Saturday, June 13, 2009

New media lessons for television and print

Jotman's live-blogging the International Press Institute (IPI) World Congress in Helsinki continues...

This post is based on jots I made in my notebook while on a podium which I had the privilege to share with some interesting people.

The panelists were:
Atte Jääskeläinen, Director of News, YLE (The Finnish Broadcasting Co., Finland)
Jacob Weisberg, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Slate Group, NY
Pete Clifton (Moderator), Head of Editorial Development, Multi-Media Journalism, BBC News
Jotman, blogger, JOTMAN.COM
The panel discussion on new media took place in June at the International Press Institute World Congress in Helsinki, Finland.

The panel followed lunch -- salmon steak, cooked rare -- which I barely had time to finish-up. Fortunately, others were still arriving when I got to the meeting hall. Pete Clifton, the moderator –- who had stopped by my table to introduce himself during lunch –- went over some changes in the format.

No sooner had I taken my seat at the end of the table than a Finnish photojournalist came over and, waving his hands towards the other end of the podium, said, “It is my understanding there are to be no photos.”

“Thank you.”

Next, I turned and introduced myself to Jacob.

“I like Salon.”

“It’s Slate.”


“That’s Okay.”

Jacob and I then tried to figure out how to pronounce the name of our Finnish co-panelist.

Pete Clifton: (Introduces each member of the panel).

While Peter was introducing us I inspected the audience. Mostly I saw familiar faces from the conference events. I recognized a Finnish television host, the director of the Nepali Federation of Journalists, and the bright FT editor -- a panelist in the morning’s extraordinary session on the role of the media in the financial crisis.

Pete Clifton: Jotman, could you tell us how you came to have your blog?

Jotman: I started blogging in 2006 the night a coup happened in Thailand (the original posts are compiled here).

Thailand has been a pioneering region for citizen journalism. This is due mainly to the constant political instability on one hand, and the presence of a large expatriate community on the other. Other contributing factors include a high quality English language press that has -- until quite recently – been relatively free, and relatively open access to the Internet -- although this also seems to be changing for the worse.

[For example, here's a statistic according to a website I set up to track eyewitness accounts by citizen-journalist bloggers worldwide: Since the advent of the Internet, 17 out of the 70 live-blogged crisis events I tracked globally occurred in Thailand (that's 24% of major event live-bloggings worldwide). Although the actual percentage is invariably lower -- I am more informed about Thailand than some other places -- it is not a stretch to say that Thailand's blogging community is out at the forefront of citizen journalism.]

In recent months -- due to increased censorship and self-censorship of mainstream Thai news sources -- blogs have become almost indispensable for anyone wishing to understanding events in Thailand. Among the best known are Bangkok Pundit, New Mandala, and Thailand Jumped the Shark – love that name.

[Atte Jääskeläinen was the next to speak. Unfortunately, I now find my notes concerning most of his statements woefully incomplete.]

Atte Jääskeläinen: Finland is #2 or 3 in world in terms of newspaper consumption. Subtitling on TV may serve to increase reading. Strong journalism in each domain increases the (impact) overall.

Jacob Weisberg: Slate is part of the Washington Post Group. The model for Slate is that of a magazine company -- but without the paper. It’s entirely electronic.

Perhaps Slate is a model for a post-print future? We have learned a lot about the importance of adapting content to the medium of the web.

Slate began in 1996. We modeled it on a print magazine. It was owned by Microsoft. The early version was just like an electronic version of a print publication. Our pages even had numbers!
Everything since that time has been a reflection of what we have learned from online media about what its properties are.

By contrast, newspapers are too committed to print analogies. Everything for them is a translation from the analogy of print.

Tone of web media is colloquial, efficient, concise; personal: “myself and my experiences.”

Print posted online has a different character than something written as an online piece. For example, when newspapers put links in their stories, their links do not serve the same purposes that links serve in blogs. It's as if the newspapers don't really understand linking. The translation of print articles to the web has not been very successful.

Jotman: As Jacob noted, newspapers have no real equivalent to the way bloggers use links. His comment reminds me of a misunderstanding I had with an editor of a mainstream media source concerning a blog post they wanted to publish on their website. First, I noticed that the editor -- I believe she had a newspaper background -- had added new links to my post. Fine. But then I saw that my own links had been removed from the post. That was not OK. You can't just strip a post of its links. That's because links are means by which a blogger establishes credibility and authority – much the way an academic uses footnotes.

One more thing. Since there are many editors in this room, I wanted to point something out, and make a small request. We bloggers link to our sources all the time. But the mainstream media does not consistently extend this courtesy towards blogs. I make an appeal to you: When mainstream news sources get ideas or information from a blogger, please link back to that blog. I think this is only fair.

We’re in this together. And we need to look toward building new synergies. There are many possibilities for collaboration between the mainstream media and the blogs. The mainstream media ought to approach bloggers not as subordinates, but as equal partners.

Jacob Weisberg: Profit-minded journalism is a relatively new way of looking at the field. Traditionally, newspapers have been a family run business. The expectation of profitability was not so high in the past. [Jotman: That is, papers were not expected to generate constant returns at the level that Wall Street has come to expect of publicly-traded companies. Expectations of consistently high growth may be inherently incompatible with good journalism.]

Pete Clifton: How to engage a younger audience?

Jacob Weisberg: I see a convergence. The TV will be playing in the background while people consume other forms of media up front. We may be witnessing the “destruction of TV viewing.” TV may be well on its way to becoming an artifact.

Just as print doesn’t translate directly into web format, neither does television. There has been talk of “interactive TV.” But the reality is that TV content does not translate. What works on the Internet? Short web videos. Two minutes maximum. And it has to have humor. It has to be viral. On a website, video that works best is shorter. For example, Slate produced a "mockumentary" about a (hypothetical) new media concept called Flutter. The moto of Flutter was “140 characters is too long! So Flutter is 40 characters. [See here.]

Question from editor of the Financial Times: How long do you suppose printed newspapers will last?

Jacob Weisberg: A website that makes predictions about “extinctions” – an impossible task, but this website at least makes a serious stab at it -- predicts newspapers have 25 (more) years. That may sound like a lot, but I think it’s reasonable to expect they will be around for a while.

I think what we will find is that surviving print newspapers will have more “boutique” content.

Question: Does new media require a new kind of management? Perhaps we need to look at how oral societies deal with information.

Jacob Weisberg: Text is not the best way to talk about a lot of things. You don’t have to describe when you can say “listen to this” (or “watch this”).

Jotman: I have question for Jacob. It often seems to me that there are readers and viewers. And that these are not the same people; that people who read my blog are entirely different from those who view my videos on YouTube. I'm wondering if Slate has looked into this question.

Jacob Weisberg: I couldn’t really comment on that, as Slate does not use YouTube. Rather, Slate employs its own video software. We post videos to dedicated pages at Slate.

Atte Jääskeläinen: Children live in a world of games, especially teenagers. The challenge: How do we communicate in this language?

Question from a Korean man in the audience: My two questions are for Jotman. First, how can I trust a blog? I see advertisements on your site. How do I know that you – as a blogger -- aren’t writing things that promote stuff advertised on your blog? Second, how can I figure out if a blog is of high quality?

Jotman: First, concerning ads, at present, all the ads on my blog are electronically generated by Google AdSense. I don’t have control over what these show. In terms of quality, I think the mainstream media has a greater role to play in helping the public discover good blogs.

Jacob Weisberg: Blogs are a lot like books in your public library. On any topic the best and worst source of information is probably a blog. On any topic, your best source of information is a blog.

I agree with Jotman’s point that the mainstream media should be linking more to blogs.

Question: How does a consumer recognize quality?

Jacob Weisberg: There are different kinds of quality. First, there are intellectual and ethical standards. Other values such as “production values” matter more on TV, but on the web production values should be serviceable. The value standard on the web is “good enough.” If you exceed this standard on a video it may appear inauthentic to a web audience. We found that at Slate. So that these days our video interviews – for example -- are now produced to basic, minimalistic standards for this very reason.

In terms of blog comments, at Slate we’ve instituted a “gold star” system. Quality comments get more stars; these get more readers.

Web advertising needs to be reformed. In my opinion the (click-through) system still underestimates the actual impact of web advertising, undervaluing it.

Call me a skeptic of citizen journalism. Too many people don’t know the how…

Jotman: I too am a skeptic -- though optimistic. Unfortunately, much of what passes for citizen journalism amounts to photos posted on Flickr. For example -- with a couple notable exceptions -- much of the citizen journalism relating to the Mumbai attacks amounted to collections of uncaptioned photos.

Photos and videos go along way toward establishing the credibility of the citizen journalist. But so much better, in my view, when a blogger is able combine photos with words that give context to an image, thereby explaining to people what was happening -- what the person was experiencing at the time.

Those rare times when you get the photos and the descriptions of experience – that’s citizen journalism at its best. It doesn't happen everyday, but when it does, it can be beautiful.

Pete Clifton: (Sums-up panel discussion.)

Jotman live-blogged the following panel discussions at the IPI World Congress:


  1. AnonymousJune 15, 2009

    Very interesting read Jotman. The issue of mainstream journalism learning to operate in a fair and open manner by linking back to sources is key. Good on you for bringing this issue forward at the conference.

  2. AnonymousJune 15, 2009


    I think this would be interesting for you :

    Tear gas and Twitter:
    Iranians take their protests online

    "...keeping the Twitterverse ablaze with information ..."


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