Media Convergence-BSC Los Angeles-(Oct.2012)

Media Convergence and why it Matters

By- Jack Speer

Journalism is in a state of flux. We have digital journalists, backpack journalists, bloggers, even journalists on Twitter covering “ all the news that’s fit to print” in 140 characters or less. Does all of this affect our SAG-AFTRA members? You bet it does, and at times it can seem almost impossible to keep up.

As has been noted by media theorist Clay Shirkey in Here Comes Everybodyin the past… “When it was easy to recognize who the publisher was, it was (also) easy to recognize who the journalists were…now that scarcity is gone.” There is no journalism license after all, and the blurring of the lines with the emergence of new technology not just a problem for print reporters its affecting broadcasters as well.

Communications theorists have likened the emergence of the Internet and digital media to Gutenberg’s printing press and the dawn of television. No one is clear where it is taking us, what’s next, and perhaps most importantly which applications will survive.  Also, unanswered is whether the newspaper industry as we have known it, words on paper, will be able to weather the intense changes now roiling the industry.

And it’s not just the newspapers. The industry changes are affecting broadcasters as well.  For example, the iPhone many of us carry around in our pockets can be used to gather audio in the field. It can also take pictures and record HD video. This level of technology, because it formerly cost a lot, was limited to radio, TV and film professionals. Now an 11 year old can make a movie, record a song or anchor a version of the nightly news.

So if anyone can now carry out some of the technical functions of journalism what sets us apart? I believe the answer is the ability to produce content backed by serious reporting, fact checking and sourcing. There may not be a “journalism license,” but there is more than ever a need for someone to explain it all and put it into context for viewers and listeners. That is where professionalism matters.

As a result, it’s incumbent that we remain open to working with new technologies across a variety of different media platforms. To some in our profession the term “convergence” has become a dirty word.  We need to rethink that. When two things come together, the popular definition of convergence, it often creates a third thing that is new and distinct from what came before.  That’s where our members need to be.


The Slatest-#10

This is my final post on Slate, at least for now. It seems only fitting that I allow an editor at the online magazine to answer some of the questions I have been asking about the publication all semester. Julia Turner, from the New York office of Slate, generously agreed to give me some of her time. Ms. Turner is deputy editor, dealing with several of the online magazines regular columns. She regularly does work in the areas of language, fashion, advertising and media and has a firm grasp of why Slate looks and feels the way it does.

So, first I asked her about that. In other words, how is it that Slate has the same three quarter layouts as competitors like NPR and the The New York Times, yet looks so completely different? “One thing that our readers have been very attached to over the years is reverse chronological vertical lift of stories,” says Turner. What she means is that stories are arranged in the order they are published, with the older material lower down on the page. Turner says since readers can see whats been posted most recently it would not in her words be a “herculean” task for readers to see everything published on Slate in a given day. (Personally,  I think that would still be pretty herculean!)

Another feature of Slate is the navigation buttons at the top of page (fly-outs), which I find very helpful in terms of seeing what is going on at the site at any given time. Turner says there has been a “heated debate” within Slate about how much they are used, but adds, “We just sort of want to give people a lot of different ways to navigate.” It can also link people to a homepage with material they are specifically interested in.

But, there is much more to Slate than just design, which as I’ve noted previously can at times appear a bit busy. Slate in many ways is at the heart of the debate we have discussed in class over the future of news (fons), versus the future of media (foms). “Slate is a classic second read, we’re offering you analysis, opinion, insight on news….we try to be as speedy as possible, because we live in an internet world…but we are not typically reporting as it happens,” says Turner. And she defends Slate’s long-form journalism, noting”its definitely a concerted effort,” since she says “less enterprise journalism is being done.”

As for the future direction of Slate, that is still evolving. Turner says one innovation over the past year is the hiring of a new photo editor to help with that aspect of the publication. “I think we have seen having great photography can really tell the story.” Turner says a site “refresh” done in September has also integrated visuals more into the magazine. She says in the year ahead Slate plans to try experimenting with photography size as some users get larger more high resolution monitors.

What does Turner like best about Slate? “I love the sortability of the top stories tab, I love that you can look at all the content we have and how different folks are interacting with it,” she says.

As for what she would like to change?  “I would like to see us have smarter presentations, smarter recirculation across the site…I think we could be better in terms of presenting podcasts we do, or slideshows in blogs…I think we can do a better job of getting folks who are reading some Slate stories to find other Slate stuff.”

Lastly, Turner says she is encouraged by a shift away from what she calls the obsession with “page views” in online media, with more attention being paid to unique views (who is looking at the site and why). And the fact that breaking stories may still be what drives people to online sites. I think for Slate that will be key in terms of its survivability going forward.

Turner Interview-

Slate does Social Media #9

( * Note, this is to meet requirements of post #5  )

The folks at Slate clearly understand social media better than just about anyone. While other major media publications have added links and apps to their homepages, for example; Facebook and Twitter, I think Slate has been way out front on this.

On Slate’s homepage I counted at least four perhaps five areas devoted to social media.

And Slate goes beyond just doing the standard social network sites like Twitter and Facebook. There are links to apps for both iPhone and Android. Other links are setup for Podcasts or for the Kindle. The site is also coordinating with parent company WashPo on something called the Washington Post Social Reader. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact the Slate from the very beginning has viewed itself as a multimedia site and not just a news portal.

However, as I noted in my very first post in this series (Slate#1-An Introduction) it has not all been all smooth sailing for the site.“The WSJ reports the larger company (The Washington Post Co.) reported a 50 percent decline in second quarter profits, with online operations showing a 13 percent drop in ad revenue. That led to the lay-offs of four of Slate’s approximately 50 staffers, including long-time media critic Jack Shafer.”

Slate has also been seeing some mixed traffic number in terms of visits to the website. While overall traffic is up from last year, there have been some months, (July), in which it was actually below 2010 levels (WSJ). Still, for the moment WashPo seems committed to Slate. The problem is there may simply not be enough demand, or enough eyeballs, for all the similar sites out there.

Salon is one example of a competitor site. Huffington Post also has a similar look and feel, though I think Slate is better than either of them. While there is some aggregation, its nowhere near the level that we see at HuffPo. I really enjoy the original content that is on the site and hope that the broader media company doesn’t cut and run if things get really rough.

So, social media use is definitely a strongpoint for Slate and I think it is here where the publication really has a solid lead and only needs to build on what it has already done to maintain it.


Love it or leave it. Slate #8

This blog post may be one of the easiest or the hardest to write in this series yet. Slate is kind of like a bad girlfriend (or boyfriend). You like to spend time with them, but the fact they leave their socks on the floor, laugh at inappropriate times and read trashy gossip magazines can drive you nuts!

I have expressed my frustration in the past with the fact I find Slate to be a bit too “busy,” which I think can sometimes distract from the really good things the site has to offer. I love the navigation buttons which clearly point you to Top Stories in each category. So why then do we need that separate grey box Special Features on the left side of the homepage? I would argue that we don’t, or that it should be someplace else. And what’s with all the white space on the right and later on the left side as you continue to scroll down?

OK, so now on to what I really like about Slate , namely the quirky stories and the sites stunning photography. For example, you probably won’t see this story on another website “Is the Print Dictionary Doomed?” As for the photography, with the exception of the New York Times, and sometimes NPR,  I think Slate continues to set a very high bar. Having looked a bit more deeply at this I realize there is a partnership with the group Magnum Photos, but the stuff is just stunning! As I have mentioned ad-nauseum, it’s my favorite feature of the site.

So, is Slate forever destined to be that bad boyfriend, or girlfriend whose idiosyncrasies continue to distract from their better selves? I think that is exactly where Slate is right now. It knows its a media site and not a news site, but it can’t help trying to be both. That’s fine, but Slate editors realize you can still be quirky and fun without looking like such a mess. And oh yeah, pick up your socks!