Random Ramblings About the Web and What It Should Mean to Broadcast Journalists

The other day I was sitting in front of the computer, wondering how people ever did without. It brought me back to the first time I ever signed onto the Internet, sometime around the fourth grade. I remember this overwhelming feeling of vast possibilities, knowing that I had every piece of knowledge at my fingertips. I could type a word into a search engine and gather all the information there was about it. Now everyday people connect to the Internet without a thought in the world, a contributing factor into why web’s effect on society sometimes goes unseen. As far as a it goes for being journalists, we’re so content with the fact that we can do a lot of our basic research on the computer that I think many forget that the internet is more than just a place to find information, but a place to promote and better your news organization.

As a student in journalism, I know it’s not a new fact. Journalism is constantly evolving and during this time the majority of people looking for news log onto the web. Because of this I believe that broadcast journalists and print journalists alike should know how to use it.

So why do I think it’s important for EVERY broadcast journalist to know how to use the web and perhaps participate on putting content up on their stations website?

You’ve heard it before from broadcast students. “This is stupid. I don’t know why I have to put my stories up online… why can’t the web editors do it? It’s their job.” The complaints constantly flow out of the newsroom.

But to those who complain I’m sure you’ve heard of one-man-banding. And now to add to the list of the other jobs a one-man-band must do you can add web editor, at least while you’re still climbing your way up the market ladder.

First and foremost, our job as journalists is to create a public discussion and by using the web as an open forum we expand thoughts on these discussions. The web is a quick and easy way for a massive audience to view others opinions. I know that when I’m reading an article on the web and scroll down to read comments I read things that prompt thoughts I would have never had if there weren’t a comment section. Sometimes comments even spark an idea for an entirely different story. If enough people are talking about something on the web, then it’s probably something good to cover.

You may ask why can’t web editors just upload your story for you then? Sure they can, but what about information that didn’t make it to your broadcast story that the audience would like to know?

In a broadcast you have a 1 min 45 secs to tell your story. So when it comes to web extras, sometimes they are almost as important as the story itself. What other information do you have for the interested viewers? No one knows your story better than you, so that leaves you to take responsibility for putting it up on the web, not the web editors. (Besides don’t you love it when a friend says “Opps I missed your story because I was sitting on the potty!” A story appears -most of the time- on air once, but the Internet serves as the archiver of that story…. Where potty sitting friends go to find it. Don’t you want to make sure they see all the hard work you put into it?)

Take a chance to use the web as a way to give viewers all the facts you've gathered as well as using it to monitor the community and what it wants. It will improve the stories you report on.

Finally I would like to say a good luck to any newbie broadcast journalist that believes they can have a job without ever having to do any web work. I have yet to be in a small market newsroom where journalists aren’t expected to upload various things to a stations website.

What should every journalist know about posting content on their stations website that they probably don’t?

What I find funny is how hard people think posting content for the web is.

Too many people think being a web editor consists of maintaining the look of the site. Of course starting from scratch to build a website can be difficult, in fact impossible if you don’t have perspicacity of HTML and even more important CSS. But the thing is building up a website is completely different than maintaining one. Forget about HTML and CSS, journalists aren’t expected to know how to build or design a website. (Hand over this job to the IT guys.) This is why Content Manager Systems (CMS) were created. A CMS is an easily learnable tool designed to manage what appears on the website. Granted if you are looking to make a simple site you don’t need a CMS, but news sites aren’t simple with their many stories being posted a day. CMSs are used for sites needing archiving and easily searchable documents because there are so many on the site. Basically they keep the work-flow in order.

It may have taken a little bit of getting used to my first CMS, but after that it took 15-20 minutes tops to learn basics on the others. A CMS consists of different tabs, text boxes that you fill out and different uploading features. You write up an article and it pops up on the site in the correct way for you.

As my brother explains it, CMS was created specially for dummies. Or he says, to be less callous, those who aren’t so technological.

After working for komu.com, wrex.com, and nbcchicago.com rest assured that anybody with a basic understanding of the Internet can easily grasp the concepts of a CMS.

So to those just joining the world of journalism, or even for those who believe they are too old to go forward into the new trend don’t be afraid to jump in, it’s not as hard as it looks.

Behind the scenes… things a journalist doesn’t have to know about a news site, but might be interesting to know anyway.

Have you ever thought about the time and thought that goes into a news site? Not just the design of the site must be thought out, but things such as advertising and marketing as well. This is to say, even if we want to believe that our main goal is getting the news to the viewers, at the end of the day it all comes down to money. How will the site profit?

Who is your target audience? Throughout my internship at NBC I have watched as we transformed our site to grab an audience in the age range of 20’s-30’s. Our snarky writing is designed to provoke emotion and to have readers think about things in a different way. We put a nice fun spin on the news. Because we don’t necessarily work with the broadcast that airs, the news we put up on the site generally isn’t news you would see on air. We also have things on our site such as a mood indictor for each story. It gives readers a chance to tell us how they feel about a topic. On our main page we have a sentence telling how the city is feeling about a certain topic that is popular. These types of things set us apart from other sites.

All sites are different. I believe that when you move to a new news organization or station it’s very important to know who your target audience is, what is the main goal of the website (besides money!), and how they go about reaching their goals. You will find many don’t even know what they want yet though; stations are still testing different ways of doing things because no one really knows what works the best.

Knowing the goals of the station’s site will also give you an insight on how a station wants content to appear on the site-word wise. There are many news sites that take on the most prevalent form of online writing: shorter articles than AP style, but longer than broadcast articles.

Off topic, quick thoughts. Beyond knowing news sites…how has social media had an effect on society?

It’s simple, social media has had and will continue to have a prodigious and lasting effect on society.

Think about this simple fact. There are bloggers whose entire supporting income is based on advertisements they sell. And another. Twitter has served as a free tool to increase awareness and draw in revenue for business’ who choose to use it (twitter business model). It also is another way to have a community forum. Topics that people are discussing here and now, what they want to know about. What about social networking sites? Myspace gave Tila Tequila a show. Of course whether or not she should have had that show is a whole other topic (I’m sure myspace has other uses, but marketing people is the largest use I can think of at the moment)…Facebook has allowed people to brand themselves, talk to people they would have otherwise never been able to, connect with peers and continue to build on relationships, and finally for those who choose to market it’s a free way to do so.

I always believed that in a slumping economy, the way we pick ourselves back up is being innovators. New inventions may take away jobs, but it only opens the doors to new ones. Different social media tools, obviously the thought of innovators, quickly create jobs for those who know how to use them (and of course those who created the social media tools drew in some cash too… i.e. facebook, myspace).

This going back to news sites, if someone is able to design a great news site (someone who is an innovator) and broadcast journalists are able to learn how to maintain it, they can benefit by archiving their stories, improving their stories and by creating other outlets for public forums. Great news websites draw a larger audience as well, creating more revenue for the station (if you can show advertisers that you have a large audience!). I’m sure though, once you start posting your content online, learning how to use your news' website you find many more benefits.

In conclusion to these never-ending topics, what does it all mean? Well, I'm not quite sure, except that I love the internet and what it is doing for us journalists and what it is doing for society. So I will continue to learn and extend my knowledge about it. I hope other broadcast journalists will follow the same path.

Copyright © Tara Grimes
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