Are data journalism and online engagement coming of age?

It’s more complicated than a one-word answer, of course, but data and online community work (developing communities and engaging users) seem to be moving from niche ‘extras’ to core essentials in much of journalism.

The word ‘data’ has been creeping into advertisements for reporters. “Experience of data journalism” in a vacancy on Health Service Journal and Nursing Times, for example. A reporting role at Times Higher Education asked for “skills to handle large data sets to identify trends and spot stories, and the ability to use the data to create news graphics”.

Data journalism and social media are not only for specialists

My point is that these are not specialist “data journalist” roles: breaking news stories lies at the core of both jobs. My colleague Paul Bradshaw offers two reasons why every journalist should know about web-scraping, a key part of data journalism.

Similarly, using social media in reporting — to find stories and sources, for example — is now an accepted part of the skill-set for most journalists, I hope. At least for those now entering journalism.

It’s no surprise that The Huffington Post UK, online-only of course, expects that applicants “will already be utilising and fully understand the power of social media to promote content” for a blogs assistant editor role. But — as with data — social media and engaging users online seem increasingly to be an explicit element.

Channel 4 News advertised for a political correspondent who would “use social media to maximise the impact of your stories and engage with our audience”, for example. A junior writer on The Sun’s Fabulous Magazine online will be “helping to manage our strong community of Facebook and Twitter followers”. A reporter on Farmers Weekly will be “using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and forums, to engage with readers”.

Again, these are not specialist social media or community roles – but jobs that require skills and experience in these areas.

Specialist jobs growing alongside ‘integrated’ roles

Fortunately for those coming into journalism, specialised roles appear to be thriving alongside those in which online community, social media (and/or data journalism) are ‘integrated’ into reporting or other roles. Engaging communities and building networks lie at the heart of a new Thomson Reuters project — with *nine* new jobs — for example. Metro has been recruiting for a social media executive as well as a head of insight and social.

This picture of specialised plus ‘integrated’ roles is reinforced by two other sources. First, discussions at the news:rewired event last month, where data journalism and online communities were key themes. Many people were there to learn how to do things better, and/or to benchmark their (or their publication’s) own activities.

Jobs in interactive journalism and online

Second, it’s an impression consistent with the jobs gained by students from the first year of our MA Interactive Journalism (at City University London). One is working as a data journalist at The Guardian, for example – while two others there are in content coordinator roles in which community and social media are part of a broader brief that includes writing, editing and commissioning. Others again have gone on to more specialised web analytics and social media work – as well as more ‘traditional’ journalism jobs, reporting on a regional paper and sub-editing for a national newspaper.

PS: Anyone unconvinced by the importance of mastering online/digital skills should look at some current job advertisements. A business reporter at The Telegraph will be managing the flow and placement of web content. An assistant features editor at The Sun will be “keen to adapt to digital platforms”. “An interest in digital publishing/social media would be an advantage” for a senior editor at The Economist group. And so on. [NB The job ads on Gorkana will to be taken down at some point.]

It is also worth noting that data, multimedia and technology topped the list of skills in a survey about journalism training, undertaken by the Poynter Institute.

PPS: I have resisted expanding this post to take in another key area, mobile platforms (also a focus at news:rewired), where news organisations are expanding their activities. Nor have I mentioned the demand beyond journalism for people with a good grasp of data, social media engagement and online/digital skills more generally…

Providing the information you didn’t know you wanted — Google CEO Eric Schmidt on newspapers, monetisation and the semantic web

Snippets from a Wall Street Journal interview with Schmidt:

Says Mr. Schmidt, a generation of powerful handheld devices is just around the corner that will be adept at surprising you with information that you didn’t know you wanted to know. “The thing that makes newspapers so fundamentally fascinating—that serendipity—can be calculated now. We can actually produce it electronically,” Mr. Schmidt says.[…]

On one thing, however, Google is willing to bet: “The only way the problem [of insufficient revenue for news gathering] is going to be solved is by increasing monetization, and the only way I know of to increase monetization is through targeted ads. That’s our business.”[…]

“As you go from the search box [to the next phase of Google], you really want to go from syntax to semantics, from what you typed to what you meant. And that’s basically the role of [Artificial Intelligence]. I think we will be the world leader in that for a long time.”

Read more here [link]

Students suffer media withdrawal: clue to future of journalism?

Regina McCombs reports: “Students use the language of addiction and withdrawal in talking about their experiences going without technology for 24 hours during a study at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism.

‘I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,’ said one student. ‘Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely,’ said another. […]??Students equated technology with media — the phones, iPods, computers, laptops and televisions were just a means to get to information, whether that information was about the world around them, or about their friends. And much of that technology is mobile. Phones in particular […] ‘A truer mapping of those pathways could provide direction to journalists in their search for relevance in the century ahead’. ”

Read more here [link]

It’s still early days for journalism to adapt to the networked environment

So says Doc Searls, on a panel at Harvard:
"Big newspapers, big magazines, big radio and TV… these are industrial age creatures. Some will persist in the new age that is coming upon us. But they will need to adapt to the new networked environment, where everybody can contribute.

That environment is very new. Think of today as a moment in the early paleozoic, say in Cambrian time. In that context Facebook is a trilobite. Twitter is a bryzoan. The Huffington Post is a primitive sponge. For small-j journalism, this is not the End of Time, but the beginning of it. Will big-J journalism survive? Only if it adapts. While some of that adaptation will be corporate, the leadership won’t be in the corporate system. It will be among the journalists themselves. Just as it was, and still is, with technology companies and the geeks they employ."

Read more here [link]

Four factors critical to journalism and publishing

Adam Tinworth flags up social, mobile, real-time, and location-aware technology:

"I think it [this graphic] neatly encapsulated the four issues that will effect the web, and which the publishing business needs to get its head around. I talk a lot about social on here, and the whole hyper-local journalism movement is, to some degree, predicated on the idea of geo-centric technology, even if the potential benefits of geocoding information haven't really been discussed.

The whole mobile environment has been changed by the new breed of smart phones, led by the iPhone, which are turning users into voracious data consumers on the move, and the Real Time web is becoming, in a technological sense, a very real proposition (and, if fact, I should write a post about that).

This graphic is the sort of thing every publisher and journalist should be looking at and thinking "what does this mean for what I do?" "

Read more here [link]

Three things for newspapers to work on, suggests Google boss Eric Schmidt

From his Q&A with The Times:

"Personalize the news – at its best, the on-line version of a newspaper should learn from the information I'm giving it – what I've read, who I am and what I like – to automatically send me stories and photos that will interest me.

Make the content available anywhere – as more "smart" or web-enabled phones hit the market there will be even greater access to what can be considered mobile reading platforms. […]

Embrace journalism as a two-way conversation – the advent of real-time reporting […] means micro-blogging and citizen journalism are here to stay. This phenomenon, combined with the potential benefits to the reader of knowing what their friends or others are reading or saying about events, means newspapers now have a chance to be a 21st century community forum. The more this dialog among and between the newspaper and its readers develops, the greater the opportunity newspapers will have to make money from their content."

Read more here [link]

Shifting from mass media to individuated media

Vin Crosbie highlights the magnitude of the transition he envisages:

"We're now in the early years of this transition from mass media to individuated media, maybe 10 years into a process that will take a generation. The writing is on the wall, but most traditional media companies still think it's only graffiti. Yet the change will come and be sudden and sharp, not gradual. Just ask the newspaper industry, the first to be affected. The radio industry's and the TV industry's affiliate infrastructures will be next. There are pioneers who are ably leading the advertising and public relations industries through the change, but not everyone in those industries will make it to the Promised Land.

If you think you've seen changes in the past 10 to 15 years, you ain't seen nothing yet. […] However, the opportunities to profit and grow careers within individuated media, for those who know how to do it, will be extraordinary. Be one of those people."

Read more here [link]

Rescuing The Reporters « Clay Shirky

It's the original, local news reporting that counts, says Clay Shirky, after a 'news biopsy' of his old hometown paper. Six news reporters unearthing valuable stories — with 53 other staff in the newsroom. [NB Shirky includes sport and columnists as 'other'.] His conclusion: around a dozen are critical for the good of the town — and so, if necessary, could be transferred to a non-profit employer.

Read more here [link]

A journalistic limbo until we reach The New World | Editors’ Blog

Imagined scenarios for online journalism, before we reach the New World (Promised Land, Golden Age etc), by Benji Lanyado:

“1) The paywalls go up, and a black market for scoops emerges
2) The non-paywall sites are damned because they didn’t
3) The fall of ‘quality’ news
4) The rise of ‘all blogosphere’, and the government subsidy solution
5) The New World: Shirky’s vision of a conglomeration of multiple news organisations begins to take shape. A handful of old media names, dramatically reduced in size and scope, survive thanks to government propping. This ‘new BBC’ competes with the vastly augmented blogosphere, and journalism becomes healthy once again.”

>> And they all live happily ever after. At least until the next disruptive technology / economic crisis / cultural shift [insert choice of cause here] …

Read more here [link]