How digitisation has changed the cycle of news production
is visiting professor at City University and course leader, MA Online Journalism, Birmingham City University
As stories are picked up and move through news organisations today, they pass through a series of stages, from initial tweet through to potential interactive news app. The process has become increasingly formalised and at each stage journalists and editors are clearer about the editorial, organisational and commercial focus underlying it.
The six stages - three focused on speed and three on depth - are shown below:
Here I will look at the first of those processes: the call or response to action.
Speed is one of the key qualities of journalism: we want to be the first to a story, or to a particular part of it. It is the battleground on which emerging news technologies do their fighting.
If we can't be first to break the story, then we will settle for getting the first picture or the first interview, the first reaction, or the first analysis.
In the new environment we add to this list 'being the first to verify', and 'the first to curate or aggregate'.
In the past, competition between media led to a range of production routines dictated by the deadlines of broadcast and print distribution. Historically, those routines were constrained by physical limitations: we had to gather the information for the story, type it up or edit it in some sort of production facility, and then pass it on to others to sub-edit, design, schedule, print or distribute. Each stage relied on work at the previous stage.
It was a factory line, with shifts and deadlines, aimed at delivering a product at fixed times:
Digitisation and convergence offer new ways to make money from the same content, but it has also disturbed the rhythm of the factory line.
To compete in these new markets - or at least defend them from potential competitors - media organisations began to adopt web-first strategies. Print journalists had to adapt to producing live coverage. Broadcasters became bloggers. And both are still trying to find a way to combine the demands of filling a half-hour bulletin or double-page spread with the elastic space of their web and mobile properties.
The fundamental challenge is that news is now being produced without the physical constraints that had underpinned the organisation of the newsroom. Newsgathering, production and distribution can now occur simultaneously - and increasingly do:
Today, distribution is instant, and of a viral nature: when something newsworthy happens, news of it travels to people, many of whom then seek out more information. They do not wait for the evening news, or the next morning's paper. This creates a pressure to streamline the editorial process and the number of stages a reporter must go through to publish. The fact that they can publish without editorial filtering is as significant as the fact that anyone can.
While journalists are using networks such as Twitter as effective means of both responding to unfolding events and calling for others to act to help improve coverage (by, for example, providing extra information, leads, expertise etc), if those are the only things that journalists are doing on those networks it will most likely prove ineffective.
As The Guardian Data Blog's Simon Rogers says: "Instead of just 'chucking it out there' to a 'grateful public', you realise that in most cases there will be experts in the audience who can often do the analysis of a particular data set better than you can."
The use of Twitter, then, should be geared towards creating the most fertile environment for when the journalist needs to put out a call to action.
A good example is provided by the Norwich Evening News' Stacia Briggs, a columnist whose injection of personality into the @eveningnews Twitter feed creates a particularly fruitful relationship with other users. As former colleague Mary Hamilton writes:
"[B]etween the straight tweets that link the reader to important stories and keep people up to date, @eveningnews is genuinely funny and wonderfully compelling. It's a fantastic mix that makes readers feel they have a genuine relationship and a line into the paper - as is shown by the number of stories that come straight to Stacia via @eveningnews [Stacia says:] 'I've been given feature ideas, news stories, pictures, video, song clips - it's been like a news sweet shop.'"
The naming of this stage also recognises that on many occasions the first 'alert' of a news event does not come from a news organisation, and in some cases a 'news vacuum' exists around the event where no correspondents are present on the ground to provide updates.
"First the tweets come, then the pictures, then the video, and then the wires," as The Guardian's Matthew Weaver puts it in Nicola Bruno's report (PDF) on how the BBC, Guardian and CNN responded to the news vacuum around the Haiti earthquake.
Sky's Neal Mann says: "My Twitter feed provides me with everything from tips to official statements, the majority of which have been published on Twitter before anywhere else."
This is the second in a series of blogs by Paul Bradshaw about how technology is changing the news business. The first was 'How news consumption has changed from beats to a constant static'.
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