New Media and Journalism: Trends, Opportunities and Challenges

These days, it seems like everyone’s talking. They’re voicing their opinions in online message boards, drumming up support for political candidates in virtual chats, writing blog postings, and using social media platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, to share specifics about what they like—and what they don’t. Many times, people even share irrelevant or mundane information, scribbling with no purpose at all. While mobile phones are certainly another popular way of sharing information, the Internet is the hottest medium of choice, brimming with possibilities. It has profoundly altered the ways in which we share information, as well as how we learn about the world around us.

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In response to the rapid changes in technology, traditional journalism is undergoing a bit of an identity crisis and searching for its own place in the information equation. Forced into a Darwinian evolution that seemed to pop up overnight, journalists must now strike a fine balance between adhering to their traditional newsgathering values and tenants—and learning news ways and practices to connect to consumers. New media offers a host of creative ways for journalists to appeal to their audiences, as well as enhance the impact of their stories and reporting. But what’s really at stake for journalists when they don’t embrace new media?


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"Who is the Journalist?" exhibit at Northwestern University Library (Timeoutchicago.com; Photo-Bruce Powell)


“Outlets, journalists and news producers now need new fresh strategies for reaching individuals who lack a strong motivation or preference for public affairs content.” (Aufderheide, 2009) AU Center for Social Media Study: 2009

“The most important reason to adapt new media into our practice has to do with one word–evolution,” says Dave Pidgeon, the Assignment Editor at Lancaster’s WGAL-TV News 8 (D. Pidgeon, personal communication, July 7, 2011). “What began as town criers and leaflets and evolved into broadsheet newspapers, which led to television and color photographs in USA Today, followed by 24-hour cable news and finally the blistering pace of the Internet, has entered a new phase of evolution.”

As journalism stands at the crossroads of old and new practices, some seasoned journalists are not keen on changing their ways. This age-old scenario, however, now extends past being a matter of personal pride: These journalists must adapt their practices—or fear their livelihood’s extinction. With any changes to an antiquated practice naturally comes a level of resentment, resistance, and specific challenges. This paper seeks to address some of these issues, highlight various new media trends happening within the journalistic community, as well as address the need for their inclusion in modern school curriculum.


New Media, New Challenges:

Many can readily agree: Gone are the days where a singular newspaper, television news show, or radio report, can serve all of the consumer’s needs. With the information overload, vast amounts pass hands at a rapid pace, as well as through various mediums.

“News providers must adjust to meet customer needs and demands. If the provider continues to demand their content be accessed to the provider’s ideal (a newspaper, 5 p.m. news), a customer likely moves toward a source that provides content in a format that the customer wants,” Pidgeon says (D. Pidgeon, personal communication, July 7, 2011).

Additionally, consumers want information on their own terms. Thanks to the wide availability and immediacy of the Internet, they want it up-to-the-minute and on whatever platform they desire, be it mobile phones, podcasts or traditional computer screens. In order to attend to the constant demand for information, journalists are forced to connect to consumers in new ways, and much more frequently.

“New media has made me exhausted,” says Assistant Professor of Journalism at Temple University, George Miller (G. Miller, personal communication, July 7, 2011). “Producing content for the 24 hour/7 day per week news cycle is insane. The beast constantly needs to be fed. I run a website for my print magazine, JUMP. I went on a two-week stretch and tried to update everyday. I was completely worn out.”

The Global Ripple Effect and New Jobs:

Responding to the changing nature of information gathering and distribution is not simply an American news media notion: the increasing interest in adaptations in the news business is one that is shared around the globe. News outlets are quickly realizing that in order to keep audiences interested in their product, they’ll have to make changes.

According to the Nigerian paper, The Tide News Online, recently India’s Ministry of External Affairs was so concerned about new media changes affecting journalism that they helped to organize a conference at the Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi. They gathered 23 journalists from 10 African countries and trained them on new media practices in journalism. Although the conference sought to strength relations between the two countries and stressed the basic tenants of good journalism—solid writing and an ethical sense of judgment—it also centered upon preparing African journalists for the new demands of modern news gathering and consumption. http://www.thetidenewsonline.com/?p=23797
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“The general consensus of opinions at the training programme was that African journalists ought to adopt the use of modern media technologies to enhance the quality and scope of their reports. By so doing, African journalists will be in a position to compete favourably with their counterparts in Western counties, some said.” (Ukuedojor, 2011)

In addition to adoption of new media practices, one specific adaptation embraced by many news outlets is the addition of social media or video-centered jobs.

“I've been working in New Media for more nearly 12 years,” says Pulskamp (A. Pulskamp, personal communication, July 8, 2011). “The specific job I have right now didn't exist 4 years ago. The job I had before that didn't exist 10 years ago. I expect the work I'll be doing three years from now will be quite different from what I'm doing right now.”


“What’s Trending Now”

Certainly no discussion of how new media is affecting journalism would be complete without examination of some of the biggest trends. While most of the trends involve making the move online (i.e. creating a web presence for a station or newspaper and expanding it through social media outlets), there are other practices that too are worthy of noting.

Change of Address

  • The easiest way to see how the Internet has affected journalism is simply through turning on the computer and heading online: Most newspapers, as well as television and radio stations, now have websites with staff dedicated to their upkeep. This move to an additional online address allows consumers to be constantly connected to the news. In addition, whole sections of websites are now dedicated solely to video. The content ranges from video already broadcast (during news shows) to web-only video that will never make it to the air.

  • One of the goals of making the move online is pushing further: expanding coverage and providing more in depth analysis. In essence, giving consumers more content to consume, and more reasons to come back to the news provider. Hyperlinks can take users from story to story, allowing audiences to zoom through related multimedia content in one sitting.

  • “Online tools and platforms allow media makers to build deep, multimedia reservoirs of content around particular beats or topics that extend user access to one-time broadcasts or provide context for ongoing coverage.” (Aufderheide, 2009)

  • Some newspapers, like Harrisburg’s Patriot News, use their online component (http://www.pennlive.com/patriotnews/) to showcase additional information that didn’t quite fit into their paper. The website is especially helpful for providing detailed information about what’s going on in the community, nestled under the Entertainment tab.

Social Media: Utilizing Facebook and Twitterimages.jpegimages-1.jpeg

  • In addition to the move online, many media makers have taken the leap a bit further, extending into the realm of social media. By
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    Anderson Cooper 360 Blog
    using social utilities like Facebook and Twitter, media makers are connecting to viewers on a more personal level. This cultivates more loyal audiences, both for the organization in general and individuals. In turn, news people often become their own brands by creating professional Facebook of Twitter accounts. Instead of simply exalting their reporters and anchors online with fan pages, social utilities humanize professionals and make them appear more approachable. When media makers interact with their audiences, they solidify brand loyalty. http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/


  • “Connecting with the viewer on a personal level is the key building viewership, a customerfacebook.jpegbase if u will. And for all of us ON AIR, itshow we build our following , our groupies, the folks that make us popular and keep us around,” says Bob Kelly, a popular traffic reporter at CBS3 in Philadelphia (B. Kelly, personal communication, July 11, 2011). Kelly regularly updates his Facebook page and responds to viewer comments online. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bob-Kelly-CBS3/97838745861 “So post little things, show that you are a real person just like them. And RESPOND, not in great big emails, but quick one-liners that shows ...WOW, he really DOES read this stuff,” suggests Kelly.


  • But interacting with audiences through social media does exist only in the online sphere: katiecouric.jpegIt’s not uncommon to see mentions of Internet happenings and movement bleeding into traditional news formats. Television stations frequently mention what’s “Trending” online and note the most popular videos on their websites. Newspapers prominently display reporter’s emails in their articles, hoping to stir reader feedback or elicit tips. Even the most austere evening newscasts that feature veteran reporters, like NBC’s Brian Williams, include viewer Tweets and online forum responses. News outlets want consumers to feel involved, and make poignant efforts to connect to audiences in new and innovative ways. http://twitter.com/#!/katiecouric



Users become Participants

  • Not only are more media makers sharing content and opinions online, as well as interacting with viewers, but social media is changing the ways in which the newsmaking process functions. Users are becoming increasingly involved in shaping what they read in newspapers and what they watch in their news programs. And as users become invested in the process, they become even more invested in the product. By organizing themselves in online communities, users can give feedback on stories and share issues that concern them most. This is a new form of crowdsourcing done digitally; it allows journalists to find out what people are buzzing about in the community. These new forums for discussion, however, are bigger than just message board postings: Viewers often submit photos and videos that are actually used in newscasts.
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  • “Newsrooms are starting to see a lot of civilian reporting...i.e. people sending in pics (sic) and video of fires, crime scenes, traffic accidents etc,” says Lori Burkholder, morning news anchor at Lancaster’s WGAL-TV News 8 (L. Burkholder, personal communication, July 11, 2011). Burkholder’s station uses the social media utility called Ulocal. Touted as the place to share photos, audio, videos and stories, viewers that head to this offshoot of the news site create usernames in order to post. Each morning during the 6am newscast, Burkholder announces the Ulocal “Quick Pick of the Day,” sharing with her audiences a user-submitted photo or video. “I believe the new trends are more beneficial than detrimental. It gives reporters more tools to work with and only helps the end product,” she says.
http://ulocal.wgal.com/

Reaching Niche Audiences: Mobile Apps and Podcasting

  • Another extension of social media utilities revolves around cellular phones. Mobile alerts are becoming increasingly popular, allowing users to constantly stay connected to the news, even when they aren’t in front of their computer, holding a newspaper or watching the television. The recent WGAL mobile application sends weather, sports and entertainment information directly to viewers cell phones. But the service doesn’t simply send supplementary information: like many other mobile alert applications, it keeps viewers informed during inclement weather situations, thus promoting safety and awareness.
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  • “Mobile devices give journalists yet another way to distribute information to an audience,” says Pulskamp (A. Pulskamp, personal communication, July 8, 2011), who helps manage WGAL’s mobile application. The news station’s website features a prominent banner splashed across the top of the screen, advertising the free application.
http://www.wgal.com/wirelessnews/index.html

  • Another effective way news organizations are reaching out to their niche audiences is through podcasting. While this doesn’t appear to be a popular trend with television sites, radio shows and some newspapers have capitalized upon this new media technology and connected in a new way with specific audience subsets.
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  • “Reduced costs of online production and distribution mean that news content can be tailored to the interests, habits and preferred conventions of underserved audiences.” (21)


  • For example, NPR (National Public Broadcasting) has a website that allows users to sort through various podcasts, searching by topic, title or provider. By having free podcasts readily available online, NPR expands their audience reach to those who like to take shows on the go (such as on their iPod), or simply listen to at home in their leisure. No longer do listeners only have one opportunity—listening to a live broadcast on the radio—to tune in: they may now download and listen to shows anytime they want. This also allows users greater customization in their listening. From Politics and Music, to Health and Food, themed podcasts give listeners the power to tune into what they want to learn about—and bypass what they don’t.
http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_directory.php

It’s Worth a Try: Experimenting with New Media

  • While new media allows for stronger outreach into the community through networks of users and greater customization once they are hooked, it has also allowed for more creative endeavors and exploration. Besides heading online, another popular way television news stations have attempted to harness the possibilities of new media is through the hiring of multimedia journalists. Sometimes called “One Man Bands,”
    these journalists work solo in the field, brainstorming and organizing their own stories, shooting their own footage, and packaging their video. They are responsible for every step of the production process, which creates certain challenges. News stations save money by having the reporter work alone, sans photographer, and the quality of the finished product sometimes does not rival that of the traditional two-person field team. These journalists are often relatively new to the field and work under extreme time constraints. However, certain multimedia journalists are allowed more creative freedom, especially if they produce direct-to-web content or cater to a niche market. Another plus for young multimedia journalists? They quickly learn many facets of production and increase their marketability.

  • “Journalists are paid to be masters of their medium, but I think they need to master so much more today to be successful,” says Muntean (P. Muntean, personal communication, July 11, 2011). He not only works as a multimedia journalist at his TV station, but also produces weekend newscasts. “I know how to update our station website content management system, code HTML, shoot video and edit it on multiple platforms. Newsrooms are leaner and times are tough—I find that marketing myself as a utility player has been successful. I think other journalists, new or veteran, should consider something similar.”
http://www.nytimes.com/pages/multimedia/index.html

  • Multimedia reporters use various forms of media to create engaging content, from audio/visual slide shows, to utilizing social media applications in combination with traditional video. But they are not the only journalists mixing things up: Many newspapers, including The New York Times, have made a huge push to create multimedia content for online readers. One section of their website is dedicated to multimedia and photos; it’s an arsenal of award-winning photographs woven into slideshows (and sometimes audio tracked as well) and stories with interactive graphics and maps.
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/07/07/business/global/wuhan-china-construction.html?ref=multimedia#0)

  • The New York Times also frequently uses new media to update traditional practices. Some of their newspaper reporters, who perhaps have never spent much time in front of the camera, now put their columns and discussions into video and report on camera. While this doesn’t always translate well—not all talented writers make great on camera personalities and presenters—The New York Times is trying to use new media to update their product.

  • But not all efforts at integrating new media into journalism practice have been particularly successful, although they often show some glimmers of potential for future usage. For example, back in March, WKRG News 5 (a CBS station in Mobile, Alabama) tried experimenting with one of the newest new media tools on the market: Apple's iPad 2. The tablet had only been on the market for a little over a week, but WKRG wanted to test what it could provide for their newscast. And so, the station had their web reporter, Lauren Styler, shoot a package using a traditional Panasonic P2 camera and compare it to the package she shot—covering the same content—using the tablet. Styler and her photographer traveled to Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, AL to conduct a few interviews about spring in the gardens. As many expected, the products were not identical in the least. Posted back-to-back, dual videos clearly indicated the lower resolution of the tablet's camera, which was distracting and cheapened the overall quality of the iPad 2 package. Shots were shaky, as the reporter mentioned in her piece, as there is no tripod available for the iPad.
http://www.mediabistro.com/tvspy/wkrg-tests-ipad-2-against-traditional-news-camera_b7913



  • While the tablet might not yet be the right tool for shooting stories to air on mainstream newscasts, it has been popping up in the field (specifically in reporters' hands) with another purpose: as a word processor for scriptwriting.



New Media’s Classroom Applications

While being aware of new media trends and attempting to integrate them into traditional media practices is essential for modern-day journalists, professionals in the field are not the only ones who greatly benefit from new media learning. Students are also desperately in need of new media training. While many children and teens are already well-versed in many aspects of new media, especially doing research online and using social media utilities, they too benefit from learning about the specific mediums and innovations—and discover how they are affecting the ways in which we communicate on a global scale. In an English or Social Studies classroom, new media can be incorporated to assist in lesson plans, helping students make sense of canonical pieces through modern interpretations. But new media is even more beneficial when tied into journalism class curriculum, serving as a focal point for coursework. By teaching future journalists about the media and allowing them hands-on practice early in their scholastic careers, students are then better prepared to face the ever-changing mediascape with confidence in their skills.

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Of new media’s inclusion into curriculum, Antonio Lopez, an educator from Rome, Italy writes, “It is essential because that is the world and they should learn how to engage it mindfully. For better and for worse, it is here to stay” (Lopez, 2011). Lopez says he uses new media, including blogging and online discussion forums, in order to extend students’ participation beyond the classroom setting.

Educators are now recognizing how curriculum can readily be enriched with new media’s inclusion, and journalism classes are expanding their theories with practical new media application. Yet, it seems when it comes down to it, many also still stress the basics of writing to their english and journalism students; they remind students that good writing, carefully selected content, and being honest remains the core.



So What’s Next?

As more and more people connect via cyberspace, new networks and communities are forming. These communities are particularly influential: they demand their news how they want, when they want. In turn, journalism has been scrambling to keep pace, in order to meet audience demand. Due to the immediacy of the Internet, maintaining websites where users can access constant updates has become a particular concern for media makers. With social media utilities being integrated into newsrooms, for journalists the news cycle no longer wraps at the end of their day. Social media utilities have turned news anchors and reporters into brands, but also allow their personalities to take center stage. In addition, journalists face increasing competition, not only from other news organizations but also from consumers, who now too want to be contributors and participants.

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But, by integrating user-generated content (such as discussions, concerns, photos and videos) into products, journalists are also servicing themselves; they are solidifying relations with their audiences and increasing their brand loyalty. If citizens are under the impression that their opinions and input matters, they will be more apt to trust the news source and keep coming back. In addition, users are accessing the news in more ways than ever, including through their ever-handy mobile phones. For tech savvy radio listeners, podcasts allow consumers to still listen to their favorite shows, even when they miss a live broadcast. Many media makers are also experimenting with new media, from hiring new tech-focused positions and changing formats, to even dabbling with non-traditional, consumer methods of shooting video—like using Apple’s iPad 2. And through it all, educators are watching these changes. They’re observing trends that they too see in newspapers and television shows, and they’re talking about them with their students. Subsequently children and teens that are already plugged into new media—and social media, specifically—are increasingly engaged and enhance communications skills that will service them later in life.

While this paper by no means shall serve as the definitive source for all things new media, it does examine some of the biggest trends in journalism at the present time— namely the industry’s push to cultivate communities online and connect with users in new ways. Further research and reflection might consider additional new media trends and how organizations are implementing them. An interesting study might take these ideas one step further: perhaps it could examine both the qualitative and quantitative results of using new media in journalism—or what it has done to the product. In essence, prompting the question: New media may be changing our news, but is it changing for the better?

Teaching This Lesson

Author has created a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation of this research paper, intended to be used as an 8-10 minute lecture that may open for class discussion

References