Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

//Douglas Arellanes /july 4 / 2013

Global Editors Network News Summit: Remaking the newsroom

Since it started in 2011, the Global Editors Network’s News Summit has been one of my favorite events on the journalism-tech calendar, mainly because they manage to cover a large number of emerging topics while keeping non-technically minded people in the picture.

There were quite a few themes covered in this year’s GEN News Summit, but if there was an overall theme, it really would be their unofficial slogan: Hack the Newsroom. ‘Hack’ in this case doesn’t mean breaking into computers or denial-of-service attacks, but rather to try and try again to solve difficult questions, and then to try some more.

The conference looked not only at new developments in digital news but also about how to achieve organisational transformation.

Drone journalism: Potential and practicalities

The sessionSession1) a sequence of Internet activity made by one user at one site. If a user…//read more  that left me with a proper sense of future shock looked at the rise of drone journalism. Using small, inexpensive and flexible remote-control flying machines like the Parrot AR, journalists and news organisations are able to do aerial camerawork that would have once required helicopters. Drones like the Parrot can be controlled easily using a smartphone or tablet. The kind of footage possible with these flying machines is illustrated by a self-described drone journalist who recorded protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and posted the results on YouTube.

The story didn’t end so well for the Taksim drone itself, however, as police eventually shot it out of the sky.

In the US, universities are already exploring how drones can be used for journalism. The University of Nebraska used a $25,000 drone and other remote-controlled aerial vehicles to cover the extreme drought last year. In this video, you can see not only the footage from the drones but also how they operate.

A recent report by Robert Picard and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Mark Corcoran for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said that while $25,000 might seem a lot, the cost of a drone is much less than a helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft. Costs vary widely, however, from “a few hundred pounds to a few hundred thousand pounds”.

The cost of some drones and the risk of police shooting them down are just two of the issues surrounding the remote-control aircraft. Their use for journalism also raises questions of legality and privacy, as they can be highly intrusive. While there isn’t a cloud of drones chasing Justin Bieber – at least not yet – the report looked at some of the legal and ethical issues of drone usage.

In many countries, drone use will require regulatory permission. This means that governments that want to prevent coverage of protests will find it relatively easy to ground them. Privacy laws, which are already being used to block traditional journalistic coverage, will almost certainly be used to curtail their use as well.

BBC Live Editor Guy Pelham and Nick Pinks, a BBC R&D engineer, noted that media organisations’ lawyers should already be studying aviation law in addition to privacy law to be ready for the questions that drones will inevitably raise.

John Paton’s clarion call for digital transformation

For me, the best talk at GEN – both in terms of its informational value as well as its well-argued message – was from John Paton, the CEO of Digital First Media. The US company manages the MediaNews Group and the Journal Register company. Paton argued that the past success of media companies does not ensure a successful future. He said that $1 of profit in a traditional media company today will become 56 cents of loss in five years. He even says that his company will need to do more in terms of growing digital revenue, managing digital costs while investing in digital products, sales and infrastructure and making cuts to the legacy, meaning print, business. He said:

Over the next three years if our digital revenue goes up again around 87% and digital costs go up again about 73% – mobile, video, digital sales and content don’t come free – then profit will be down 37%. Not up but down.

We can no longer treat digital as a bolt-on to our strategy and protect the legacy business.

He wants to motivate his employees to change. He said:

There can be no risk without reward. Smart, risk-taking legacy news organizations will successfully transform. Wealth will be created. And that wealth has to be shared for the employees who are taking those risks with the Company. To that end, Digital First Media will roll out in the coming weeks the details of a profit-sharing plan for all employees. It will include non-union and union employees alike but not senior executives. They’re well paid and it’s enough already.

The entire text of Paton’s talk is available here.

Hackathons: Rapid innovation

To help organisations innovate, GEN has held a series of ‘hackathons’ in various cities worldwide over the past year. A hackathon is a competition in which small teams attempt to solve a specific problem by creating a product in a limited amount of time, with the most complete product usually winning. The GEN News Summit therefore represented the World Cup of news hackathons, with 11 teams worldwide invited to Paris, where they were given the following challenge: rethink your homepage in the context of user engagement.

The winning team was the Netherlands’ De Volksraant, which created a new front pagePageA document having a specific URL and comprised of a set of associated files. A…//read more  that provided summaries as well as entire articles, and provided visual clues as to what a reader’s friends were sharing.

GEN 2013 trends

It’s always fun to go to a news industry conference and play ‘buzzword bingo’, a game where you have a bingo card filled with new media buzzwords and cover them during the presentations. Of the new media themes, one of the most frequently used buzzwords at GEN 2013 was ‘engagement’, with numerous speakers discussing methods and measurement of audience involvement in the news. ‘Committing acts of journalism’ was another phrase that stuck in my mind – and my notebook – as another way of referring to citizen journalism or user-generated content.

Another buzzword was ‘responsive’, as in design. It refers to new design methods and technology that allow digital content to automatically respond, or resize, to the screen size of the device. Responsive design allows news content creators to design a page once rather than having separate designs for desktop, mobile and tablet audiences. While it makes perfect sense, there still aren’t many organisations executing responsive design well, which design guru Oliver Reichenstein of Information Architects pointed out in his talk.

One of the reasons conferences are great is that it allows you to get an idea of the state of the art. While one cannot easily achieve all of the best practices presented, they provide food for thought. At GEN, it seemed that the state of the art is to be digital-first, drone-ready, responsive, ethical and ready for a hackathon. All in a day’s work, right?

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