Verge 08: Afterthoughts
So, Verge is finally over.
Well, technically, it ended on April 4th, but I'm just now getting around to spinning out my thoughts on what happened.
For those not in the know, Verge has been a series of convergent media conferences put on by the Tennessee Journalist. We cover issues in web journalism, web-based media, getting jobs in new media, new technologies, and anything else potentially related to journalism and the internet. We're fully buzzword compliant. Stephen Townsend did a great write-up on the event here along with some great pictures taken by my friend and roommate, Brandon Ball.
We had a pretty awesome group of people and I especially enjoyed the time I was able to spend with our panelists and the students who came down from George Mason. They are just getting their news website started and I can certainly sympathize with their struggles. Steve Klein was their prof and he was exceptionally energetic about the idea of deploying Django in place of Drupal or WordPress for their site.
On that note, it's also important to mention that Harry Montevideo from UGA's Red and Black student newspaper was here largely to weigh in on the future of Ochs and is just itching to deploy it. Hopefully the coming months won't disappoint any of these guys, and they've been very patient as we've been toiling along with it.
I can't continue without mentioning our headliner speaker, Rob Curley, vice president for product development for the Washington Post-Newsweek. He's an exciting speaker and you should jump on the chance to see/hear him speak and present. He and I connected on a Django and Mac level and had a great chat in what time was left after he presented. Also, penguins. He loves penguins.
Now, to the meaty bits. Between some scrimmages between the "old media" types and the "new media" types, and Rob's presentation, many of the profs, directors, deans, and students, were either scared or impressed into some basic trends and facts about online journalism. About the medium in general.
- Things are not only changing, they have changed, and will continue to change. You don't have time to sit around and debate about what direction online journalism is going in, you have to act now. Otherwise, give the kids back their money and shut down your school, you'll save yourself some time.
- Convergence is more than a nice buzzword. It's very real and it means that your news writers are going to have to learn to be broadcast journalists on top of everything else. It's not that hard, trust me, you just have to convince them that they need to hurry.
- If you don't already have an online news publication for you school, get one. You'll probably want to use Django. Can't figure it out? Get yourself a nerd who can. They're everywhere, you just need to find them out and convince them they don't have to know abstract algebra to code in Django/Python.
- If you don't have a personal blog. Get one. Figure it out. Start writing. For students especially, if you don't have a blog, no matter if you're a communication studies major or a journalism major, you need to learn to self-market yourself. Your blog is destination #1 for you. If it isn't, make it so.
- It didn't have to be this way, necessarily. Big news didn't have to get hurt so badly, and it doesn't have to die. Stop doing stupid things like trying to charge for content (archives really? Come on. That's easy ad money right there if you use it right). Micropayment system aren't viable yet so you better work with advertisers to help them fix their end of the machine.
While we got a lot of good info out there, I feel that some fundamental messages were lost along the way, mainly:
- Advertising programs are becoming more worthless the less time you spend teaching kids about how online advertising works. I'm sick and tired of having to teach someone what SEO is, and all the basics of internet traffic. I'm not going to work with someone who doesn't have a basic grasp of this and clients or employers the world over are going to skip you right over if you're clueless on this stuff.
- Video is easy. It is so, super, easy. Spend an hour or two on a weekend, borrow a camera, and play with iMovie. You don't have to be perfect at this and you don't need to emulate the broadcast guys. Rob has an amazing video team who can do some really amazing graphics and know how to produce great content. I'm not saying to forget that if you're really a print guy, but you can get by with shorter pieces so long as you learn how to edit and hold the camera steady. 60 seconds of something will make most any news story worth 5x to a user. (Other rules do apply, but you need to start somewhere).
- Web journalism is NOT limitless. To clarify, you do NOT have unlimited space to tell your story. This is a pretty common misconception. One of our editors even makes a big deal about it in our promo video. While you don't have the same space restrictions that you have in print, you do have restrictions. Namely, the reader's attention span. I could go on all day, but the point is, people scan, they have limited time and attention. Write for people who are just scanning over your page and only ever make your story a mile long if it's just so engaging that most people will want to read it all.
I can't wait for our next conference. This thing has come a long way and has given TNJN some great exposure. Our next big step is going to be releasing Ochs into the wild and hopefully changing the world, or at least journalism school. I'm going to keep on yelling about things I think people are doing wrong in teaching or employing journalism online, but I have to hand it to our guests, they certainly kept an open mind and really do care about fixing their industry and profession.
As I always say, anything is possible, but here, only time will tell.
PS: For more thoughts on web journalism, check out Patrick Thornton's blog.