M1 Reflection

What did you think of the reading? Who was most convincing, and which of the stories stands out the most? How did what you read jibe with how Michael Seale described the work he does? What, if anything, did Michael say that surprised you about his work? What questions would you like Michael to answer about the work he does?

Massing’s deep dive into digital journalism was enlightening. It’s a subject matter that I’m interested in and learning how these websites have evolved is worthy of study. I did have some issues with some of the assertions and conclusions. I readily admit, that I come into this with my own biases and I’m trying to check them at the door, but while reading both parts, I just kept wondering what Massing was expecting. It felt like because digital media was so new that he was expecting some sort of magic bullet to explain success or failure.

When I look at who’s running those newsrooms and who’s staking those ventures, it’s no surprise that they are falling into some of the same traps as heritage publications. Plenty of these writers have grown up in a world where those standards were the norm. They are still in some instances passing down the same directives and choices that heritage publications use. If Massing were to do this experiment again in 10 years, I think he would see more change. By then another generation will have passed through with newer-fresher ideas.

That being said, there were two things that really stood out to me as deserving more study.

1) How readers consume stories. Massing covers the delivery system when quoting his friend: “Like so many other news consumers these days, she says that she doesn’t actually go to sites but instead receives feeds arranged through Facebook and email that deliver a steady flow of information form a multitude of sources,” (Massing, 2015). In my own work, I find that to be true. I rarely seek out sites unless I’m at my laptop.  This might be a function of how clumsy phone keyboards are. Usually, I’ll let my news feeds take me to stories where I need to go—which speaks to Skok’s point about putting stories and consumers ahead of platforms. In many cases, being story driven opens up business model innovation (Skok, 2017).

2) Having no central, agreed upon place to get facts. When Massing writes about fragmentation (Massing 2015) in regards to impact, it’s the sum of all my fears for Journalism going forward. Somewhere along the way, as we decided as a culture that discussion of “why” was more important that the “what.” Our opinions become more important than the facts themselves (Yes, I see the irony in me making that statement in my opinion on the readings).

One more thing about Massing’s piece: “…Omidyar’s venture seemed to augur a new era in which Internet moguls would apply their ingenuity-and dollars-to reinventing journalism on the web.” This sentence really bothered me because it seems to ignore the idea of the rich being able to control the narrative. Perhaps it’s the skeptic in me, but I don’t see any of these moguls doing this for altruistic reasons. Controlling the media is another way they can increase their own power and influence.

I found Skok’s work more convincing, mainly because I felt like he offered solutions to some of the problems. To be fair to Massing, I think he was trying to chronicle what was going on first. There was one passage from Skok that left me in deep thought: “At some point companies exceed what the consumer really needs from that product. When this happens a company “overshot” the needs of the consumer.”  He goes on to make the point that we should be giving the consumer what they want. I think there’s an inherent danger here. If consumers control journalists, then are we really journalists anymore? We’re supposed to be serving the community, which means sometimes they’re gonna get vegetables. Not everything can be dessert. I will admit though, that when it comes to my show, there is a tailoring of content to create the highest amount, of listeners. So, in that sense, I’m a hypocrite, but I’m striving to be better.

I’ll be forever grateful to Skok for providing me with the perfect comeback for those consumers who don’t want to pay for content. When you look at the number subscribers to Netflix, Spotify, HBO Now, etc…it’s clear that if your content is good enough people are willing to pay for it.

“At what point aren’t you at work anymore?” – Michael Seale

This was one of my big takeaways from the chat with him. When your newsroom is virtual and open 24 hours, how does one strike the proper work/life balance? I would want to ask him what type of policies are in place to protect the workers from being overworked? It seems that he has a good handshake agreement with his bosses, but anecdotally, those agreements get violated all the time.

It was inspiring hearing how much he does to put out the end product. The concept of the “one man band” is terrific. I’d also love to know how much trial & error he had to put in with the technology to feel comfortable with it. As I’ve gotten more experienced I’ve realized how important that personal interaction is to my work. As more and more radio people create studios at home, I find myself wanting to be around my colleagues more. Mainly for the reasons that Michael said—being able to bounce ideas off of each other. The casual conversation works wonders in that regard. It’s just not the same in a planned meeting, or skype or even phone call.

What’s really heartening about Michael’s work is that I think there’s a market for hyper-local news. The world has gotten so big, that it becomes difficult to sift through the noise to find out what’s really important to you. While people wag their finger at what’s happening nationally, there are plenty who don’t know who their Alderman is. In Chicago, we had a brilliant hyper-local news service called DNA Info, that was doing terrific work, but the billionaire who owned it got into a dispute when the writers wanted to unionize and he shuttered it instead of giving in. That’s another thing I would ask Michael about, how do we keep reporting like that alive in a way where those reporters can serve the public, while earning a living.

 

Bibliography

Massing, M. (2015, June 25). Digital Journalism: The Next Generation. The New York Review of Books, pp. 1-7.

Skok, D. (2017, April 2). Digital transofrmation means focusing on readers, not platforms. Retrieved from Medium.com: https://medium.com/startup-grind/digital-transformation-in-newsrooms-means-focusing-on-readers-not-platforms-ae7dc6b6262a

 

 

11 Comments

  1. The readings were quite compelling analyses of journalism’s digital evolution. Both Massing and Skok presented interesting perspectives. However, I found it difficult to discern which writer’s work was more convincing because they seemed to be two different animals. Massing’s were more of an informative analysis of how journalism evolved into and adapted to the digital realm, and the people and organizations that played pioneering roles in the field. Skok’s pieces, on the other hand, reassessed digital journalism as a whole and provided potential solutions. (Side note: I could be mistaken but Massing’s articles appeared to possess a slight mix of optimism and cynicism toward journalism going digital.)

    I appreciated Skok’s optimistic attitude but as for which writer’s articles I enjoyed reading most, that would be Massing’s. I believe his description of the “troubling tendency” that frequently plagues digital journalism is correct. The convenience of digital has created “a preference for gathering data available on the Web itself rather than developing new information by picking up the phone or going into the field.” Ironically, this seems to align with a comment Seale made in his interview about one of his colleagues managing to track down a source via LinkedIn. Although the situation is slightly different, the point is still relevant.

    Regarding Seale, I appreciate that his website focuses on local news. Nowadays it seems more news stations put more focus on national and international issues and not enough on the issues of their local communities. Community journalism is part of what keeps towns and cities thriving and connected. In my opinion, it is was holds a community together. The water issue in Flint, Michigan is a prime example of why community journalism is vital to a community’s well-being. The local media was persistent in their reporting and it became a national topic! If they had only focused on the national politics, likely nothing would have been done. Another example, albeit a bit more extreme, would be the death of Atlanta’s local traffic reporter Capt. Herb Emory in April 2014. Capt. Herb had been with 95.5FM and AM 750 WSB and Channel 2 Action News since 1991 so we all grew up listening to his voice every morning and evening, especially my generation. When he had a heart attack, he had been directing traffic at an car accident scene until the police arrived. The entire city and surrounding counties mourned his death. Now, this is obviously an extreme example since Capt. Herb was a local celebrity as well as a member of the community journalism crowd. However, it nonetheless presents three reasons why community journalism is so important: It brings people together, keeps them informed, and creates a sense of unity and local pride. But I digress.

    With traditional journalism and newspapers, there are always set deadlines. Now that news has gone digital, though, it appears that the deadline is always “now” or “as soon as possible.” Seale says he works from home and is constantly on the go. I would be interested in learning how he balances personal time with the constant need to keep his website updated in a timely manner without suffering from burnout. Additionally, I was surprised to discover that he posts five to ten stories a day.

    1. Good points about local news/issues. I think it’ll be interesting to see how the looming changes to the Facebook algorithm affect local publications. If FB does in fact change the algorithm to favor local news, will we see local media companies doubling down on local stories? Will we see more networked local services like Patch? Will this change accelerate the shift (also caused by FB) to even more video content? And to Calvin’s point below about adaptability, will this be a burden on small news orgs or will FB help them increase traffic (and presumably revenue)?

  2. The readings were extremely thought provoking. After reading the sections in the module and listening to Michael Seale from Patch, Seale’s words have resonated the most with me. He asked, “At what point are you not at work anymore.” He’s referring to working from home, but I think it is an appropriate question in all industries in this day and age of digital technology. I took my work email off my phone a year and a half ago. That was May 2016 and I haven’t looked back. I miss out from time to time, but once I get to a computer at work or at home, I’m back informed. I didn’t do it for my family, I did it for my peace of mine. However, I can see the question coming into play in one’s home beneficial to the entire family.

    Journalists are expected to tweet and post and I’d argue good journalists don’t have a clock telling them when and when not to use digital resources. They engage whenever news breaks or happens, whether during their shift or not. Seale also talked about the ability to watch a city council meeting from home. I think the digital space we abide in has made the possible and thus more opportunity for freelance and contract employees to work and write from home without actual reporting.

    If I could ask Seale anything, I’d ask him if he things his work suffers because he isn’t around a community of his peers. He doesn’t have the immediate access to his colleagues in terms of resources. Does that really matter, or is it just a preference?
    The readings paint a perfect picture of where we are in digital journalism. However, I think the stories of those companies are different from Seale’s experience he talked about with Patch. I think it is relatable because digital expansion the readings depict have made it possible for companies like Patch to have employees working from a home office. Online news publications created a niche for remote employees.

    Finally, I don’t think any of these companies are stranded in the liberating land of the internet. I think the industry is ever evolving and companies are continually chartering new territory where content and distribution is concerned. More ventures will surface and we’ll have to adapt to them as companies, employees and media consumers have over time, but specially the last 10-15 years.

    1. It’s an interesting question about working alone-but-connected vs. working alongside. Having worked both ways, I think there are pros and cons to both. And maybe it just comes down to personality. However, I can’t imagine working only in an alone-but-connected set-up. Even freelancers I know like to go to NYC once or twice a year to meet/have coffee with editors/collaborators. There’s a lot you can do through Slack and Google Drive, but it helps, I think, to be in the same space — at least occasionally. I suspect though that if you asked 10 people that same question, you’d get 10 different answers.

      Have any of you worked solo like Seale? If so, how was the experience?

    2. I asked Michael your question, and he responded: “It does matters. And that has been the biggest adjustment to working remotely. What I really like about using Slack is that I’m in a virtual ‘room’ with my co-workers all day. We post our work to the chat room throughout the day, bounce ideas off one another, and share thoughts. Is it the same as being in a newsroom? Not at all. And if I did not take advantage of the communication technology I have, my work would definitely suffer. In the past, when I’ve freelanced from home, I’ve felt a definite disadvantage by not having colleagues immediately available as a resource. Slack helps with that.”

  3. The idea that stuck out to me, particularly from Skok’s articles but also from Massing’s, was that news organizations need to be adaptable. Newspapers tried to copy their strategy for print to the internet and it just doesn’t fit. Then there are these different “eras” of digital journalism that each spawned their own successful sites, many of which weren’t able to maintain their success into the next era.

    So you can’t lock yourself into one specific way of operating that might work really well for the platform you’re on right now, the audience you have right now and the revenue scheme you have right now, but only works in that way. You need to be flexible enough to adapt to whatever comes along, whether it’s a new social media platform, a new device, an entirely new medium, or a societal change.

    Big companies like The New York Times can probably survive, maybe not thrive, without adapting quickly because they have enough reputation that people will still come to them, and they can throw money around trying different ideas until they find one that works. But smaller organizations can quickly fade into oblivion, and they can’t afford to scrap everything and start over.

    This idea of adapting goes along with what Michael Seale was saying about headlines. He was a great headline writer for print, but then he needed his headlines to be optimized for search engines to drive traffic from Google searches. And now many organizations are using click bait headlines to draw people from social media. Seale said most of his traffic comes from social media too. Those platforms seem to be the most important right now even though Skok says we’ve already entered another era.

    Seale’s interview also reinforced my lack of desire to be a daily reporter. The large number of stories you have to write every day while communicating through social media on top of that does not appeal to me. Neither does having no clear division between when you’re working and when you’re not working. Just like when I put food on my plate, I want everything separated so it tastes as it should.

    1. For the past couple of years, I’ve been following how the NYT and other established media orgs are trying to adapt by getting into audio. While it’s been around for a while, podcasting is still in its infancy, and people are experimenting with all sorts of formats/models. The most interesting to me so far has been the NYT’s The Daily, which uses NYT reporting as its fuel but repurposes and recontextualizes that reporting. Adaptation appears universal though: Lots of the audio-first media companies (This American Life, NPR, Gimlet, Audible, etc.) are getting into film/tv. Serial, StartUp, Dirty John: They all have film/tv adaptations in the works.

  4. I really found both articles to be fascinating in terms of the evolution of news from print to media, but I found Skok’s article to be a little more optimistic in terms of where we are heading in the future. Massing talked a lot, in his first article, about the failure of some news outlets to adapt. Thus, I do agree with what my peer, Cockrell, says about news organizations needing to be adaptable. Skok understands that the most important aspects to journalism are the story and the readers. When thinking about adapting in a digital age, it is essential to know what the reader wants and how you can give them that information. After all, both Massing and Skok talk about the issues of revenue in digital media and the insurgence of subscription based services. If the audience does not care about the content, then why would they ever subscribe? News outlets must now be flexible enough to meet the demands of the people. Massing also talks about how the constraints of geography used to affect the flow of information, but now someone who lives in Florida can access news that would have originally been printed just in New York. Therefore, the stories have to be adapted to fit the demands of people from all over the world. This is especially true of larger news companies, like the Huffington Post, who are forced to run “gossip” post, as Massing calls them, which often takes over the stories that are truly important, or the stories that one would really consider news.

    This is why I appreciate the work of journalists like Michael Seale, who reports on local news and gets local information out to people who actually live and work in that local area. In regards to Mr. Seale, there were a couple of things that surprised me about his work. Keep in mind that I am approaching Journalism as sort of an outsider. My degree is not in Journalism, so perhaps I do not know all of the inner-workings of the field, but just hearing Seals describe the number of limitations that can come with digital media is quite shocking to me. When I think about media in a digital age, I think accessibility. For Seale, however, he talks about not having that editor right next door where he can just knock on the door and seek advice. He talks about not having co-workers sitting across from him where he can just go bounce some of his ideas off of them. Maybe the one thing that many of us forget is how important physical communication can be. Granted, Seale says that he is constantly in contact with colleagues on Slack, where he can message them and get that support, but how much time is spent chatting online as opposed to just walking up to someone and asking the question? It is mind-blowing, for me at least, to think about how advancements in technology do not always mean advancements in the way that the work is produced. Then again, Seale says that it makes his job much easier in terms of finding sources, because almost anyone can be found online now, whether it is through Facebook or LinkedIn or People Finder. That said, I do think the benefits of digital news far outweigh any bad.

    The other thing that surprised me, and this goes along with the benefits of digital news, is the shear amount of news that Seale is able to produce in a day. Five articles alone for the Birmingham patch seems like an awful lot to me, but then to produce three to four more articles per “spoke,” of which I believe he said includes five other news patches, is incredible. I like how he details that in the past, prior to the digital age, he would attend four to six city council meetings, and then he would write just one article describing what happened at those meetings every, other week. It is essentially increasing production by approximately twenty-four articles, and that is per day, not per week. He even talks about how technology now allows people to actually pull up the council meetings on their phones and watch what is happening in real time. This means that the stream of news is instant. So, I guess if I had any questions for Mr. Seale, I also wonder how he handles being “on-call” all of the time. If a large story is about to break, does it require him to put his life on hold and wait for the news to come out, or does he just have to be more selective in the news that he wants to release, and if so, what would he deem too important to miss?

    1. Good points, Aaron. It’ll be interesting to have your perspective this semester as a “journalism outsider” (but a Latin insider). You pick up on what is, for many of us in journalism, the double-edged sword of the web, specifically social media. On the one hand, it is easier than ever to find sources/stories. But this has arguably led to us relying too heavily on “digital reporting” at the expense of “analog reporting” (i.e., knocking on doors, making phone calls, etc.). When it comes to sourcing, I think a happy medium is key. Find people through the web, but then show up and do the reporting in person.

  5. Massing’s deep dive into digital journalism was enlightening. It’s a subject matter that I’m interested in and learning how these websites have evolved is worthy of study. I did have some issues with some of the assertions and conclusions. I readily admit, that I come into this with my own biases and I’m trying to check them at the door, but while reading both parts, I just kept wondering what Massing was expecting. It felt like because digital media was so new that he was expecting some sort of magic bullet to explain success or failure.
    When I look at who’s running those newsrooms and who’s staking those ventures, it’s no surprise that they are falling into some of the same traps as heritage publications. Plenty of these writers have grown up in a world where those standards were the norm. They are still in some instances passing down the same directives and choices that heritage publications use. If Massing were to do this experiment again in 10 years, I think he would see more change. By then another generation will have passed through with newer-fresher ideas.
    That being said, there were two things that really stood out to me as deserving more study.
    1) How readers consume stories. Massing covers the delivery system when quoting his friend: “Like so many other news consumers these days, she says that she doesn’t actually go to sites but instead receives feeds arranged through Facebook and email that deliver a steady flow of information form a multitude of sources,” (Massing, 2015). In my own work, I find that to be true. I rarely seek out sites unless I’m at my laptop. This might be a function of how clumsy phone keyboards are. Usually, I’ll let my news feeds take me to stories where I need to go—which speaks to Skok’s point about putting stories and consumers ahead of platforms. In many cases, being story driven opens up business model innovation (Skok, 2017).
    2) Having no central, agreed upon place to get facts. When Massing writes about fragmentation (Massing 2015) in regards to impact, it’s the sum of all my fears for Journalism going forward. Somewhere along the way, as we decided as a culture that discussion of “why” was more important that the “what.” Our opinions become more important than the facts themselves (Yes, I see the irony in me making that statement in my opinion on the readings).
    One more thing about Massing’s piece: “…Omidyar’s venture seemed to augur a new era in which Internet moguls would apply their ingenuity-and dollars-to reinventing journalism on the web.” This sentence really bothered me because it seems to ignore the idea of the rich being able to control the narrative. Perhaps it’s the skeptic in me, but I don’t see any of these moguls doing this for altruistic reasons. Controlling the media is another way they can increase their own power and influence.
    I found Skok’s work more convincing, mainly because I felt like he offered solutions to some of the problems. To be fair to Massing, I think he was trying to chronicle what was going on first. There was one passage from Skok that left me in deep thought: “At some point companies exceed what the consumer really needs from that product. When this happens a company “overshot” the needs of the consumer.” He goes on to make the point that we should be giving the consumer what they want. I think there’s an inherent danger here. If consumers control journalists, then are we really journalists anymore? We’re supposed to be serving the community, which means sometimes they’re gonna get vegetables. Not everything can be dessert. I will admit though, that when it comes to my show, there is a tailoring of content to create the highest amount, of listeners. So, in that sense, I’m a hypocrite, but I’m striving to be better.
    I’ll be forever grateful to Skok for providing me with the perfect comeback for those consumers who don’t want to pay for content. When you look at the number subscribers to Netflix, Spotify, HBO Now, etc…it’s clear that if your content is good enough people are willing to pay for it.
    “At what point aren’t you at work anymore?” – Michael Seale
    This was one of my big takeaways from the chat with him. When your newsroom is virtual and open 24 hours, how does one strike the proper work/life balance? I would want to ask him what type of policies are in place to protect the workers from being overworked? It seems that he has a good handshake agreement with his bosses, but anecdotally, those agreements get violated all the time.
    It was inspiring hearing how much he does to put out the end product. The concept of the “one man band” is terrific. I’d also love to know how much trial & error he had to put in with the technology to feel comfortable with it. As I’ve gotten more experienced I’ve realized how important that personal interaction is to my work. As more and more radio people create studios at home, I find myself wanting to be around my colleagues more. Mainly for the reasons that Michael said—being able to bounce ideas off of each other. The casual conversation works wonders in that regard. It’s just not the same in a planned meeting, or skype or even phone call.
    What’s really heartening about Michael’s work is that I think there’s a market for hyper-local news. The world has gotten so big, that it becomes difficult to sift through the noise to find out what’s really important to you. While people wag their finger at what’s happening nationally, there are plenty who don’t know who their Alderman is. In Chicago, we had a brilliant hyper-local news service called DNA Info, that was doing terrific work, but the billionaire who owned it got into a dispute when the writers wanted to unionize and he shuttered it instead of giving in. That’s another thing I would ask Michael about, how do we keep reporting like that alive in a way where those reporters can serve the public, while earning a living.

    Bibliography
    Massing, M. (2015, June 25). Digital Journalism: The Next Generation. The New York Review of Books, pp. 1-7.
    Skok, D. (2017, April 2). Digital transofrmation means focusing on readers, not platforms. Retrieved from Medium.com: https://medium.com/startup-grind/digital-transformation-in-newsrooms-means-focusing-on-readers-not-platforms-ae7dc6b6262a

    1. @Laurence: All interesting thoughts. Have you been following how Facebook is (saying it is) going to change the News Feed algorithm to prioritize local news? It’ll be interesting to see how this changes user behavior. Will we all read more local news now? Or will we start/resume checking news org websites throughout the day? Five years ago, I had a list of sites I would check throughout the day. Now, like seemingly everybody else, I mostly check my social feeds and click on links to news orgs from there.

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