I’ve been chatting with my undergraduate students about their experience with digital whilst on work placement. They went to a mix of magazines, regional newspapers(weekly and daily) and some to websites. As you can imagine their experience was a mixed bag from no digital at all to shooting video for the website.
When I asked those who had little or nothing to do with the web why, I got a range of answers. Some publications simply did not have a website and those that did saw it as secondary to the main task of putting out the paper. One of the students summed up the motivation for this when they quoted an editor who had told him (and I’m paraphrasing here)
“You can’t put the paper out with any gaps in it but you can put the website out with stuff missing”
It may surprise you to hear that I have a lot of sympathy with that view – if nothing else I’m pragmatic. After all the editor is right. The paper is a pre-set framework with stuff to put in. Of course the web would come second. But we all know that it can and has to change.
Integrating the web in to the journalism process
Key to that change is the idea that the process of generating content has to consider the web platform from the start of the reporting process not just as an afterthought. As Paul Bradshaw recently blogged “Newsgathering IS production IS distribution”
It’s a concept that is reflected in the development of what I do at the university.
In the ten years that I’ve been teaching this stuff I’ve found myself stepping further and further away from the point of publication (teaching html, dreamweaver etc) and closer to the start of the journalistic process. Now I’m telling people about how to integrate twitter and facebook in to their journalistic process. By thinking digital from the start you can begin to create content for the newspaper AND for the web. Not one after the other. It’s a convergence of effort rather than a duplication. What Robin Hamman called turning process in to content.
I had that in my mind when I was talking to another group of students about their assignments and encouraging them to consider a kind of check list, based on the tried and tested 5 W’s, when they where starting off on a story.
- Who - who are the key players in the story and do I have (or need to get)
- a picture
- a link to a bio or other information about them
- What - what’s the issue? Do I have a link to a backgrounder or other articles that fill out the context of the story
- When – make a note of times and dates of key events in your story. More than 5 or 6 of these may mean that your story would suit a timeline online.
- Where – note locations, postcodes if you can, mentioned in the story. These may be useful for a map
- Why - why is this important to your audience. Do you need to look across forums and communities to see what the reaction is like.
I also noted that you could, perhaps, throw a How in there as in “how did this happen”. This could be a mixture of the what and when and may help define and create a timeline or infographic.
Process and content checklist
I want to explore the best way to ingrain that way of thinking in the students and one way I’m going to try is with a checklist I created (pdf)
The idea is that this check list is filled out as the story develops and handed to the digital editor as the story nears completion
Here is an idea of how it might work – A local builder has asked for planning permission to build a slaughterhouse and rendering plant in an area that, local residents say, is too close to a school.
The list, generated as the story develops, to include images of the main players (the minimum you would want for a webpage). It also points to websites that could be included as related links. These will have been gathered as the journalist researched the story. Postcodes and a chronology of events where appropriate fill out the detail and indicate whether maps or timeline would work.
This may seem a little too systematic for some but I’d be interested in what you think of the idea as an aide memoir to kick start more online thinking earlier in the reporting process.