Digital journalism and the rise of the touch tablet

166090-crunchpad_original

The old business model of newspapers is toast. We all know it. Its just some can’t quite fathom it yet. You see it daily at most newspapers–where classified, real estate and auto advertising has been sucked in to the black hole of the Internet. In response, massive cost cutting and layoffs have created print publications that are shells of their former selves.

For years, newspaper industry bloggers have been documenting this ongoing tragedy–one layoff announcement after another. They have debated incessantly who’s to blame, where the future of journalism is going and who will be left to pick up the pieces. The hand wringing has been intense. I admit my sweaty palms have been there with the best of them.

Stepping away from the scrum, I am starting to see the big picture of where the  future of digital journalism is heading.

I consider myself a keen people observer. I used to love sitting in a coffee shop and watch how somebody read the newspaper. How long did they look at my front-page photo? What? Only three seconds! Damn.

Lately, I’m not seeing many people reading newspapers in coffee shops or anywhere else for that matter. What I am seeing, is the screenager generation–now grown up—typing into their cell phones, texting incessantly to “friends.”  Look around you. Go to anyplace where there are a lot of people. How many have a phone to their ear, or are walking and texting?  Cell phones have become a necessity of life now. The handset makers are all too aware of this. Feature creep is accelerating. As cell phones grow smarter, users are fawning all over the new technology.

Smartphone sales have gone white hot. iPhones, Palm Pre’s and Android devices with the added value of applications and web browsers are changing how we use our cell phones.

I am a recent convert to the iPhone 3GS. Where on most days I wanted to throw my old Palm Treo against a brick wall, I now enjoy using my iPhone. It is not just a phone to me; it is a place where I get most of my news. I check my twitter feed application constantly. If there is breaking news in my community, I will know it. I have a dozen mobile news apps—AP, USA Today, BBC, New York Times, etc. My iPhone has become my connection with what’s going on in the world—and it’s all in my pocket.

How we get our news is changing. It’s subtle, but it is happening. News consumers are slowly turning away from print and TV and are now moving toward web enabled mobile devices. The smart phone is only the start. Amazon’s Kindle reader is the forerunner to future tablet web devices.  These touch enabled tablets could seal the deal by forcing print journalism to go mostly digital.

Some cool prototypes have been making the rounds. But the rumor of the mythical Apple tablet is what makes me wonder if this will be the disruptive technology that sends print newspapers down the black hole for good.

Stay with me here. I had some time to kill at a photo assignment yesterday. For an hour I browsed the Internet on my iPhone. My 47-year-old eyes struggled to read the text. If only my iPhone was 2 or 3 times the size. I would be able the browse with out squinting. A touch enabled tablet, with an unlimited data plan would allow me to view text, multimedia and video in ways the smart phone struggles with today. I think of the applications of a tablet for photojournalists. Being able to download photos from their cameras to a tablet, then quickly tone, caption and send them back to the newspaper would be great. Having to lug a laptop in the field is  true pain. This is a market segment that is only getting started.  It has the strong potential to disrupt not only newspapers, but magazines as well.

Consumers, if they embrace these new touch-tablets, will have their news pushed to them at lightening speed. They will be connected to everyone and everything. They will choose how to shape their digital lives by deciding what news feeds and publications to subscribe to.

So where does that leave present day print journalism? It will soon be vastly different than it is today. Where mainstream media outlets have shed their most talented people, those same workers are going to be the ones that will build the new journalism of the future. My guess is that it will be built around these new web tablets and handset devices. Monetizing the content will be foremost on the minds of these new digital publishers. Freed from the cost of presses, ink and newsprint, a new publishing model will develop.

News content is going to change too. Web tablets are not just text readers, but will be multimedia hubs. Music, video, photos, animation, and interactive graphics and yes , games,  are going to be what consumers will gravitate to. New high-speed 4G cell phone networks are now being rolled out. Soon the pipes for all this future multimedia content will open wide. It will change how journalists tell their stories. For many of today’s journalists, this new paradigm will be the deal breaker. For others, these new opportunities will present unique challenges that will drive the future of digital journalism to new and exciting heights.

Leveraging social media to gain video page views

A common complaint I hear from other video producers is that their news and feature videos are not getting the page views they had hoped for.  I too, have struggled with this since I started posting video stories on my newspaper’s Web site five years ago.

Let’s take the most common reasons for lack of views off the table first.

  • Your videos are not compelling enough to be noticed by a wide audience. If you’re not producing something that people want to look at, then you are wasting everyone’s time, including your own.
  • Your creaky content management system is still stuck in the ’90 when all it was designed to do was show text and thumbnail sized photos.  If your website viewers have to search aimlessly for a link to videos on your homepage then you might as well put your video camera back in the equipment locker as walk away.
  • Your video player sucks. No full screen mode? Only 320 pixels wide? Videos have lousy compression?  Inconsistent storytelling? That pretty much rounds out why many viewers don’t bother watching your videos.

So what if you are doing most things right and you’re still not getting the page views you expect?

This year, my newspaper finally recieved a new ground-up redesign of it website called Spokesman.com. I had hoped its modern CMS would help deliver increased page views to our staff produced videos. Unfortunately that did not materialize.  It helped some, but missing key features like the ability to embed video ala YouTube were not enabled.

Finally, last month, a refreshed version of our video player, which added a host of new features, including embedding, was launched. This has helped our online staff to better leverage our video content using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. The best thing about the new player is that it now allows Google Analytics tracking, which follows the embedded player wherever it lands.

Let’s say, one of my videos goes viral and gets embedded in 100 blogs. When someone clicks “play,” Google Analytics calls back to my newspaper’s web server with all the pertinent page view tracking info. Now I can see where the video is embedded and how long a viewer stays with the video before bailing. Is it 25% in? 50% ? 100%? etc. I now even know how many clicked the full-screen button (less than I expected.)

Page hits graph

My most recent video I produced before heading on my staycation—“In the Realm of Fairies,” became sort of a social media experiment for me.  Page views started out slow—I posted a link on my Facebook page late on a Thursday night. I have about 150 friends and a few reposted it on their pages. On Friday morning I tweeted a link on my twitter feed—another 151 followers were given the opportunity to view the video.  Then several people, included our online staff, retweeted my post. By late on the second day page views started inching up. Normally one of my videos will get about 500-1000 page views after the first week. With the fairy video I got 1400 in one day.

A big video aggregator, collegehumor.com, and about a dozen other sites began to push traffic to our website by either linking or embedding the fairy video. Over my two-week vacation, I have seen the video continue to receive page views–now at just under 8000 hits and growing. OK, it probably not near what the New York Times gets for a video on a slow day, but it’s eight times better than what I usually see on our video content.  Was social media the reason for the bump in hits?

My Google Analytics tells me it was a big contributing factor. This video had a couple of other things going for it. It had an unusual topic, strong narration, with a wonderful ending. It continues to have great placement on the S-R homepage with a strong colorful thumbnail that draws your eye to the link.

What surprised me most is that the fairy video was long at six minutes. It just goes to show you–if you have a good story told well–viewers will watch it.

Social media can and will deliver more page views if you allow your content to be set free in the cloud. With proper tools, you can track your video content and even monetize it as it propagates itself all over the Web.

.

Stretching the roles of traditional journalists

fairygirlsMM

Sunday’s Spokesman-Review was a bit like the newspaper of old. Writer, Kevin Graman’s story and my photos of the Fairy and Human Relation Congress, took up most of the front-page as well as two color pages inside. What was different about this story for us two veterans—one visual and one word oriented—was how we each stretched into the new roles of being modern newspaper journalists.

My visual multitasking role has been pretty much set in stone for some time. On this story, I not only shot the still photos for the newspaper, but I captured, edited and produced a video for online.

srx-fairymm3

Graman moved out of his traditional role of being a print reporter to now stretching into the multimedia world of writing words for video and doing voice-over work.

When I heard about this story of 200 people gathering in the wilds to worship fairies, I could think of no better journalist than Graman to do the story with.  We have worked on several other videos together. His innate ability to write to my video brings an authentic voice the story.

Most times I am fine with doing my own voiceover work. But on great stories like this one, having someone that can write and voice powerful words (check out the last minute of the fairy video) just makes all the difference.

In the end, I think we hit a grand slam. We gave the readers of our newspaper a great print story, with strong photos—and we gave our online viewers all that and more with the added value of the video that told a different story than print. This, to me, is the future of newspaper journalism, where traditional roles are stretched but not devalued.

In the Realm of Fairies

fairymm

My week (and brain) has been filled with fairies, orbs, healers, telepaths and more fairies. Last week, Spokesman-Review writer Kevin Graman and I, headed to a scenic meadow nestled at the foothills of the North Cascades Mountains in Washington state. Here, 250 people gathered for the 9th Annual Fairy and Human Relations Congress—a workshop driven event—dedicated to connecting the human world to the fairy realm. OK, before you scoff, I was amazed at the dedication these people have towards their new age beliefs. Over four days, Graman and I kept an open mind as we attend workshops on “Getting in touch with the fairy mind,” and another on how to telepathically communicate with animals. The best part though, was the festival atmosphere. On Saturday night a grand fairy costumed parade made its way through the meadow. It ended at a bonfire with participants dancing and chanting: “Release, release, release your sexy beast.” God, I love my job sometimes.

The congress gave me the creative release I’ve been looking for. I only had two days to turn my four hours of raw video into a story. Graman wrote and voiced the narration. He has such a great voice. I keep telling him he should do voiceover work professionally. You can see the finished video here.