Several weeks ago Nasser Sahool, agency leader at DAC Group in Toronto, invited me to take part in his podcast series on digital strategy.
The conversation that followed made me think again about the changing role of digital journalism over nearly two decades. Here are a selection of those thoughts – a few fully formed, most partially constructed…
On the skills journalists need in the digital age
“Some of the advice never really changes. Read widely, read well, read good journalism whether it’s the New Yorker or the Financial Times or it’s a brilliantly crafted tabloid newspaper. Learn to deliver lean and concise and effective copy… Then combine this old stuff with a bunch of new skills. So, for example, as as digital journalist you’d need to learn how to open a spreadsheet and understand the data that you are seeing … Then familiarise yourself with the newish tools of the trade – do you know how to put audio together? Do you know how to use video? Do you understand how to use social networks?”
On data journalism
“Data gets to the heart of a truth and if journalism is about getting to the truth data journalism is really important.”
On the new tools of the trade
“I’m not sure all journalists realise how easy [the tools] are to use. I run workshops on social media and what I spend a lot of time doing is getting people over that hump of fear, fear of the technology – ‘I can’t possibly use Twitter because I don’t understand how to use it.’ Well, it doesn’t take very long learn how to use it. And once you understand how to use it – once you understand the lingua franca, the code of Twitter, Facebook or any of these other tools – then you are into the world of communications. It’s then about how you apply the technology not the technology itself.”
On the impact of smartphones
“The medium impacts consumption habits. We see that most obviously with the growth of the internet-enabled smartphone … which has made the internet day and the internet week longer in terms of consumption … If lots of people are consuming our content at 7.30 in the evening via a smartphone what does it say about us as a publisher in terms of what we deliver, when we deliver it, how we resource our staff, how we push this stuff out on to our website but equally through social media.”
On the dangers of infinite online space
“Just because you’ve got infinite space doesn’t mean that your reader has got infinite time. In fact they’ve got less time than they ever had because they are reading more words from more sources than ever before. So some of those old world skills of being concise – writing short and sharp and to the point – absolutely apply still.”
Read more: Episode 18: The Role Of The Digital Strategist In Journalism – A Conversation With Jon Bernstein
A random selection of articles on the art (or more accurately, the craft) of writing for the web:
Why I blog by Andrew Sullivan | The Atlantic (November 2008)
My life in the blogosphere by Ben Smith | BuzzFeed
In Defense of the Listicle by David Leonhardt | New York Times
How to make journalism work online: five writing tips by me | Press Gazette
Beyond the churn by Sarah Smarsh | Aeon
New Associated Press guidelines: keep it brief by Paul Farhi | Washington Post
Quartz’s Kevin Delaney: Time to kill the 800-word article by Brian Morrissey | Digiday
The allure of the finishable news experience by Sarah Marshall | NiemanLab
64 Ways To Think About a News Homepage by Melody Joy Kramer | Medium
The homepage is dead, and the social web has won by Zachary M Seward | Quartz
Homepage as front page is an historical accident by me | Guardian Media Network
For observers of digital media two things stood out in Alan Rusbridger’s valedictory column in Saturday’s Guardian. The first was more obvious, the second more interesting.
1. On paywalls
The outgoing editor compares what he calls the “polar opposites” of the UK newspaper trade – the paywalled Times and the free-to-air Guardian. The Times, he notes, claims a daily audience of 281,000 while the Guardian registers 7 million unique browsers a day.
On an equal accounting basis, we’re losing (or investing) about the same amount of money. You’ll have to come back in 10 or even 20 years time to find out who judged the future best.
While he’s right to say it will take a while for the winning formula to be identified – and it may well be neither of the above – I wonder if The Times accept the phrase “equal accounting basis”.
2. On newspaper formats
Today’s discussions about publishing formats are most likely to involve 6in smartphones and 10in tablets but back in 2005 format meant broadsheet, tabloid or – in the case of the Guardian – the mid-sized Berliner. Why did the Guardian go for the third option when The Times and The Independent went tabloid? Rusbridger says there were “various reasons”. Intriguingly, one of those reasons was:
the amount of classified advertising we still took in print at that point
With the benefit of hindsight, print classifieds were already in terminal decline by 2005 with job boards, Craigslist, eBay and others making deep in-roads. Signs of digital disintermediation were evident everywhere. The chunky Monday Guardian, bulked out by media job ads that made it a default purchase for those us in the industry, was already thinning out.
Should the Guardian have read the signals better a decade ago? Perhaps. Will we continue to miss emerging trends likely to have a similar impact? Probably.
Together with the team at Slack Communications, we’ve been working on a series of ‘how to’-style articles aimed at marketers, PRs and assorted comms professionals, including those that have to commission or create stuff (aka content) for a living.
Here are some links to the series so far:
Some of the most thought-provoking things I’ve read over the last few months on journalism, digital and writing for the web. (Oh, and a couple of pieces from me as well).