The economy of not linking

Chain linkSo the New York Post printed a story without crediting the blogger who originally broke it – and the journalist whose byline is on the Post piece claimed it was an editorial policy not to credit blogs for scoops.

There’s been some controversy over this, with Zachary M. Seward at Nieman Journalism Lab saying “It’s hard, of course, to defend this rule on journalistic grounds”.

There’s a clear and obvious line between nicking someone’s words and rewriting their story – and individuals and organisations who fall on the wrong side of that line tend to get publicly and appropriately told off.

But news organisations routinely borrow or steal story ideas from each other. Newspaper ideas go back and forth, nationals write up local stories, local BBC newsrooms interview people in the evenings who were in that morning’s paper. It might not be nice, but it’s the way the traditional media world seems to work. It’s even happened to me.

Should it be the case online? Print journalists sometimes get very upset when online news outlets summarise their stories even with links – for example, see Ian Shapira‘s response to Gawker’s write-up of his Washington Post article.

Most papers, though, nick stuff and don’t bother to attribute it. Like the New York Post, they take an idea from somewhere and run with it, usually without crediting where that idea came from.

Sometimes it’s to get individual credit, sometimes to avoid looking slow, sometimes editorial policy, and sometimes – believe it or not – it’s because the journalist in question doesn’t know how to put links on their online stories.

At the moment, where I work, we can’t add inline links within stories. We can only add boxed links, which makes it very difficult to link specific content – I couldn’t link to more than two or three sources without confusing the issue. There’s no way of separating links by category or by subject, so internal and external links are lumped together.

This week at work I trained two people to add links to web stories using our current content management system. Before that, if they had found a story on the web they couldn’t have credited it in the way bloggers expect – they lacked the skills to do so. It takes up to three minutes to add a link – time that some people don’t have.

It’s hard to believe in a time when linking is considered potentially vital to paper’s survival, but for some papers and journalists technology and training – and the financial issues involved in acquiring them – are preventing them from following good web etiquette.

Journalists and bloggers can agree (not that they always do) that online sources ought to be clear and obvious, that raw data should be available wherever possible and that linksharing is both important and necessary.

But when the technology isn’t available, sometimes we fall down before we’ve even started.

Greenbelt: print power online

Greenbelt 2009 Friday

Last weekend I went to Greenbelt, Britain’s least-known and friendliest festival, where I have had a wonderful time being very, very relaxed, and engaging with social media as a consumer.

Rather than blogging my personal festival highlights, let’s talk about the innovations that allowed me to pick up on Monday a 16-page newspaper that went to press on Sunday night, two days after the festival opened, aimed at getting me to engage with Greenbelt’s online content.

Sponsored by Hewlitt Packard, the paper itself is a lovely object. It’s called “While We Were Here” and it’s entirely composed of blog posts, images and links that already exist on the web. In theory, the 4,000 free copies are designed to direct traffic to the web, not the other way round.

I don’t know if it’s working universally. I do know that when I got home on Tuesday I logged on and looked at a fair few blogs – I visited many of the ones printed in the paper and bookmarked or followed the profiles and groups signposted from its pages.

And I can say it worked for me. I don’t know if this business model is sustainable anywhere outside a four-day charity festival using volunteers willing to spend every waking hour (and several that should be sleeping ones) making it work. But I do believe it has legs and it could be immensely succesful to clone online content for web as a way of driving the link economy of an event.

Video vs print

Magazines to read Today the BBC reported that video adverts are going to appear in a print magazine.

Yes, seriously. This is the Daily Prophet made real, though with more Pepsi and less Azkaban. We are now officially living in the future. Though someone seems to have stolen my jetpack.

According to the BBC, they use similar technology to singing cards, can store 40 minutes of video and can be recharged.

As long as they don’t use them to wish me a happy new year in tinny voices every time I open a magazine, I’m behind this idea all the way.

Let’s make print more attractive, let’s innovate in meatspace as well as online, and let’s develop easily-accessible video news as a permanent medium and see what happens.

NCE results

Exams - AlexFrance on Flickr Today, like a fair few other British journalism trainees, I ended up on Hold The Front Page, glued to the examiners’ comments on this season’s NCE results in the vague and desperate hope that there would be some magical alchemical formula there to help me pass the exams.

There wasn’t (that won’t stop me doing it again in three months’ time) but there were a few interesting points in there that gave me some pause for thought.

Apparently, the pass rate has fallen by 16% but 50% more people are sitting the exams. Because of the way the exams work – they are supposed to come after 18 months of training – that makes me wonder what started to happen 18 months ago that prompted the massive upsurge in trainee numbers.

It also makes me feel sorry for those that aspire to print journalism, because for most, if they aren’t already working, they probably won’t get work in print any time soon. Most of them will be going it alone, and while that has its advantages it’s not easy or cheap.

The examiners’ comments, though, are fascinating. According to the senior news report examiner:

Those who did not pass should take note of the skills needed by a reporter in a 21st century newsroom. Publishers quite rightly have a focus on changing technology but core journalistic skills must not be forgotten. It does not matter what platform is being used to tell a story, the basics must still be there.

In today’s crowded market where there are so many news outlets, it is important to get the best story, the story that will make your publication stand out and be the first that readers will trust.

Another comment from the newspaper practice examiner:

Anecdotally we hear that reporters are increasingly tied to their desks and unable to get out to cover stories. If this is the case it may be that they are not amassing enough experience to do themselves justice on the practice questions.

I understand that the NCTJ has standards to uphold, but it’s difficult to reconcile the newsroom reality with what the examiners are saying.

We’re told to write for web first, print second, and time is paramount – it is more important to have the first story on the web, the most SEO-friendly and up-to-date, than it is to have beautifully crafted prose. Some of us are learning to report for the web, not print, and it requires a completely different writing style that doesn’t seem to pass muster with the examiners.

Many of us write many stories twice or three times or more, in multiple styles for multiple platforms and papers, and that ties us to desks – spending more time writing leaves less for reporting. And redundancies are forcing us to write more stories and report in person on less, so we have to do phone work and pick up stories that not long ago we would have staffed.

I’m glad the examiners have noticed this, but I’m confused about how we’re meant to get the skills we need to pass – and whether it’s worth it.

If the newsroom priorities have changed, what’s required of us has changed, the skills we need and the training goals and methods have changed, why aren’t the exams changing to reflect this?

A link to begin with – 12 things multimedia journalists should do

LA Times

Vadim Lavrusik over at Mashable has a post up detailing 12 things newspapers should be doing in order to survive. I’m going to try and start this blog on a positive note – I get enough “print journalism is doomed / ad revenue will never recover / there’s no way out of the decline / we’re all doomed” at work – and talking about how to survive the digital revolution seems like a good start.

Continue reading A link to begin with – 12 things multimedia journalists should do