TechRaking highlights: ‘News is constant, and journalism should be too’

There is technology out there that can help reporters change their practices to reflect the reality of a need for constant news coverage. This was among the themes explored at TechRaking, a conference put on by Google and Centre for Investigative Reporting last week. Dana Lacey, a digital journalism specialist for Canadian start-up ScribbleLive, was in California for the conference, and explains how reporters can better utilize technology to produce quality journalism. 

 

There is technology out there that can help reporters change their practices to reflect the reality of a need for constant news coverage. This was among the themes explored at TechRaking, a conference put on by Google and Centre for Investigative Reporting last week. Dana Lacey, a digital journalism specialist for Canadian start-up ScribbleLive, was in California for the conference, and explains how reporters can better utilize technology to produce quality journalism. 

 

The static web is dead for news. Journalists that cling to the old ways will miss opportunities to tell important stories, and their readers will disappear with them.

“We need to rethink every facet of the journalism model,” Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news products, told a crowd of journalists and techies at the search giant’s HQ in California last week. His keynote, in which he explored themes he thinks will define the future of journalism, opened TechRaking 2012, a day-long event created in partnership with the Centre for Investigative Reporting to explore how technology and muckraking can improve our ability to tell stories that matter. 

Newspapers have existed in their current form — minus the advent of coloured ink — for more than a century. That form works for something that lands on your front porch every morning, but not online. Sadly, newsrooms have simply shoved that dead-tree format onto the web in hopes that readers stick around. (The decade of decline in print subscriptions tells us otherwise.) Recent stats show that even the home page is becoming a dinosaur, with 75% of story page traffic coming from outside sources.

It’s time to think beyond the broadsheet. News is constant, and journalism should be too. And, above all, we shouldn’t forget that we’re trying to tell stories. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools for creating, curating, investigating and publishing high-quality journalism, with more being dreamed up all the time.

I work for ScribbleLive, a  Canadian technology start-up that builds a tool newsrooms across the planet use to cover events in real time. ScribbleLive is a collaborative multi-platform, multi-device tool that allows reporters to record and publish multimedia, troll the social web and swap content with other newsrooms to lower the cost of newsgathering. I help our clients develop strategies for real-time coverage. The hardest part isn’t training the average reporter to use the technology; it’s the staid newsroom culture itself that keeps journalists stuck in the static web. When it comes to breaking news, liveblogs are often secondary to more traditional pyramid-style stories, or, even worse, outside sites such as Twitter or Facebook — which make money off your content.

To its credit, J-Source asked me to write this piece after spotting my TechRaking liveblog. I was using my iPad to provide updates and photos, and the liveblog sucked in all the #TechRaking tweets — why strive to get every soundbite when a roomful of journalists could help me out? (Side note: When spammers commandeered the hashtag, making the Twitter feed of the event nearly unreadable, Scribble’s spam filters kept the junk out. My liveblog only had relevant updates, with the added bonus of letting readers see the photos and videos shot by audience members without having to click links.)

As for highlights from TechRaking, I won’t go into all of Gringras’ themes, but here are a few things that stood out:

1.  Architecture. Few news sites are experimenting with formats, choosing to simply turn a newspaper or magazine-style story into pixels.

2.  Narrative. “In an evolving culture dominated by updates, posts, and bullet points,” Gringras asks, “are there approaches to conveying in-depth journalism that extend beyond 5,000-10,000 word articles?” You can look to Reuters for one innovative approach: When an earthquake devastated Japan last year, most news outlets were in the dark for fresh information from the field. Not Reuters. The news agency (a Scribble client) ran a two-week-long,  298-page live story that embraced the power of citizen journalists along with wire-style quick hits and beautiful photographs and video. The result: an up-to-the-minute live account that evolved with the crisis. 

3.  Reporter toolkit. I’m already tired of the “everyone is a publisher” mantra, but the takeaway is that there is plenty of opportunity for techies to build tools to facilitate the reporting and publishing process. Tools such as ScribbleLive are great for creating, curating and publishing content. For investigators, Google Fusion powers data visualization, while SuperFastMatch lets readers upload an article and search for passages lifted from press releases or Wikipedia articles. Here’s a list of other tools reporters are using for everything from taking notes, creating editorial schedules to datamining. 

4.  Collaboration. The day before TechRaking, PBS Mediashift hosted Collab/Space, an exploration of journalistic collaboration. Scribble sponsored the event, and Mediashift liveblogged it — check it out for some great examples of tools and methods journalists are using to produce collaborative coverage.

Dana Lacey is a digital journalism specialist at ScribbleLive, a Canadian tech start-up that provides live-coverage software to news organizations (including J-Source). 

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