Monday, August 31, 2009

The Challenge

You come home from work and pass three police cruisers gathered near an open field. City counsellors are supposed to vote on how much to raise your taxes. Your city has been chosen to host the IAAF World Youth Championships.

You're at your computer and want the scoop NOW instead of waiting for the news that may or may not appear in tomorrow's paper. You visit your local paper's online website and find a list of day-old local news and culled wire copy about people and places that don't matter to you. You cross your fingers that the late local TV news will have the answers you want.

Industry pundits tell us the future of print journalism is "hyperlocal" reporting — a horrible catch word that summarizes the need to give a local audience relevant news it can use instead of the old-fashioned cheat of filling online space with news from other parts of the province, country or world.

Generic news can be found anywhere on the Internet, and probably in more detail, so why would people bother getting it from their local media website? Truly local news cannot be found anywhere else, so why aren't we producing more of it?

Most newspapers fill their pages with wire copy. (It's unlikely a northern Alberta paper has a correspondent in Afghanistan to cover the national election.) The mistake modern media outlets are making is thinking they can use that same trick to fill space and make it look like they're updating their websites.

I cringe when my newsroom posts a day's worth of irrelevant news onto its website while I'm assigned to rewrite news releases. I use social networking sites (primarily Twitter, Facebook and MSN) to find unique, "hyperlocal" ideas, but I'm butting heads with editors who still think what worked 40 years ago still works today. "We'll tell the readers what they need to know."

Here is the challenge. Which media outlets are doing a better job making the switch to digital journalism, and who is using social networking to hear and respond to what readers want?

This blog will attempt to shine a spotlight on who gets it, and who is out to lunch. The best and worst of digital journalism.

The Hyper Journalist


Yelling in a soundproof box

Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls brings back childhood memories of gazing at movie-themed wax figures and garish two-headed monstrosities at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. As much as I loved my time there, it would feel tedious to walk through those doors day after day.

Today, I’m working as a journalist. I’m grateful to have avoided the executioner’s swing during recession-addled layoffs throughout our industry. Still, I’m annoyed. I’m wearing out a path in the floor as I pass through the same doors, relive the same experiences, talk to the same people . . .

In my own newsroom, there’s some apprehension at the thought of digital journalism — going online instead of killing trees to deliver the printed word, and using social media networks to engage the public instead of ignoring readers and praying for news releases to drop on our laps. I have to say most of us are excited about the industry’s rebirth. Too bad we seem to work in museums under curators who think what worked 40 years ago in print can still work online.


I’m starting this blog as a way to vent my frustrations, celebrate successes, see which journalists are leading the way, and find which newsrooms have a clue and which ones are in the dark. My own newsroom feels hopelessly lost and not even looking for a flashlight.

I won’t use my own name. Cowardice? Probably. Smart business move? Definitely.

The Hyper Journalist