Writing & Editing for Digital Media coming in June

May 23, 2014

book coverAfter more than a year working to revise Writing for Digital Media, I’m happy to write that the revised textbook, or second edition, called Writing & Editing for Digital Media, is due out next month. This second edition is about 60% all new, including a new chapter on social media and a chapter dedicated to editing for digital spaces and places.

The focus remains on writing as craft, but new are emphases include developing a social media strategy, embracing digital environments as three-dimensional spaces, and on news as a conversation rather than as a series of finished, discrete “products” or articles.

In the book I try to help readers understand how digital communication has introduced opportunities for dynamic storytelling and multi-directional communication. To do this, the book covers the graphical, multimedia, hypertextual and interactive elements that come into play when writing for digital platforms and designing digital spaces.

Chapters aim to:

Assist digital communicators in understanding the social networked, increasingly mobile, always-on, geomapped, personalized media ecosystem;

Help writers across multiple communication fields (journalism, marketing, PR, technical writing) make the transition from print to digital;

Teach communicators to approach storytelling from a multimedia, multi-modal, interactive perspective.

A companion website with exercises and assignments gives students the tools they need to put theory into practice.

So I invite you to check it out, and to send me feedback, including suggestions for how to improve the book. I’ll start using it immediately in my online course for UNC Chapel Hill, Writing for Digital Media. Here are some early comments on the book.

When the journalist is a campaign contributor: Tales from the blogosphere

April 19, 2008

As the week ends and we re-set for a new one, I feel compelled to react to two very different events: the news from a blogger that Obama had referred to Pennsylvania’s small-town voters as clinging to guns and religion; and a Minnesota Public Radio contributer using his blog to deliver breaking news.

I am so weary of the “are bloggers journalists?” question that I am beginning to get angry about it. As we’ve said so many times in Intro to Digital Communication, blogging is nothing more (or less) than writing. It just happens to be published on the Web. When that writing is journalism, the blog writer could be referred to as a journalist, or at least as someone who committed an act of journalism. When the writing is fiction or “what I did at the mall last night,” then obviously the blog writer should not be considered a journalist. That person’s blog was used as a sort of diary.

The blog itself is neutral, in other words, just like a pen or a computer or a camera. It’s the content that defines the writer, and it is the audience that matters. Where the content represents original reporting to which the discipline of verification (corroboration, fact-checking, triangulation) has been applied, the writing — be it on a blog or in a pamphlet or, though rare it might be, on TV — should be considered journalism.

The first event

Earlier this month, Obama was at a fundraiser in California to which news media were not invited or allowed. He referred to the small-town or rural voters in the state as “bitter,” as clinging to guns and religion, and as having antipathy to people “who aren’t like them.” Obviously, when publicized, this didn’t go over well nationally. But what is interesting for us is that the news of his remarks was broken by a blogger, a 61-year-old Obama supporter who deliberated for four days whether or not to publish what she heard. Declaring herself a “citizen journalist,” Mayhill Fowler determined to publish, which she did on OffTheBus.Net, a cooperative news blog launched by Adriana Huffington and, you’ll recognize this name, Jay Rosen at NYU.

Since then, commentators have discussed how digital is changing campaign coverage in unpredictable ways. This is a welcome discussion, because the democratization of publishing, a trend fueled and enabled by the Internet and that includes blogs, inevitably alters our political process, and in fundamental ways. Obama didn’t think his remarks would reach beyond the ballroom; he didn’t know he was being blogged.

One of the questions in this discussion: DId Fowler’s post represent journalism? As an eyewitness account of remarks at a campaign event that I think we can all agree are important to the race for the party nomination, yes, the post must be considered an act of journalism (she also videotaped the entire thing in plain view, begging the question of why the Obama campaign was surprised or upset with the coverage). Is Fowler a journalist? As an avowed contributer to Obama’s campaign (and Clinton’s and even Fred Thompson’s), Fowler presents some real problems. The four-day delay is a sign of these problems, or conflicts. A journalist doesn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of publishing news in the public’s interest, at least not in the circumstances the California fundraiser presented.

Objectivity as a process goal (not a product goal)

We seem to agree that pure objectivity in journalism is impossible. I think we can also agree, however, that striving for as objective a news-gathering process as is possible still is noble and good. Contributing to candidates we are covering clearly threatens, even mocks that objective process. The fact that Fowler has been criticized both by media and by her fellow Obama supporters points to this inherent conflict, bringing to life the biblical paradox of trying to serve two masters.

Jay Rosen’s own take on the episode.

The other event I call our attention to is Bob Collins’s deployment of his blog for breaking news. Also a pilot, he’s focused first on the impending mergers in the airline industry. Collins is reporting and writing, publishing to a blog, for a radio station/network. This is cool, convergent stuff. As a single voice, he has fairly wide latitude to express himself. As a pilot and a newsman, he has credentials and credibility to cover a complex area of big business. I won’t be reading (mention of the terms “airlines” and “mergers” make me sleepy), but I applaud the initiative.

Citizen journalism: Part of the problem or part of the solution?

April 9, 2008

Having Druck in the class proved great fun. I appreciated him bringing to us real-world experience, a journalist’s perspective on digital, and a sense of how advertisers and audience are maturing in their approach to digital. He didn’t get a chance to show us his new baby, Mobile HometownHeadlines, so take a look. This blog is to enable content to be delivered by HH directly to handhelds and mobile devices, as he told us news was heading.

One topic he and I could have actually debated in class is this post’s title, whether citizen journalism (a.k.a., participatory journalism, distributed or distributive journalism, pro-am journalism, user-generated content) is part of the problem, for some of the reasons Druck mentioned (libel, lowest-common denominator commentary, among others), or whether, as I strongly believe, it is part of the solution. What is the problem? The consolidation of media into fewer hands, fewer voices; the rush to all things visual at the expense of attention to the linear, the logical, the textual; and the decline of original, on-the-ground, blue-collar reporting, particularly on complex process questions and issues.

I say pro-am marriages of professional journalists and regular folks with blogs, vidcams and recorders equal part of the solution because, if our book is correct when it states: “The more that citizens participate in the news, the more deeply engaged they tend to become in the democratic process,” then more people doing journalism is a good thing. Yes, there will be disasters, like Teresa Watson’s “journalism,” but on the whole, more people writing, looking, asking, reporting is a good thing, in my opinion. It’s the Long Tail applied to journalism. Yes, we will still have and need the hits (NYTimes, WashPost, CBS and CNN), but more voices is part of a solution to ever consolidating big media, a check on that vastly consolidating power

Our text this week gets at this issue, asking us how citizen journalism should be handled. I put before us three models, realizing there are far more.

First, CNN’s approach is to completely segregate the UGC (user-generated content) into a separate site with little to tether it to the CNN newsroom.

Another model is OhMyNews, probably the world’s largest pro-am news site, with tens of thousands of paid “citizen” reporters. This model layers on top of and around the UGC the discipline of verification via professional journalists — editors who read, fact-check, filter and publish.

Finally, there are a growing population of sites entirely devoted to citizen journalism. New West Network in Montana is one of my favorites, collecting contributions from its “citizens” in several cities and towns. Every day, the site features a new contributed photo (you’ll see it in the middle of the home page; this site’s photography is awesome). Another, newer example of this last category: Rafter Jump On, for reporting on culture.

(A disclaimer: I abhor the term “citizen journalism” for two reasons. First, journalists are citizens, too. The term implies two false categories of journalists — citizens and non-citizen professionals. Second, the term implies that non-citizens, folks like my wife, a green card holder from Japan, are excluded. Of course that’s ridiculous.)

  • Which model holds the most promise?
  • Of the typology on pages 155-58, which ones make the most sense?
  • How are these models supposed to make money?
  • How do we ensure that they achieve the purpose of journalism, which, according to the book (p. 152), is “to enable citizens to have the information needed to more fully participate in society and to be free and self-governing”?
  • A delicious question introduced at the chapter’s beginning: Do we need some sort of prescriptive rhetoric for reporters who blog? In other words, for journalists trained to be objective, at least in process, do they need a new rhetoric that accounts for, that accommodates and utilizes the interpersonal dimension of blogging, of online communication? I love this question, and I’m interested in your reactions.