Friday, March 30, 2007

UT International Symposium in Online Journalism

Since 1999, Rosental Alves and his team of organizers have been holding this event. This year, it moves to a larger venue, with over 250 attendees participating in sessions over two days. Sessions include panelists from professional media and academia. The first presenter, and keynote speaker, Jeff Jarvis of, kicked things off with what he called cockeyed optimism. This was a refreshing talk. No whining allowed. He made some interesting comments that had this audience of grizzled journalists grimacing. First of all, he recommended that news organizations, including Washington Post and NY Times, should do what they do best, focus locally. He gave the example of the recent Walter Reed Hospital scandal, stating that the Washington Post was best able to cover that, and NY Times should simply link to it. As a non-traditional journalist, I agree wholeheartedly. If the story has already been told, and your organization has nothing to add to it, then why not link and focus your resources elsewhere. He also recommended that newsrooms be eliminated (gasp from the crowd!), comparing it to sales managers wanting their sales people out on the streets rather than in the office. Same applies to reporters. He did say he was being a bit extreme in that comment, but it is good food for thought.

Another interesting thing he mentioned was that rather than building communities, media should be greating "elegant organization," crediting Facebook founder Zuckerberg with that phrase. He said that the communities are out there, doing what they are doing, and media's job is to help them do what they do better. (I'm paraphrasing, he was much more eloquent).

Jarvis also mentioned the job role of programmer/journalist. I first discussed this concept two years ago, after I was motivated by some panels at SXSW 2005. I think there is broad opportunity in Communications to teach technology skills to people who are not traditionally in the technology pipeline. They will have a better perspective on developing media applications than computer science majors (see

So, Jarvis was great. Next up was a power panel of newspaper executives from Washington Post (Jim Brady), NY Times (Neil Chase), USA Today (Kinsey Wilson), and Wall Street Journal (Bill Grueskin). They each discussed their individual approaches to Web offerings, some having merged their newsrooms (NY Times), some still have separate operations, and some having recently redesigned with new multimedia features and social networking (USA Today). The gave some good examples of their excellent multimedia packages that I will show in class:

Being a Black Man and Citizen K St. - WP
Rehnquist Obit Package and A String of Denied Claims - NY Times

The WSJ rep (Bill Grueskin) offered a suggestion that I wanted to remember...reporters need to make record of the URLs they encounter when doing a story to provide to Web producers as they complete packages. That is a simple requirement, but often overlooked in traditional newsroom processes.

The next panel deals with revenue at media organizations including representatives from Star Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and This one is less interesting to me, because companies are going to continue to lose money until they embrace the new technologies and get comfortable with taking risks. The GM Julie Weber had the most interesting presentation in this bunch, showing content areas and how they integrate with revenue generating strategies, rather than showing a barrage of slides charts illustrating revenue trends. She showed the Pets page, stating that these types of topics creating a good deal of interest amongst certain groups of users. Former student, Julie Ruff, works at, and I know she works on the Pets page. Another former student, Angela Grant, also works at MySA. Weber discussed The Long Tail of advertising online, which was alluded to in Jarvis' speech as well. Media companies can mobilize the long tail, by selling volume of ads that each hit smaller markets, as opposed to solely focusing on large advertisers. Wb 2.0 concepts can help identify the niches and make The Long Tail model efficient. Weber also suggested that media companies should partner with competitors (gasp!) who are doing things better.

There was a great lunch sponsored by Pluck ( , and I was able to make contact with the Pluck CEO for future research and career (for students) collaborations. They are an Austin company that provides social media services, with recent projects including the USA Today and Reuters. The afternoon offered a session on Citizen Journalism with a fascinating presentation from Blufton Today from SC and Lisa Stone from BlogHer. BlogHer ( is a great organization to support and encourage women bloggers. Her research showed that a significant amount of women are blogging, and they are doing so across a variety of topics, not just those stereotypically associated with women. This is counter to what I have seen in looking at mainstream media bloggers hosted on the Web sites of NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Chicago Tribune, whose bloggers are primarily male. When they are female, the blog topics are home, family and fashion. BlogHer has an annual conference, this year in Chicago, so I am going to try to attend.

The end of the day included a look at some international Web destinations including Le Monde from France, Semana Magazine from Bogota, El from Spain, and UOL Brazil.

A concept that was bantered about throughout the day was "Web-first journalism." This basically means that media organizations are creating for the Web primarily, then repurposing for print, which is a complete turn around from traditional methods. Interesting...

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