So Long, See You Tomorrow

Well, I guess it’s time to reflect. This will be my last post in this blog, and as also my exchange semester at the University of Agder is coming to an end, this has kind of a sad touch for me. Lets get it over with!

One of the goals I wanted to work towards was to improve my ability to present myself and my ideas digitally in the best manner. This goal consisted of two elements: the aspect about layout, and the one about identity.

Lets start with the layout: I was keen to learn how to find the right visual shape for what I want to say. One of the assignments of the course were concentrated on reshaping information and bringing it into a new form on a newly created webpage. I learned a lot in this process, especially because I was working with Eliska Zalabakova: We shared our knowledge on the topic and explored the possibilities at our hands. We also learned much about our deficits concerning layout, and found out which skills we have to improve. If you’d like to have a look at the result, feel free to click here.

The issue about identity, as I described them in my post Getting Started, still lingers in my mind. Can I say with a good conscience that I have a clearer image of how I want to depict myself and my personal concepts? I dare to answer this question in the affirmative. The image became clearer in the process of blogging, because I realized which side of my character I want to show when I looked at my posts after publishing them. I am not saying that I have found my identity – I would be happy to keep on searching until I am old and grey, because this also means that I will keep developing. Nonetheless, blogging was an important step on my way.

This expressed itself also in another side effect of my blogging activity: the simultaneous origin of my travel blog. When I started to write blog posts for Digital Presentation, I noticed how much pleasure I feel when presenting or discussing topics via a blog. The experience was close to writing a diary, because it takes place inside the informal setting of social media, instead the traditional pattern of a scientific paper. I had the feeling that my personal thoughts are just as important as all the professional opinions we dealt with in our course literature, because they were both equally present and relevant in my posts. Writing a blog gave me the sensation of actually creating content, not only quoting other people. Both an odd and a good feeling, and definitely new in my study career.

I am asking myself the question now: Is there something I’ll be focusing from now on, because we dealt with it in the course? And I can clearly say: Yes, there are several topics that especially succeeded to catch my attention. The major two are journalism and storytelling, and their present developments to a whole new medium due to their movement to the online sphere. I will definitely have a closer look on how online media are used to provide information. I found it extremely interesting to see the scope of possibilities in which stories – of a journalistic or a more creative nature – can be told. As my passion lies in the field of literature, I will try to use the new forms of narratives I got to know in my future studies.

So, this is the end. For now (you never know what might cross my eyes and could be worthy for yet another post). I am happy that you, dear reader, followed my blog, and I sincerely hope that you could use some of the aspects I shared and discussed for your own personal development. Enjoy your further travels through the jungle of the Web!

WWYD?, or: What Would You Do?

A Syrian woman named Karima, 28 years old, left without securities in the middle of a nation’s struggle, with 2 children clinging to her hands. What would you do? Would you try to flee to Europe or to Turkey? Would you go on trying if you’ve experienced several setbacks, or would you stay in the safe but apathetic surroundings of a refugee camp?

You will be faced with these kinds of questions if you visit theguardian.com and take part in their interactive scheme about refugees’ choices.

It’s only one example of the trend of gamification, which is more and more gaining importance in the field of online media. The audience is drawn in by game mechanics, and experiences certain situations that take place outside of the usual game context. It’s often not about winning, but about taking part, reading and processing information, and working (sometimes unconsciously) towards a solution.

After discovering different examples of gamification (from the Speed Camera Lottery to experiencing the Haiti earthquake), I figured that there is one important element missing in gamification: It lacks the connection to reality, and implied consequences. It is a good start to think about the hardships a Syrian woman has to face when she tries to flee to a safer place with her children, because most of us are not aware what problems this journey contains. But there is one question that came directly to my mind: Does this virtual contact with human misery make us participate actively in such events, because we now know how individuals feel in this situation? Or, do we rather become more convenient and sit back, because we reckon we already know what it’s like to be a victim of extreme conditions? Might we even think it’s hopeless to intervene, because we bore witness to the virtual equivalent of a desperate experience? I cannot find an answer, because the answer to this question lies inside all of us. We are the ones to decide whether this process of game thinking got us more engaged or less. And this is, finally, what makes this approach most precious: It offers us this special moment of decision, in which we can either take a step forward or backward. Gamification gives us a potential changing point, and it’s on us if we make use of it or let it pass.

Seen from this perspective, I would say that game mechanics have the ability to help solve a certain communication challenge. The challenge of our time is to get out of our passivity and get in contact with the actual events and the people who are experiencing them. Gamification can help us to find the motivation to talk, ask, discuss, and discover other people’s lives. Because the one thing that catches our attention is the scenario of ourselves in this exact time, place and location: What would you do?

Brains: On

As I mentioned in my last post Escape the Void, it is not easy to differentiate between false and true information in journalism. Especially in the age of online media, it has become increasingly harder for the reader to see what is actual fact or simply made up, or something in between. Lets have a look at some possibilities to deal with this challenge!

The post Content, context and code: verifying information online by Paul Bradshaw on onlinejournalismblog offers several starting points to check the reliability of items of online journalism. These are actually guidelines for journalists to make sure the information they find is reliable. Although these tips might be a bit too hard to apply in daily life for regular people, there are some advices definitely worth thinking about, which you can have a look at here:

• Frequency

Sources that are updated more frequently are unlikelier to be unreliable, or at least deliberately untrue. This might be because it is a lot of work to update a source, and people concentrated on creating short-term confusion with unreliable information would not make the effort.

• Style & Spelling

One aspect easily to be checked is the style and spelling of the information you’re examining. Spelling mistakes imply a certain grade of unprofessionalism, and a tone that doesn’t fit the source is also an indicator for an unreliable source. Sometimes it’s all it takes to analyse the outer appearance of the text to see whether the pieces fit together or not.

• Social Context

Investigate whether the character you’re concentrating on is situated in a position in social media that seems to be sound. If the person does not follow (or is not followed) by friends, colleagues, or other persona that would fit into the image, be suspicious. Also, you might want to check for how long the account has been existing: If it was created just before the story you’re checking on happened, consider the unreliability of this account.

• Web Address Extensions

Watch out for extensions like .gov, gov.uk or similar ones – those imply a governmental website. Also, the extension .ac or .edu points to an academic website, whereas health websites would use .nhs. There are more examples to see the potential background of a website, but keep in mind that these hints to backgrounds are, as I said, potential. It is also possible that others have obtained these endings of web addresses. Nonetheless, they are at least more reliable than .com websites, which offer no security.

• Too Good to Be True

Last, but not least: Rely on your common sense! If the article you just read contains information that doesn’t really make sense or is very unlikely to happen, you should admit a healthy dose of doubt. Additionally, be aware that information shared via social media might be a bait to hook naïve minds.

This is the advice I can give you, dear reader, on your way along numerous kinds of information you will meet every day. It is one of the most important, and also hardest, challenges of our time to distinguish between treasure and garbage, what is worth reading and what is not. I wish you the best of luck in your attempt to survive this task. Lets not forget to switch our brains on; sometimes that’s all we need!

Escape the Void

Unlike print journalism, where some care must be taken in determining what is and isn’t news, or what is or isn’t a well-thought out argument, online journalism is a mad dash to say as much as you can as quickly as you can. Jon Green

This quote by Green from his article When ‘saying it first’ becomes more important than ‘getting it right’ refers to the development of online journalism towards a rather superficial medium. He claims that journalists are increasingly neglecting their task as a provider of relevant information, while posting irrelevant articles with inappropriately boosting titles. Additionally, it seems that many online journalists do not check the source of their information, in order to be the first one to post. As a result, the Web is swamped by numerous articles that fail to give us anything but disappointed expectations.

Is this what online journalism is going to transform into in the future? How can reliable and informative online journalism survive on digital platforms?

We have two opportunities: Either, journalism turns into a different kind of information service, and will provide us with very different kinds of information than we’re used to now. Or, we change our consumer behaviour. Because the fact is that we determine which kind of information is spread and which is not. The same counts for print journalism: The one newspaper that gets purchased most will have more potential to rise and to distribute information. Now, we are the ones to decide which information should take a major part in our lives. We can choose between the void of flashy articles that leave us sitting in front of the screen with less knowledge than before, and the kind of information that inspires us to think and process the information we acquired.

As it is, this is only my lay opinion on the matter. Another perspective is offered by the paper Innovation and the Future of Journalism, which argues on the basis of the statement Innovation is the key. John V. Pavlik, creator of the mentioned paper, claims that it is essential to be innovative in order to make a new approach to news providing work. According to Pavlik, innovation in news media plays an important role in the following four spheres:

•       creating, delivering and presenting quality news content

•       engaging the public in an interactive news discourse

•       employing new methods of reporting optimized for the digital, networked age

•       developing new management and organizational strategies for a digital, networked and mobile environment

 

This theory is helpful to make us understand on which levels innovation works. But what is even more important, and could give us a possible answer to the original question How can journalism survive on digital platforms?, is Pavlik’s next assumption. He states that there are four major principles that should define the character of innovation for news media, namely:

•       intelligence & research

•       commitment to freedom of speech

•       dedication to the pursuit of truth & accuracy in reporting

•       ethics

 

These key points give us, as a reader, a good understanding of the fields that are important for the future of online journalism. We could even assume that being innovative and thorough in Pavlik’s four aspects could give the respective medium of online journalism a long-term chance to survive on the Web.

To conclude this post, I’d like to come back to my initial approach on how to make online journalism survive. In comparison to Pavlik’s ideas, my call for awareness on the side of the audience might be in vain. I mean, who would really ignore all the sparkling, fast-paced articles, and fix their eyes on meaningful ones? And who actually knows which articles can be trusted and which not?

This is an important matter, and luckily we’ll deal with it in the next post. I will try to bring you closer to some means to verify the information we get served everyday. Until then, I wish you the best of luck to escape empty journalism!

Making Use of the Potential

I think we can all agree on one thing: the online media’s potential is close to limitless. It offers newsrooms countless possibilities to attract, inform and bond with their audiences, but it also gives at least as much space to ruin the results of this intention.

Therefore, one ought to have a look at some guidelines on how to use this potential as best as possible. The following guidelines serve as a spotlight on information from several texts, which sources will be given right after the advise they imply.

So, lets have a look at what newsrooms can do to exhaust some possibilities of online media’s potential. They should …

be aware of their dependence.

Newsrooms have to be aware of their dependence on Facebook, Google, and similar social media. If your articles are popular there, you have a good chance that they will spread and reach as many readers as possible.

As I was Saying About Web Journalism … a Bubble, or a Lasting Business?

create a curiosity.

There is one simple rule: Items that are unusual, new, or inspiring have the highest popularity. An example is the application How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk, which was a curiosity on many levels: Obviously, it was interesting for a large audience (namely every American that wanted his/her dialect evaluated) on the Web. But the app also worked on another level, that is, the fact that this app was unusual for the New York Times compared to the items they normally issue. As a result, How Y’all, Youse and You Guys was hugely successful, even though one might not have forecasted this for the rather plain app.

The Rise of Curiosity Journalism

master the art of blogging.

Now, here we meet different opinions; some say, blogging contains a huge potential for online journalism, whereas others deny this. Here are some pros and cons worth considering:

Pros:

Blogs give additional space, and this entails the possibility for more development. It is possible to interact, add knowledge, and contribute to the article in general. Additionally, the relationship between the journalist and his source is more extensive, because he/she is working out of the limits of standard formats of journalism.

Cons:

On the other side, it is quite consuming to build up this new relationship and get used to this new format of journalism. But this time is later re-gained when the journalist is appropriately acquainted with the matter.

Another point of criticism, which was made in the article by George Packer in David Carr’s article, is that there is a loss of actual reporting due to the power of blogs. He claims that there was no new information on the market, but rather people philosophizing about existent knowledge. I acknowledge this as a potential danger, but stick with the opinion that a well-written and researched blog can contribute to the field of online journalism.

(FAQ: What does blogging add to journalism?)

make the audience a part of the journalistic experience.

The innovation of iReporting by CNN gives the public the feeling it is contributing to the production and sharing process of news. One might add that this feeling of responsibility evokes feeling of loyalty, and creates more dependable readers.

This approach gives the audience another role, apart from the passive role as a reader: Suddenly, he/she is part of a symbiotic relationship. One could say that this strategy is like building a bridge between the corporation and the ‘average’ person on the street. Furthermore, this interactivity makes the newsroom seem more reliable.

Finally, and importantly, the interdependence between news corporation and audience allows us a more dynamic view on what was originally shown to us via professional journalism. We gain a more differentiated, yet more confusing view of the world and its citizens. Old patterns of journalism are shaken. The online media give us the possibility to display political, social, cultural aspects in another way that, if done the right way, teaches us more about how the world actually is.

‘iReporting’ an Uprising: CNN and Citizen Journalism in Network Culture

I hope this medley of different advices sheds a light on the question how newsrooms can and should use the potential of online media. If you’re interested in the issue, feel free to catch up on all the information by clicking on the given sources after each bullet point.

#TwitterisblockedinTurkey

That’s what could be read on Twitter on March 21, when the Turkish government shut this social media platform down. It was Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who forecasted this action in one of his speeches. One shouldn’t think it’s possible, but this actually happened in Turkey: No citizen was allowed to use the webpage of the public platform to tweet about what happens in their lives or their country. Although the ban is lifted by now, this was a tragic moment for the freedom of speech, and this event gave us a short view into a dark vision of the future.

There are countries that still heavily control the citizens’ use of social media. What if more leading characters decided to take the path of what is called the closed internet? It would mean that third parties can interfere with our actions on the net, and that they can restrict which information reach us, and which don’t. For me, this sounds outright dystopian, and therefore portrays the biggest challenge for the Web in the future: To maintain its present degree of openness, while expanding it at the same time. We must not take a step backwards now. It’s not only about a few days without access to Twitter, but about our right to say what we want to say.

The issue of an open internet is closely connected to the concept of universal design, which was coined by Ronald L. Mace. He, as an architect, aimed at creating an environment that can be used and accessed by everyone, no matter what their physical or psychological characteristics are. The notion tended to focus on people with disabilities, in order to insure the equality between human beings – everybody should have the same chances, and a similar starting point to act from.

Now, can we say that the people of Turkey were robbed of their right to accessibility? I am pretty sure that many people would answer this question with a fierce No (Prime Minister Erdogan, for example), and would argue that this had to be done to keep the safety in the country instead. But, of course, one could argue differently. One could also claim that social media don’t threaten the safety of a country, but rather threaten ideas that are too shaky to withstand the constant criticism of the users of the Web.

The main challenge for the Web is to ensure the accessibility of space for everyone. Because this is the space that makes change, development, and criticism possible. And we need those factors badly, because we’ll find ourselves in a cage soon enough without them. Whether physical or intellectual cage, I don’t know – I just hope we are not already on the verge to turn the key from the inside. When I say it is the main challenge for the Web, I mean that it is in fact our challenge. We make the Web, and we are shaped by it in turn. Make it a place open for everyone, regardless of their geographical, political or social background!

 

Newspapers in the Age of Online Journalism

How do newspapers make use of their website? We’ll find out with the help of Susan Jacobson, who describes the metamorphosis from the print journalism of the New York Times to the transcoded version in the web, called nytimes.com. She analyses the multimedia packages of the website from 2000 to 2008, and will bring us a step closer to the digitalized world of journalism.

Jacobson claims that the multimedia version serves as an accompanying element rather than a replacement of the essence of print journalism, which is the written word – still the foundation of the New York Times, even on their website. But the meaning of the written word might change, and in the article it is argued that the journalistic text on a website is rather to be considered as a starting point to a more detailed exploration of information via multimedia packages.

Jacobson gives the reader a brief overview of multimedia packages from 2000 to 2008, and states that not only has the amount of the packages increased, but even that the trend goes towards a multimedia package without a printed equivalent. Another trend is that hard-news stories are complemented with features; serious news are softened, and made easier to access for the audience. Additionally, it developed that the audience feedback increased over time; also the possibility to share articles via Facebook, Email, Twitter was introduced in 2007.

This is where I’d like to bring in a popular newspaper from Germany, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and its online equivalent sz.de, in order to illustrate what we just learned. On sz.de, these tools are also used. It is possible to discuss, send, print, and share (via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+) the articles, as well as to give feedback. These tools are visibly located to the left of the article, as you can see here:

Social networking tools on sz.de

Social networking tools on sz.de

Concerning interactive features, Jacobson claims that the audio slideshow is a popular form, and receives the most attention in the field of online journalism. Besides this, there are many other ways to draw the audience in, like multimedia presentations combining audio, video, graphics, text, animation, or menu-driven presentations, and interactive timelines. We can say that sz.de is pretty updated concerning these forms of interactive features, as we can find many of them on the webpage. As an example: sz.de uses a presentation with a menu to help the user to arrange sz.de as the starter website for their browser. Furthermore, the user is confronted with an interactive timeline showing the latest updates on articles on the first page. This timeline unfolds when you move the cursor over it, and shows when the last articles were posted.

Interactive Timeline showing latest news on sz.de

Interactive Timeline showing latest news on sz.de

On the other side, sz.de lacks the so-called ‘process-oriented’ journalism. This can be found on nytimes.com, where some features let the reader be the analyst, and the audience playfully explores the news.

On nytimes.com, interactive features are mainly told from the 1st person perspective, and often print stories from 3rd person perspective are combined with 1st person multimedia stories. In this way the space of the online platform is used to give a personal touch and detailed account of individual experiences, which could not be given in a newspaper. There is power given to many different facets of subjectivity. Anyway, nytimes.com provides a balance between reporters’ views and experiences of regular people. Nonetheless, we could even dare to say that this whole development reflects today’s movement towards a user-generated and user-controlled way of presenting information.

However, it seems as if sz.de does not make use of this approach overtly. The articles are mostly narrated by the traditional journalist-voice, instead of the voice of the people.

Another aspect Jacobson focuses on is the photo slideshow, which is comparable to photo essay in a printed newspaper, but is cheaper, has more space for pictures, and doesn’t result in more work if the editor decides to upload more pictures.

On nytimes.com, the development shows that hypertextual and social networking elements become increasingly important in photo slideshows. The aspect of hypertextuality is also prevalent on sz.de, but rather in articles, whereas the aspect of photo slideshows is neglected on the website. In the articles though, several hyperlinks lead the reader directly to another article defining the given term, and describing the background data.

Hyperlinks on sz.de

Hyperlinks on sz.de

Coming to video, there are many different approaches to be found on nytimes.com, and this makes this way of presenting information a very interesting, though not always most successful one. The video collection on sz.de, on the other side, follows a certain design and structure. Take the videos about medicine, for example: They are mostly narrated by one specialist (Werner Bartens), and do not vary much in their use of imagery. The videos are in a way uniform, but only in their field of topic.

Example from sz.de “Der Nächste bitte”: the identical make-up of videos that belong to one topic

On nytimes.com, the videos mostly stand for their own, without an accompanying written story. Sz.de presents a short introductory text in addition.

Short text accompanying video

Short text accompanying video

Now that we have explored and compared the aspects that were highlighted in Jacobson’s article, I would say that’s enough analysing for today. We could see that nytimes.com, as a leading international newspaper, is definitely some steps ahead of sz.de. Nonetheless, the SZ succeeds using online journalism in their sphere as a national newspaper, and is faithful to their reputation as a serious and consistent provider of information.