Jim Stovall, University of Tennessee
Jim Stovall, UT graduate and former journalism professor at the University of Alabama, founder of UA’s DatelineAlabama.com news website, JProf.com blogger, online journalism textbook author, and participant here at KnoxViews.com, talked about the future of online journalism and plans for UT’s new online journalism program:
When Jim enrolled in UT’s school of journalism in 1966, they knew what journalism was, how you did it, where you did it, and they knew that it would never change.
Now, the web is a news medium and a new medium.
An online news website is not a newspaper or TV online. It has 5 distinguishing characteristics: capacity (virtually unlimited), flexibility (to package news in a variety of formats), immediacy (of text, but also of depth and choice), permanence (easy to duplicate and retrieve), and interactivity (the most important characteristic -- it will change the process of journalism, journalism at arm's-length is no more).
The three critical parts of web journalism are: lateral reporting (packaging the news in the best form for the story, i.e. text, video, photo gallery, or a combination, but reporting is still the key), backpack journalism (reporters learning to use all the tools such as digital recorders and cameras, video, and the software used to produce it), and web-packages (the end product, a story package with all the accompanying text, photos, video, audio, etc.)
In keeping with Katie and Jack’s theme of converging skill sets and the need for online reporters with more diverse skills, UT is expanding its online journalism courses this fall. Bob Stepno will teach a course in online journalism, and UT will launch a new online news website as part of a "managing news websites" course. The news website will have an independent staff and the content will be developed as part of the online journalism and managing news websites courses.
There are plenty of jobs in the exploding online news field for journalism students who learn these skills.
Bob Stepno, University of Tennessee
Bob Stepno, journalist, writer, UT journalism lecturer, and blogger, talked about bloggers as citizen journalists and blogs as an online news source.
Jobs are disappearing from newsrooms because of
online news and media convergence media mergers and declines in readership.
More and more, blogs are assuming the role of "watchdog citizens."
Journalism skills are portable to online news reporting.
Journalists no longer need to worry about covering every story and being experts on everything. Somewhere a blogger with the expertise and the wherewithal will cover it.
Bob mentioned UT law professor Glenn Reynolds' new book, "An Army of Davids", about citizen journalism and blogging. There was some discussion as to whether InstaPundit Glenn is a "Big Dave", or possibly a "Goliath". Bob also explained the "Instalanche" phenomenon for those who may not have experienced it.
As an example of citizen journalism, Bob cited H2otown.info, a group/community blog in Waterford, MA, that was started when the founder heard an explosion outside her house late one night. She checked the newspapers and TV news, called around, and nobody had any information. She decided that citizen journalists needed a place to report on things in their neighborhood as a complement to mainstream media.
Bob cited KnoxViews.com as another example of community/group blogging, and discussed some of the interactive features.
Bob also talked about online journalism pioneer and Silicon Valley blogger Dan Gillmore and his online community news/blog website at Bayosphere.com.
There was some other interesting discussion in the brief Q&A period at the end. One question that I found intriguging was, are online news readers more informed? The consensus was that nobody really knows, but they appear to be more involved. And that, to me anyway, seems like a Good Thing.
As I said there was a lot of ground covered, and it was informative as well as entertaining. It was a fascinating look inside online broadcast and newspaper operations, the transformation of media, and the future of online journalism. There are exciting times ahead (and tremendous opportunities) for today’s journalism students.
There are other great panel discussions lined up for the remainder of JEM Week, including one with Pulitzer Prize winning NYT Science writer John Noble Wilford tomorrow which sounds pretty interesting. Check here for the schedule and more info.
Thanks to Bob Stepno for the invitation. It was a pleasure finally meeting him in person. It was also a pleasure finally meeting Katie in person, getting to meet Jack Lail, running into our high-school friend and UT journalism/technology guy John McNair, meeting JProf Jim Stovall, chatting with Mark Harmon, and finally getting to meet KNS political columnist Georgiana Vines (who must have the biggest Rolodex in Tennessee -- she should get it insured).