Editors-in-chief and senior news executives from around the world and working on different platforms – print, digital or broadcast – are now able to gather, share information and create new services within a new professional network called Global Editors Network (GEN).
I was asked to be on the founding board of a new international organization intended to bring together journalists and journalism from across all media formats. It is a bold move and one that is quite due at this point in the reinvention of our industries. I was happy to provide my support to the new Global Editors Network. About the only other organization I know of that takes such a completely platform-neutral approach to journalism is the Society of Professional Journalists, which welcomes members from all areas of print, electronic and online media.
I was speaking to this topic of recognizing multiplatform, collaborative storytelling just recently in an email to Jan Watten of the Hearst Foundation, asking for consideration of a change to the influential Hearst journalism awards. On the occasion of the launching of the GEN, I am going to widen the discussion on this point by sharing it here:
I’d like to suggest consideration of a change or addition to the Hearst competition rules or categories sometime in the future to recognize modern, integrated, multiplatform, collaborative journalism.
I’m a relatively new fellow in academia with a long career in the news industry. Most of my work has been in newspapers and newspaper organizations (including a corporate spot with Gannett and more than a decade as a director at the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers). But I’ve also worked in broadcasting and been out front on new media. For the past 15 years, I’d like to think I’ve helped push our journalistic profession to embrace a multiplatform mindset in telling our stories and serving society. It’s what drove me to create the Newsplex at the University of South Carolina for training people in cross-platform newshandling technologies and techniques.
Now I’m trying to help J-schools revamp themselves to turn out journalists better suited to this age of disruptive media and better equipped to help move journalism into the future. Part of that is training them to go beyond just reporting and telling stories, to creating the environments in which news consumers experience and interact with those stories across multiple media and technologies.
In a recent project, for example, a team of these fusion journalists tackled the story of the whole range of people living with autism. They profiled a dozen folks to cover the entire matrix of the condition, from a third-grader getting bullied for being different to a local singer who few of her fans even realized was autistic, even less that her autism underlay her musical creativity. More to the point, these young journalists told this story through newspaper articles, TV newscast segments, radio pieces, mobile webapps, photostories, podcasts and Flash interactives. They became adept at an experimental digital collage environment that combines full text articles, pictures, video audio and more into an almost game-like experience. They arranged a special showing of a major commercial motion picture with an autism plotline, integrating that into the overall story experience and then wrapping the reactions of the audience – collected in video, audio and text – back into the other channels of the story. There was heavy involvement of social networking to distribute elements of the story and engage audience. There was an online media hub and a lot of work on SEO and analytics because the point is not just good journalism but good journalism that gets noticed and therefore that has impact. Since maximizing the impact was the goal, these young journalists selected and directed the individual pieces of the story to whatever formats were most appropriate for those particular aspects, putting each where it would intersect the appropriate parts of the audience. It was fairly masterful, in my opinion.
The school for which I am currently working places a high value on Hearst awards. But when I looked at entering these students’ effort for recognition and, more importantly, to bring these techniques to the attention of others, I hit a stone wall. The story doesn’t fit the rules because it wasn’t done in any single format and it was not the work of any individual journalist, but rather of a team that has learned how to leverage the strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of all the tools in their media toolbox, and how to combine their skills to create that story experience I mentioned. Because these folks didn’t work as typical lone-wolf journalists in any traditional area of specialization, I can’t enter them except by ripping their story into bits and pieces that don’t come close individually to the quality and impact of the integrated whole. Not only that, but highlighting just this piece or that negates the very multiplatform integration they pursued.
We are teaching them that it is a multiple-media world and that traditional siloed media companies need to adapt. Then we tell them we will evaluate their photojournalism or their newspaper articles or their multimedia or their broadcast segments only by themselves and only if they are done without too much collaboration so that one person is mainly responsible. Teams aren’t eligible. Multiplatform doesn’t count. It’s not about the story; it’s about the format.
It’s not just Hearst. Most journalism awards are still very much format and channel centric. It’s how we’ve worked in the past; it’s show we think, no matter what we say. But someday, someone is going to offer an award for the best demonstration of real integrated newshandling, real cross-format journalism, real multiplatform storytelling and interaction with an audience across that audience’s entire sphere of media use rather than pitting one part against another. The Hearst X-Media Award would have a nice ring to it. And set a great precedent.
I have not yet heard back from Hearst. If they don’t do it, I hope someone else will. Maybe SPJ. Maybe GEN.