There was a big turnout for Wordstock, the annual journalism conference held at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism in Toronto this past weekend, an encouraging sign in troubled times. Attendees seemed about evenly split between working, full-time journalists, and freelancers, and students. After a morning keynote (which I was lucky enough to deliver) the day was divided into three sessions offering 5 different workshops in each – a pretty jam-packed day. In addition to the keynote, I ran sessions on Blogging (jointly with Spec city hall blogger, Nicole Macintyre) and internet tools.
Please accept my apologies for the hiatus — I spent two glorious weeks on-vacation and off-line at a cottage beside a small black mountain lake in the Laurentians and then returned and jumped into a brand new role with my paper and our chain (TorStar). For the next long while I’ll be part of a core team building, installing and training staff on a brand new (massive) content management system that will create a common, chain-wide newsroom. Of a sort. It’s an exciting and challenging job and as a bonus it means I don’t have to commute. (Cue the
Huffington Post – the fast growing US news and politics aggregator and blog machine – has launched a beta version of their new local news model.Here’s how cheif Huffer, Arianna Huffington, described the new site:
HuffPost Chicago is part local news source, part resource guide, and part virtual soap box — featuring a collection of bloggers who know and love Chicago, and are looking to share their takes on everything from the Cubs to City Hall to the hot new local band to the best place for Greek food (and I can testify that there is a
Here’s probably the key lesson I learned from closely watching the Toronto media race to cover Sunday morning’s propane depot blast, a breaking news story that killed two, destroyed five homes and rendered 10,000 people temporarily homeless:
Speed of delivery ain’t the biggest change the web brings to the news game – duration is.The story lives in time, and your job changes as you move further away in time from the event.
This was not the case in the days of the 2x daily newscast and 1X daily press run: breaking news happened, we scrambled like hell to
About two hours before this morning’s grey dawn, a series of explosions tore through a propane depot in the northwest corner of the city, shaking buildings and homes, shattering windows and waking people as far as 10 kms distant from the scene. Fire and smoke shot to heights equal to a 20 or 30 storey building and led many to think (worry? fear?) that a jet airliner had crashed, a terrorist attack had taken place, the city was being bombed.
This was breaking news with a capital ‘B’ and at this point, six hours distant from that 3:30 am blast, it offers some intriguing lessons in how coverage of these events is evolving in a world where digital cameras and web access are almost ubiquitous.
Bottom line – in aggregate, citizens journalists out-performed their professional counterparts getting news out faster, offering more details, and better images and videos. They also made more mistakes and had a high noise to signal ratio. Mainstream media were slow off the mark and while they depended on the citizen journalists, they failed to make the most of the possibilities that material offered. See the bottom of the post for my thoughts on how to do that.
Toronto’s a media-rich city: four paid dailies, two free dailies, several city news blogs in addtion to more than a dozen local radio and television stations. I can’t cover them all, but took a look at the four dailies (The Globe, The National Post, The Star, and The Sun) and the two big place blogs (Blog.TO and Torontoist).
I did a similar comparison earlier this year (when the transit union launched an unexpected, but legal, strike on a Friday night at press deadline time) and the results are pretty similar – none of the dailies have figured out yet how to blend the strengths of their newsroom (speed, accuracy, access) with the new possibilities opened up by an always connected citizenry – but most of them are trying.
The Star, with the city’s biggest newsroom (although I can’t imagine they had more than a single person on duty when the first blast hit), produced the fullest account, with pretty admirable speed. Police, fire, eyewitness reports, plus links to two of the eight or so citizen videos of the blast I found online. The article had commenting enabled (they don’t always) and you got a bit of a flavour of the impact on the city, which is useful, if basic.
The Globe and Mail seemed entirely asleep at the switch, relying entirely on Canadian Press for it’s text story, still photos and video. (CP’s video was quite good actually, blending citizen video with their own images and overlaying professional reporting and a very competent voice-over.) The Globe (and the Star) both appealed to readers to send them stories, videos and photos, but if they got any, neither acknowledged it.) Lots of comments, though, including people offering links to other sites with video of the blasts, the Toronto Fire Dept’s live response web page, even academic and news references to other propane explosions and the risks the storage depots pose. Good stuff that a smart web team might have referenced in the story – but their readers did it for them. It’s a stark demonstration of how people use — or want to use — the web: to share information, to learn more by sharing what they know, using the familiar web tools Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, the collective memory of the web itself.
During these summer months WebU is offering a series of "grad" courses – shorter, sharper sessions aimed at specific constituencies: photographers, ad sales reps, editorial writers etc. One of these sessions is for the Metroland web "masters", the folks responsible for the editorial content of our web sites. For that session It thought it would be fun to try out the Coveritlive live blogging tool, which was created by a team in Toronto, just down the highway. Here it is:
If you like hard news, you should have been in heaven in Toronto on Friday night. Unfortunately the local media didn’t do a hell of a job covering it. The major union for Toronto Transit Commission workers called a surprise strike last night, giving the city just 90 minutes notice that they were shutting down the nation’s largest transit system. The strike (arising from the rejection of a tentative settlement) stranded thousands of people who were out blithely enjoying a warm spring Friday night in the city’s core.
Breaking, ongoing, late night news like this is about as tough a stresser of a newspaper’s abilities as you can find and it’s instructive to see how it was handled here, in media-rich Toronto. First the background: The TTC union executive narrowly accepted (8-7) a tentative contract earlier this week and it was put to a vote of members all day Friday. At about 10:30 pm last night the union issued a press release saying the offer had been rejected by 65% of workers and as a result they would walk out at midnight. The Mayor held a press conference moments before midnight decrying the move and vowing back to work legislation from the province. The system shut down at midnight just as thousands of people began streaming out of movie houses and bars and restaurants. Think of that – thousands of Torontonians pouring out of bars and clubs and restaurants looking forward to nothing so much as their distant bed, and finding suddenly they had no way home. What would happen? Riots? Innocents struck down on darkened streets as they trekked home alone and on foot? So how did the Toronto media respond to the challenge? Sadly, most did at least modestly well in print – but failed to use the web very well at all. Let’s have a look:
Toronto Sun: Back when I worked at the Sun they would have "flooded the zone" on this story — held the print run and dragged reporters and editors and photographers out of their beds and bars and fanned out across the city to put together a comprehensive, photo-packed pullout complete with howls of outrage from one or more columnists. As I write this (5:30 am) I haven’t had a chance to see what they’ve done in print, but their web offering is pretty pathetic – a single story that looks be re-purposed print content. No offence to reporter Brian Gray who, by himself, turned in a perfectly respectable hard news story – it’s just that it’s pretty thin gruel on a story that the old Sun would have feasted on. To make matters worse their website left up a story dated Saturday (their original Sat print story?) that began: "TTC workers were expected to ratify a tentative deal yesterday during
an all-day voting process, despite a group of workers grumbling about
the agreement." Ouch.
Toronto Star: The Toronto Star is the flagship of the chain I work for, is the largest paper in Canada and has the largest newsroom at its disposal. Sad to say they appear to have been caught flat-footed by the sudden strike and dropped the ball, at least on their web coverage. You can see that they made some efforts – they’ve got up-to-date video
One of the most common complaints I get from students who get all fired up about doing video for the web is: "but we don’t have any equipment – and there’s no way my boss is going to spend thousands of dollars." The truth is you don’t need a $5,000 Sony or Cannon HD video camera – if you already have a modestly up-to-date Dell or Apple computer you can start producing good looking web video for a tiny fraction of what you’d spend on one of those pro video cams.Last October I produced my Going Digital Without Going
Nobody enjoys mockery (or, as they put it, "taking the piss" out of someone) as do the Brits and now, it’s the British press’s turn. The Churner Prize has sprung up setting its sights on the british press – "churnalists" in their words.Clearly written by member(s) of the press there, the site explains itself this way:
Why?Journalists are becoming churnalists. Denied the time, money and resources to do the job properly, many hacks now churn out stories without checking facts or sources.But it’s not their fault, and the best (worst) churnalism is worth celebrating.So?So we’ve created The Churner
My old former boss, Kirk Lapointe, used a New York Times piece to poke around in the meaning of the Oscars as a cultural event:
"Sunday’s New York Times featured a David Carr argument that the Oscars remain one of our last collective cultural appointments, but today his defence is wearing a little thin. Maybe we’re witnessing the end of yet another societal bond." (Read the rest of his post here)
Kirk suggests the Oscar show itself (and the Olympics) are "ripe for decline" and in need of a digital facelift. The Oscars – the