Notes from Journalism Interactive 2013

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This year’s Journalism Interactive conference offered an interesting mix of professionals and professors who spoke about everything from mobile trends to data analysis to trends in news presentation. (I made a presentation about using an iPad to give voice feedback to students.) Here’s what has stuck with me.

Two start-ups showed how mobile is changing journalism. Both companies take an app-only approach to news, and their leaders hope to make money by interspersing sponsored content (advertorial) among the news. Both say that running video ads before news doesn’t work on mobile. It just annoys people. Interestingly, both rely on information created by traditional news organizations. They aggregate, synthesize and personalize that information with small staffs. Here’s a bit more about each company.

NowThis News presents video news with an early MTV approach, using hip veejays to tell stories, introduce video clips, and offer commentary. I’d describe it as Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood and J.J. Jackson (MTV, c. 1981) meet Jon Stewart, with a dose of Monty Python. The company shoots some of its own video (all of its 30 staff members are in New York) but mostly aggregates, using material from Reuters, CBS and other sources. It has been getting some income from syndicating its feed.

Circa is a news app premised on the idea that traditional news is too verbose for mobile. It “atomizes” stories, eliminating narrative and presenting only key facts, photos, maps and quotes. The app, available only on iOS, keeps track of what people have read and allows them to pick up where they left off on a breaking story. The company is based in San Francisco but has 13 editorial staff members around the world. At least one person is on duty around the clock. It, too, aggregates content, and sees opportunities in the database of factoids it is gathering and in the data about what people read.

Matt Boggie of the New York Times Research and Development Lab spoke about the rapid change in the web and the slow change in journalism. He says the web has evolved from static to social to responsive to a new form that he calls “atmospheric networking.” In previous iterations of the web, information was available for people to find. Now we have personal area networks, with devices constantly talking to one another even when we don’t realize it: gesture sensors, roads that communicate with cars, buildings that sense the weather, webcams that sense heart rates. Google Goggles is part of this. These ubiquitous sensors are making information even more personal and could radically change the way journalists provide information, he said. The question is, he said, how do we do that?

One of the challenges of mobile, he said, is that Google, Facebook, Pandora, Apple and Twitter receive the vast majority of mobile ad dollars, leaving a sliver for everyone else. Rather than thinking in terms of advertising, he said, we need to create things that people are willing to pay for.

He mentioned a new online tool called Compendium, which allows people to create a compilation of articles, quotes and clips from Times articles, mark them up and share them.

Mobile video. Ron Yaros of the University of Maryland cited statistics from Cisco saying that by 2017, 66 percent of mobile traffic will be video. Students need to learn basic video skills, he said, but learn to shoot and prepare video with mobile phones. That is how many stations are creating much of their video.

Nebraska’s hack-a-thon. Gary Kebbel of the University of Nebraska talked about organizing an interdisciplinary hack-a-thon to try to inspire students to create a working digital project in 24 hours. Only four students showed up, despite $3,000 in prize money. He plans to try it again and has been analyzing the problems. One of the biggest was that it was held on a Friday night before a football game. He said calling it “hack-a-thon” also seemed to be a problem and sent the signal that the event was only for coders. The next event will be held over four weekends, each with a different theme: entrepreneurial thinking, creative ideas, coding, and pulling it all together. The last session will coincide with a meeting of the state press association so that students can present their work to professionals.

One of the best lines from the conference was advice for what professors need to tell students: If you don’t do interesting work, you won’t get interesting jobs.

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For more on the conference, see 100 Things I’m Learning at Journalism Interactive 2013, by Dan Reimold of Associated Collegiate Press.

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About dbward

Doug Ward is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas.
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