Happy Birthday: Google Turns 12 and Plans to Save Journalism

September 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

Google turns 12.

Today, Google turns 12 years old.

In addition to being the world’s leading search engine (everywhere except China where it’s second to Baidu), Google has come to shape the very way Internet users navigate and utilize the web with a wide array of useful and, more often than not, free products.

Google is number two when it comes to China. Users there prefer Baidu, which was created by two Chinese nationals.

In conjunction with its birthday, Google unleashed Google Instant, a live search function that’s more cool than shocking in terms of changing the way users search online (it didn’t). And Google is becoming a force to be reckoned with outside the confines of the Web, competing on the phone market with its highly popular Android operating system for smartphones, as well as the newly launched Google Voice, which is set to compete with Skype as well as traditional landlines.

Google’s web shadow is monstrous, yes, but what exactly does it have to do with journalism? Well, just about everything.

For starters there’s Google News, the popular news aggregator that had that pesky run-in with the Associated Press, and Google’s ongoing partnership with China, which brought up a censorship debate over the country’s use of a search-limited Google.

China's relationship with Google hinges on being able to search limit internet users.

So it’s no secret that Google plays a large role in the dissemination and access of information on the Web, which in turn plays a part in the general dissemination of news. And more recently, the ‘killing’ of traditional news as it shifts from print and television to the web…but perhaps we’ve been looking at it all wrong.

Back in June, James Fallows of the Atlantic wrote a piece entitled “How To Save the News,” providing readers with an inside look at Google’s attempt to save journalism by coming up with an alternate business model.

Google might be 'killing' the news, so maybe it can 'save' it too?

Among Google’s suggestions for the drowning industry? Cutting newsprint, bundling news online, rebuilding display ads, designing a paywall, and basically transforming the way people digest news by linking directly to youtube videos and breaking up text.

All in all, it’s an interesting take on the biz from a group that’s poised to kill it.

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An Endangered Species: Science Journalism

September 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

While the 2:14 video didn’t divulge much in terms of details, it pressed on a topic that was near and dear to my journalistic heart: science reporting.

Peter Lewis on the state of science journalism.

Peter Lewis, a Knight fellow, former New York Times tech writer, and proud maker of the nytimes.com domain name, is working on building a model that creates a generation of science journalists ready to report in-depth on a plethora of technology, health, and environmental issues.

Lewis, who had originally to set out to find an alternate business model for the sagging journalism industry, has since shifted his focus away from “reinventing the wheel” to finding a way to “revive the idea of robust science journalism with a focus on the environment.”

In a world where technology dictates every facet of our lives and climate change is a household word, it’s hard to believe that science journalism wouldn’t be catching on like fire.

“It turns out that science journalism is one of the most endangered species in an overall industry that’s in turmoil right now,” Lewis said of the need for knowledgeable science reporters.

One of my many far-reaching journalistic aspirations is to be a science reporter that specializes in the environment (this is supposed to happen somewhere in between being an international correspondent and an investigative reporter).

All too often I see science journalism abstracted into ideological debates that are unfounded in the roots of the scientific inquiry. At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that I am unqualified to become a science reporter.

Not only for the geek-inclined.

In the minds of many, science journalism still remains a niche field, relegated to specialty magazines like Wired.com for the tech-geek, or Popular Science for the general geek. In its purest form, science journalism becomes too unsavory and too dry and technical for the average reader to comprehend.

“It doesn’t relate to me” is a general complaint I hear from people in relation to why the Science Times section ends up in the wastebasket.

But in my experience, science is about as human as it gets. Nothing has a greater ability to link us to one another than a story about DNA and evolution. Nothing is more distressing to read than a large-scale community ravaged by natural disaster. And few things are more frustrating to read about than humanity fouling its own nest.

Jon Pessah: Sports as a Mirror of Society

September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Let me start off my saying that I know almost absolutely nothing about sports.

I know enough to get by, but rarely will you ever find me watching a game on television. In the rare instance that you ever do, there will probably be a very short time interval between when I feign interest to when my eyes begin to glaze over.

It’s not that I hate sports, it’s just a matter of sticking to what you know. Which is exactly why I found myself thoroughly surprised and delighted when sports writer Jon Pessah came to speak in one of my journalism classes.

Jon Pessah

[To be fair though, he spoke specifically about sports journalism and anyone who knows me knows that I can listen to just about anything in the context of journalism.]

While he had some choice words for the NCAA and LeBron James’ recent stint as a free agent, Pessah spoke mainly about the entertainment-heavy and profit driven motive of modern day sports reporting.

Formerly of the Washington Star, the Hartford Courant, and Newsday, Pessah’s experience with covering sports has given him a front row seat to both the changing industry of journalism as well as the domination of sports coverage by ESPN, the sports equivalent of 24-hour cable news networks like CNN.

And just like CNN, ESPN is subject to scrutiny when it comes journalistic integrity.

The sports juggernaut: ESPN

ESPN, which was brought to life as a father-son collaboration by NBC-affiliate sports writer Bill Rasmussen in 1979, was initially conceived as an outlet to provide additional sports coverage in Connecticut. It wasn’t until the marketing genius of VP John Walsh and the miracle of Sunday Night Football that ESPN began to draw the following that it has now.

Since then it has hired a host of retired athletes and talking heads to serve as anchors and commentators and dictated the shift of sports reporting to a primarily entertainment-based genre.

So what’s the big deal if sports reporting panders to the more profitable elements of the entertainment industry instead of straight news?

Well, it’s all in the numbers.

For instance, I had always written off steroid scandals, chalking them up as a fact of athletic life that some athletes use steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. From baseball to biking, it didn’t really faze me.

Steroids have become a fixture in sports.

However, Pessah pointed out that the way the government treats sports steroid cases is different than the way it treats any other controlled substance by targeting athletes instead of distributors. And when you start realizing that an illegal substance is intrinsically tied to a multibillion dollar business, steroids becomes no laughing matter.

According to Pessah, the use of steroids, along with the fact that billions of tax payers’ dollars have gone on to build stadiums instead of rebuilding communities, are some of the issues that sports reporting no longer addresses. The investigative elements of sports journalism have seemingly fallen to the wayside.

Pessah was asked by a student whether or not he thought the demand for hard-hitting sports journalism existed. He retorted by asking whether or not young reporters going into sports journalism will be willing to avoid the financial temptations of the easy route of entertainment sports.

MLB keeps a tight lid on access for reporters.

Industry giants like the MLB and NFL, which keep a tight lid on access to its athletes and information, are another deterrent to hard-hitting sports journalism.

While I have no idea what lies ahead for the state of sports journalism, I’ve never been more interested in sports journalism than I am now.

The Death of Social Media: It's Not What You Think

September 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

The opening line of a post on Mashable by Vadim Lavrusik immediately caught my attention:

“The future of social media in journalism will see the death of ‘social media’.”

Personally, the idea of the near-total annihilation of  twitter would be akin to when the Wicked Witch of the West evaporates into thin air. It would be perfectly fine to me if social media were to no longer rule the Kingdom of the Web–leaving behind only a Facebook graveyard in its demise.

While I admit to being somewhat of an avid Facebook-er, the idea of tweets included alongside my morning broadcast is equivalent to adding a pound of sugar to Fruity Pebbles. It’s both way too sugary and way too early. (Though, I’ll admit to being a fan of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin’s tweets–it’s like my morning coffee: chock-full-of-gaffes.)

Of course if one were to continue reading the article you’d notice that Lavrusik is actually writing about the exact opposite: that is, the full integration of social media into journalism. Thus, the concept of “social media” would no longer apply as it would simply be a living, breathing, tweeting, thread of the fabric of news.

While a traditionalist-cynic like me finds the idea absolutely cringe-worthy, the guy has a point.

It's not pretty.

As traditional forms of journalism–print publications, broadcast, radio–struggle to stay afloat on their decrepid, sinking business models based on dried-up ad revenue streams, online journalism continues to sail forward.

While the industry buzz word last year might have been “social media,” this year’s buzz word might be “hyperlocal.” News 12 on Long Island embraces the term on broadcast graphics and websites like Patch.com, which utilize a Craigslist-esque approach to the news, are one of the few places that are readily hiring.

 

Twitter owns all.

 

Even the “big dogs” of the industry can’t resist the allure of the number of hits that locality fostered by social media brings. The New York Times, The Financial Times, and virtually every major broadcast network has a twitter. And even the industry sweethearts like ProPublica, which uses public funding to pay for its Pulitzer award-winning investigative pieces, are reaping the benefits of going beyond simply being on the Web.

Unlike my doom and gloom, Lavrusik appears more optimistic about the shift, saying that the integration of social media into journalism will actually integrate journalists into the communities in which they write and report on. Elements of Journalism, anyone?

One of the fundamental elements of journalism, according to Kovach and Rosensthiel, is loyalty to the public. In other words: Thou shall provide the public with all they need to know to make their own decisions. It may also refer to: Thou shalt not isolate yourself from the very public you’re suppose to work for.

Could social media be the bridge between journalists and the communities they serve? Or could it just end up being a bridge to nowhere?

Is Lavrusik right? Could social media actually be the bridge that gaps the distance between the lonely reporters perched on their islands and the constituencies that they purport to serve?

It very well could be, but for now, it’s a shaky one.

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