Webcentric journalist, consultant and teacher. I used to call myself a multimedia journalist, but multimedia became segregated from (text) stories on so many news sites and so narrowly defined that Webcentric’s a better word.
From September 2008 to May 2009, I’m doing a fellowship at the new Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. It’s an incredible opportunity. I’m developing a couple of Webcentric social/news/information networks — one focusing on health, with a subshell about child trauma, and the other about sustainable oceans. Out of this, I hope, will come low- or no-cost Web-shell templates that many of the 11,000+ journalists who have lost their jobs in 2009 (as of Oct. 9….go to Paper Cuts for updates) can use to start their own niche news networks. I’m also coordinating the establishment of the RJI Collaboratory, a news organization incubator. I’ll be blogging about these projects regularly.
This blog’s all about solutions and looking forward. No bemoaning of the demise of the news industry. The Web provides so many more opportunities for journalists to better serve their communities and to do better storytelling that the focus here is how people are making that happen, on small and large scales.
Someone recently asked me how long ago I cut the ties to traditional journalism. So here’s the whole long story. The evolution began in 1997, and the final thread snapped at the beginning of 2007, when I worked with a terrific team to develop a new approach to science journalism. It was scary — there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than having most of your peers think you’re abandoning (i.e., selling out) the Only Right Path. Since most news organizations had jettisoned their science reporters and sections over the last few years, my reasoning was that we had to figure out something different to bring science back into the general conversation. Same old, same old just doesn’t work anymore.
So, with my contract assuring me editorial control, we redesigned TOPP.org (Tagging of Pacific Predators), which had been a fairly traditional public information site where the emphasis was on lobbying news organizations to use the content. We switched to telling our own stories to a community of people interested in oceans and ocean critters, and building that community. We also put on the Great Turtle Race 2007, a collaborative effort with Conservation International, Leatherback Trust, Yahoo! and MINAE, Costa Rica’s environmental agency.
Developing these networks was an eye-opener, and it gave me enough experience with this new medium to take the next step: to flip traditional journalism upside down and inside out. In other words, create a news/info network where the community is the engine, and journalists serve that community.
Although I’ve left most of traditional journalism in the dust, I haven’t given up on journalists who are taking or have tried to take the bold, difficult and courageous steps to move themselves and their organizations into Web World. I’ve worked with some brave folks at the Ventura (Calif.) County Star, the Oakland (CA) Tribune, Consumer Health Interactive, the San Diego Union-Tribune, National Public Radio, and the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World. I take a pretty simple approach, which was instituted in 2000 with the multimedia reporting program that Paul Grabowicz and I developed at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and two years later in the multimedia reporting workshops for mid-career journalists we developed at the Knight Digital Media Center.
What’s the approach? If you understand the nature and characteristics of this new medium, and learn how to maneuver in it, you’ll do fine.
The evolutionary history: After 10 years in newspapers (Boston Globe, San Francisco Examiner) in a variety of positions (assistant foreign-national editor, technology columnist, magazine writer, science and technology reporter), from 1988-1996, I had my own science and technology news service, which served about 20 major metropolitan dailies in the U.S. and abroad. (I was crazy, and fortunate, enough to operate the service from Kenya in 1990-91 and from Bali in 1991-1993.) In this text-centric mode, I also wrote for magazines such as Discover, International Wildlife, National Geographic, National Wildlife, Science, and Technology Review.
The Big Switch from text-centric to Webcentric began in 1996 when Peggy Girshman enticed me to work for Video News International, co-founded by videojournalism guru Michael Rosenblum. Funded mostly by the New York Times, the organization quickly morphed into NYT-TV. Although my main job was as a videojournalist for Science Times, the television show on the Learning Channel, that’s when I did my first multimedia story, with the help and enthusiastic support of the Times’ Web folks. It was also the first multimedia story on the Times’ site. In 1998, I left because the Times didn’t want to do multimedia then, and, completely bowled over by the new medium, that’s all that I wanted to do. Like most news organizations, the NYTimes produced shovelware for its site, and thought the Web was a separate, and lesser medium. How far we’ve all come. For the next two years, I was fortunate enough to work with a terrific group of trailblazers at Discovery.com, and did a couple of stories for MSNBC.com.
In parallel, beginning in 1993, I began working with Lori Dorfman at Berkeley Media Studies Group, and Esther Thorson, at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, on the Violence Reporting Project. After 15 years, the project’s still bumping along and, now, about to take flight for real. Basically, we encourage news organizations to modernize crime reporting by adding a prevention/public health approach to crime reporting. What we didn’t appreciate when we began was that it’s an approach perfectly suited to the contextual and solution-oriented nature of the Web.