The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Newspapers don’t need Mariotti

Jay Mariotti is a genius! I don’t know how he did it, but he realized something no one else has figured out yet. News, and especially sports news, he said is moving to the INTERNET! Wow, why didn’t I realize that?

Oh wait, I did, along with hundreds of other people. But that’s not my big beef with Mariotti’s sudden departure from the Chicago Sun-Times. I hadn’t even heard about it until today when a good friend told me about it. (Thanks David!) What really gets me is Mariotti’s audacity in how he announced his resignation. Newspapers may not be the medium of the future, but if Mariotti really cared about sports journalism, I don’t think he’d be so eager to jump from a sinking ship. Continue reading

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August 28, 2008 Posted by | Hans Meyer | , , , | Leave a comment

Measuring the landscape

Last week at the AEJMC Convention in Chicago offered me a unique chance to get a feel for how new media is working its way into college program offerings. Because I am entering the final phase of my PhD program here at Missouri, I spent four-plus days during the convention interviewing for a number of jobs teaching new media. I purposely interviewed with programs of all shapes and sizes because I wanted the opportunity to see for myself where we are with all of this new media and journalism.

And the answer is: All over the place, and size doesn’t necessarily matter.

I talked with recruiters and professors from small schools who wanted a person who can innovate, big schools who wanted a person to teach entire courses on Dreamweaver, liberal arts colleges that were clinging to a model that saw the town newspaper as the big pipeline for students, and large research schools looking to blow up the model.

Some thoughts I take away:

Silos are still in: I was surprised to see the number of programs that still do convergence as a standalone program. I think I expected it to be more integrated across different platforms, especially at the smaller schools that require more versatile faculty. In talking about it with a faculty member at MU here today, they made a good point that I hadn’t considered: The industry hasn’t figured out what it needs or wants, so it’s tough to expect colleges to know what they need to do.

Skills vs. storytelling: The tension I saw over and over again was where the need to teach technology skills fits into the need for basic storytelling. One school wanted to teach all the hot tech things such as Flash, with little mention of how the journalism fits in. Regular readers of this blog probably know where I come down on this one, but I don’t see how teaching technology benefits students in the long run if it isn’t connected to storytelling. Technology still is merely a tool for storytelling in the hands of the journalist, and I’d rather teach students to think like journalists in relation to these tools so that they can focus on what is important when times change.

To blog or not to blog?: People who do curriculum are not always sure what to do with blogs in their program, whether to teach them as a publishing platform for the entrepreneurial journalist or as an outlet for news writing. My view is to do whatever you can with them, but make sure your students are blogging in every class. Blogging teaches so many good things (writing, editing, how hard it is to build an audience, etc.) that you literally could tap into different strengths with each course and still not cover them all.

College newspapers: Some of the smaller schools especially that have independent newspapers not part of the curriculum are having trouble convincing student editors of the need to get on the convergence train. So it is difficult for them to push innovation when they have no control over what the newspaper does and the platform it pursues. In makes me realize how lucky MU students here are because there are professional leaders in the newsroom to set the agenda for them.

All in all, an interesting week. I came away encouraged that schools on the whole are really thinking about this stuff, and I’m more encouraged when they’re wrestling with it rather than waiting around for the industry to solve the problem

Blogged with the Flock Browser

August 12, 2008 Posted by | Jeremy Littau | 1 Comment

Blogs give the big guns something to shoot for

There I was, staring down an entire auditorium full of folks wearing “Winchester,” “Weatherby” and “Remington” gimme caps who knew well how to shoot those guns. They were steely; I was nervous.
So I shot them with a blog.Clyde Bentley on the skeet range

Last week I spoke to the Professional Outdoor Media Association convention in Sioux Falls, S.D. It’s a group of outdoor magazine publishers, the freelance writers who fill their pages and the gun or fishing equipment manufacturers who support them. POMA Executive Director Laurie Lee Dovey asked me to answer a deceptively simple question: “Is print dead?”

I think it may be easier to drop a charging water buffalo with a slingshot than to give the definitive answer. Mine was “yes, no and depends on how you define ‘print’.”

My slide for the “yes” explanation earned a few chuckles: Me in my hunting gear (albeit armed with a laptop) smiling over the pile of dead magazines on my truck’s fender. “Yes – and I bagged it.” And I told them how technology is pushing the print world hard to go digital.

But the “no” (me reading in my library) is very much still out there. People are reading books and other publications by the droves. And of course, Baby Boomers will remain the primary American market for more than a decade. (Boomers grew up with print. Even if they use computers, they compare all media with the print with which they are familiar). Perhaps more critically, the Web has yet to reproduce the comfort level of a magazine or book (who cuddles up with a good laptop?).

But it is the “depends” that really counts – and where I winged a few gun writers.
Print journalism is the transfer of information using those little squiggles we call letters. When Gutenberg built his press, it didn’t mean the words that monks inscribed on parchment went away. Print survives even if the technology it uses changes. So even if we use e-ink or PDF, the call is still for a good story.

They liked that. They liked less my advice that they all launch blogs whether they like the medium or not.
Why blog if your expertise is crafting beautiful tales of an autumn duck hunt? Or if you are in your 60s, can’t figure out the TV remote but can trick any bass in the lake into taking your hook?

I passed on to them the advice of my friend and fellow cyber soul, Steve Yelvington:
“Clyde, if you don’t have a blog in our business, you don’t exist.”

Blogging is not the be-all to end-all. And as fellow cyberbrain Hans Meyer pointed out, it is an uncomfortable task for most professional writers. We spend our whole day turning thoughts into written words, so a blog is just another nagging chore.

But for critics, tech experts and writers – especially freelance writers – a blog is a type of advertising once reserved for Yellow Pages. It gives you presence.

In the scheme of things, blogs are poorly read. But they are specifically read by people who have an interest in the bloggers specialty. More importantly, blogs posts each have individual URLs. That means the fact that a blog read by only a handful of people does not keep it from having substantial power. A single post can be passed on blog-to-blog until it lands at the top of national agenda (witness Rathergate).

Several of the writers in the audience were visibly shaken by my admonition. Then I showed them how easy it is to use Blogger. The clincher was when an old fellow with a country-boy drawl told the, “Well, I’ve been blogging for quite a while. It’s not so hard.”

I’m curious to see what type of blogging community develops within POMA. One of my early editors told me that the three topics that could always generate an argument were politics, religion and game management. Given the level of expertise among its members and the fact hunting and fishing IS their religion, it should a lively corner of the blogosphere.

August 6, 2008 Posted by | Clyde Bentley | 3 Comments

Keeping up with the bloggers

Thinking in the sunI have a confession to make, and I’m not proud to do it. My wife is a better blogger than me. Yes, my wife, who writes about how she hates blogging, posts far more frequently than I ever had, even when I had to blog for a class. In fact, I think my wife is exposing me for what I am – a cold intellectual who can talk the talk but not walk the walk.OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but she has definitely taught me two lessons about blogging that both I and media professionals need to hear. First, blogs thrive on constantly updated content, whether it’s a short blurb about your kids or a breaking news item. Second, we are naive if we think blog writing and reading are exclusively the domain of the pseudo-intellectual, politically active news junkie. Just looking at the blogroll on my wife’s blog alone shows that average people are making and renewing lasting connections through frequent online posts.For newspapers to truly embrace their audiences online, they could learn a thing or two from the vibrant community to which my wife now belongs.  Continue reading

August 3, 2008 Posted by | Hans Meyer | Leave a comment