Apr 19 2006
03:52 pm

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 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 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 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 news website, blogger, online journalism textbook author, and participant here at, 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, 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 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

    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).

  • bob stepno's picture

    Damn. Scooped again...

    Terrific deadline reporting, Randy... I'm just afraid the students assigned to cover the panel will be intimidated. One quibble with what a panelist (me) said... Newsroom jobs were slipping away long before online, thanks to mergers of news companies and declines in readership... I blame TV and the infotainment industry more than I do online media. I like to think online is part of the solution -- that "newsroom positions" are on the rise -- if the computers we're sitting at count as a "newsrooms" when we use them to report the news.
    (OK, the "job" part is harder to come by... but a lot of reporters were never in it for the money anyway. Check out the opening to this story: (link...))

    R. Neal's picture

    Bob, thanks for the

    Bob, thanks for the correction. What's weird is, I originally wrote it as having to do with "media consolidation", but my notes weren't clear (my handwriting was getting pretty fatigued at that point) so I went with what I thought I remembered. At my age, that's not usually very reliable.

    Anyway, thanks again for the invite. It was a fascinating discussion, and I learned a lot.

    P.S. I think this illustrates another characteristic of online journalism that JProf left out: revisionism. Heh.

    P.P.S. Don't tell your students that I was lucky to barely graduate high school, or that I briefly enrolled in the UT School of Communications in journalism in 1973 (after a very brief stint in music education at UTC in 1972).

    But as far as I know, my record invovling a string of "incompletes" and "dude never showed up for class" has thankfully been expunged, so my college dropout street cred remains intact to this day.

    JPROF's picture

    Excellent summary


    This is an excellent summary of what was said at the panel today. Thanks for doing it. (You should have stuck with J-school.)

    Good point about revising. The larger characteristic, I think, is that the web is organic -- which may be part of the interactivity thing (or may not). I'll have to give that one some thought.

     In any event, it was good to meet everyone today.

     Jim Stovall (JPROF)

    R. Neal's picture

    Good point about revising.

    Good point about revising. The larger characteristic, I think, is that the web is organic -- which may be part of the interactivity thing (or may not).

    Jim, I was sort of joking, but I think it is exactly part of the interactivity thing. Or, the "self-correcting nature of the blogosphere", as Instapundit calls it.

    In fact, the Mrs. pointed out that this was a question that came up in today's discussion (which I unfortunately didn't take good notes on), re. revising a story v. updating/adding to it as more information becomes available

    As online news offers more opportunity for reader interaction and feedback, the "information healing" aspects could be another Good Thing.

    Sven's picture

    Impressive - both the

    Impressive - both the conference and the reporting.

    The "MSM", to gratuitously generalize, has indeed made big strides in embracing the Internet. But I'm wondering if it's really made significant progress in coming to grips with the online "community" - as evidenced by that horrific story on bloggers and their readers in last weekend's Washington Post.

    I see a lot of new "Web 2.0" bells and whistles (I can listen to Thomas Friedman's column in a podcast! Joy!), but the basic paradigm is circa 1996. My reaction to both my local paper and the big metros more often than not is "meh."

    My own and younger generations' apathy has been written off as Gen-X/GenY Attention Deficit Disorder or Bush Derangement Syndrome - i.e., that we need to be entertained and/or pandered with partisanship to pay attention. But I really don't feel that "anger" or ADD is keeping me away from the mainstream press; I just find the output shallow and dry.

    I recently came across a new book on online communication,"The Wealth of Networks", which argues that mainstream outlets are genetically indisposed to taking on topics of real political significance (he takes pains to say that its a structural problem, not a lack of effort or imagination on journalists' part):

    First, advertiser-supported media need to achieve the largest audience possible, not the most engaged or satisfied audience possible. This leads such media to focus on lowest common denominator programming and materials that have broad second-best appeal, rather than trying to tailor their programming to the true first-best preferences of well-defined segments of the audience. Second, issues of genuine public concern and potential political contention are toned down and structured as a performance between iconic representations of large bodies of opinion, in order to avoid alienating too much of the audience.

    Presenting information in a spoon-fed, watered-down form, the author argues, "does not lend itself well to in-depth discussion and dialog" and therefore hinders efforts to create an interactive online community.

    Anyway, food for thought. The book is available for free in in PDF format  at The quote comes from chapter 6 in the section entitled, "Commercialism, Journalism, and Political Inertness" (page 31 of the PDF).


    R. Neal's picture

    Sven, great post. All the

    Sven, great post. All the things said about watered-down news are evident in a lot of local reporting, and even more so in national news reporting. I think "corporate media" is one problem, and not just from an ad sales revenue standpoint but also because they squelch any noise from their news operations about other operations they own or operations of their buddies on the board. GE's ownership of NBC comes to mind. I also wonder if eliminating the Fairness Doctrine has led to aberrations such as Fox News.

    Joe P.'s picture

    Some online papers lacking

    I think it's obvious that some newspapers and television have adapted quickly to providing online news versions of daily reporting - the KNS and most all the local stations operate well-made sites loaded with news and information. However, many of the other papers in this end of ET truly don't seem to get the picture - they'll have two or three stories from the day's edition, no editorials and little space for interaction with readers. What is prevalent are ads. Many of these papers seem to see web space as just another ad space and ignore the online community. Perhaps this is just a case of smaller towns typically lacking the skills found in larger cities, or perhaps this is just an example of being limited in the understanding of the online world. Wrenching news out of most smaller ET communites remains a chore and the public again is kept ill-informed.



    Opinari's picture

    News Sites and Mobile Content

    As a consumer of content almost exclusively via mobile device (although not at the moment), I have always been happy with WBIR, since they have a good mobile website. I would have liked to have been there to commend Katie for that. Jack Lail, however, has disappointed in that regard. I used to read the KNS on my PDA, but they have since disbanded support for their mobile site, or at least they had when he last responded to an email I sent to KNS about that very subject. I'd be interested to know what motivated WBIR to maintain a mobile site, and what motivated KNS to discontinue theirs. I certainly hope fitting content to the small screen is in the future for online journalism.

    bob stepno's picture

    Links from Jack

    I just noticed that Jack Lail posted links to the stats he mentioned at the meeting:


    Comment viewing options

    Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

    TN Progressive

    TN Politics

    Knox TN Today

    Local TV News

    News Sentinel

      State News

      Wire Reports

      Lost Medicaid Funding

      To date, the failure to expand Medicaid/TennCare has cost the State of Tennessee ? in lost federal funding. (Source)

      Search and Archives