Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Discovering the converged newsroom

I first saw the future of newsrooms at the Chicago Tribune. It must have been nearly 15 years ago. A friend of mine was working there, and she gave me a tour. And what struck me the most (besides actually seeing Mike Royko) was the giant remote-controlled camera in the center of the newsroom. The Trib had created a system where print reporters would stand in front of the camera and talk about their stories. That video would air on Tribune-owned WGN.
I was amazed and excited. My friend, however, was resentful. She saw the camera not as an opportunity, but as another in an endless series of demands on her time.
In later years I'd see that multimedia environment repeated time and time again. At CNN, our reporters worked on the Web, appeared on camera, did sound bites for radio. Certainly there was specialization, but the most successful and ambitious journalists transcended their niches and worked in more than one medium. And time and time again I have come across different versions of my friend from the Tribune -- resisting change and sabotaging their careers.
Just last month I met the editor of a trade magazine who told me he didn't even know the name of the person who ran his publication's Web site. (Certainly you can blame that guy's publisher for failing to combine his products into a unified brand run by a unified team. And ultimately it was the publisher who made the short-sighted decision to use shovelware -- thus allowing the print reporters to maintain their distance from the Web site. But I believe with all my heart that journalists have the responsibility to keep editorial control over all editorial products. Letting a tech department decide how to run a magazine's site is madness.)
Readers of this blog know that I tell journalism students that I want nothing to do with single-medium journalists. A journalist who fails to embrace the storytelling potential of hyperlinks, graphics, video, interactivity, feedback, etc. tells me that he is unambitious. A journalist such as that tells me not to hire him.
Now comes word that the Washington Post has hired the king of convergence and that the New York Times has embraced the converged newsroom. (FULL DISCLOSURE: The Times recently acquired, where I was once a producer and executive.) When the Times and the Post, which for better or for worse are among the most influential publications in media, make such moves, there can be no doubt that none of us will ever again be tied solely to the world of hard copy.
To read more about multimedia reporting, read this post and follow the links.

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