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.

Advertisements

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.

.

A breaking news Google Map

picture-3.jpg

Last Sunday, Spokane, Wash., received a record 12 inches of snowfall. It paralyzed the city. What’s an online developer to do when faced with a breaking news event that’s spread out over a large region? If you’re Ryan Pitts, online director with my newspaper’s website Spokesmanreview.com, you whip up a Google Map and solicit viewers to send in their snow stories and photos.

Using addresses from the submissions, the Google Map’s geo code (latitude and longitude settings) plots out where the photo or story originated. On day two, Pitts added functionality to the map by adding better navigation and embedded links to staff produced video. Google maps are not new, but using them for a breaking news event is not as common. This is a great way to allow viewers to contribute and interact with your website. We promoted the map from the front page of the morning newspaper. Though the flood of submissions has yet to come (49 so far), I think an interactive map like this will take off as more viewers begin to discover it.

The Social Networking Universe and why it is important for the survival of newspapers

 

multimedia-slide.jpg 

 

When I get in front of a crowd, I become a whole different person. I’m kind of shy in real life, but I explode with passion when I get to talk about things that I believe are important, like multimedia. 

Today was a multimedia training day at The Spokesman-Review. A photographer, two web producers and two mobile journalists got to hear me pontificate about where I see multimedia headed in the future. They also got an in-depth tutorial on the fundamentals of video storytelling. It was a lot for people to digest in only three hours. I’m essentially taking the nine-day Platypus Workshop and condensing it into two, three-hour days. Tomorrow, my co-workers take what they learned and apply it to editing their videos with Final Cut Express 4.

As multimedia editor, I will need everyone I train to quickly start producing video. If we are to build any synergy with our video initiatives, then I need content, and not just any content. Quality video storytelling, well thought out, creatively shot, and expertly edited. It’s a high bar for sure, but I think we can get there. We have some pretty smart people at The Spokesman-Review who are up for the challenge. I am not adverse to failure either. I told my co-workers that you don’t become an expert in video storytelling overnight. You will grow from your failures as long as you strive to make each video you produce a little better than the next.

There was an open invitation to the rest of the newsroom–for anyone interested in learning about video, and video production–to come and sit in. I was happy to see a decent turnout, but it was less than I had hoped for. I started my presentation explaining how the web, with the rise of social networking sites, is drawing away readers from the traditional outlets like TV and newspapers. I told them that our readers of the newspaper are changing and so should we.

I created two graphic slides for my presentation. The first one showed the logos of a dozen social networks—You Tube, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, etc. I explained that within these networks, people are not only socializing, but they are creating digital content. Lots of it. Video, music and photography. Many former readers of my newspaper are now content producers in a big way. And with the Web 2.0 tools (RSS feeds, tagging, commenting, embedding) at their disposal, they are sharing their content, not only within their own networks, but with other social networks as well. YouTube videos are being embedded in WordPress blogs and photo slideshows from Flickr are passed from one network to another I explained. My second slide showed connecting arrows running between all the icons of these social networks. “It is not about an individual social network anymore,” I said. “It’s about the social networking universe and we desperately need to tap this.” My final slide showed The Spokesman-Review Logo with an arrow pointed up towards this expanding web universe.

The problem I see in my newsroom, or any newsroom for that matter, is a lack of understanding of how the Web is rapidly evolving. If many of the readers who have bolted from newspaper are now creating their own multimedia content, how can we, with our focus still on text based thinking, ever hope to be apart of that visual conversation? That, I told my small audience, is why video storytelling is so important. Video speaks the universal language of the social networking universe. We talk a lot about being web-centric at my paper. But unless you are tapped into the social networking universe, I don’t believe you can really understand what being web-centric means.

I will be honest with you, until I started this blog, I barely understood the concept myself. I was shocked by how many people Mastering Multimedia has reached in such a short amount of time. But what really opened my eyes was how people are finding this blog. RSS feeds, tags, Goggle Reader, blog rolls, and links from other social networks. It’s about sharing. It’s about a conversation. It’s about Web 2.0.

I now understand. I have been a producer of web content for years on a creaky CMS that only partially takes advantage of the Web 2.0 tools available on any WordPress blog. I just didn’t see the big picture of why this is important for all of us in the newspaper industry to grasp. If I didn’t get it, then how will my non-blogging co-workers, who are already apprehensive about change, ever understand?

If you haven’t already, my advice is to get an education in Web 2.0. Start a blog. Feed it. Share it. Our very survival as an industry will be predicated on how well we interface with this expanding social networking universe.