NewsTrack Blog: Final Thoughts

Well, it’s that time of year again: the end of the semester, and with it comes the end of JO 304 and its NewsTrack Blog assignment. Over the last four months, I’ve tracked the multimedia elements presented on Al Jazeera America’s website, and, to be honest, the lessons I’ve learned have only worked to further dampen my regard for the current state of American journalism. Despite its enormous potential to transform the online news world, multimedia seems to be doing nothing more than adding to the “entertainment over information” trend overtaking modern media. I’m beginning to believe that I will soon be part of a minority few, those who actually want news from their online news sites.

Perhaps I’m just being overly pessimistic, but the more I explored news multimedia through this blog, the more the Internet demonstrated that the ability of a piece to entertain usually far overshadows its ability to inform. In mathematical terms: cat videos > well-produced news features, at least according to view counts and what goes viral nowadays.

So, to wrap up my NewsTrack blog, I won’t muse about my love/hate relationship with Al Jazeera America (the rest of the blog does that quite well). Instead, I’ll focus on the top three things I’ve learned along this multimedia journey:

1. Multimedia isn’t optional in the world of online journalism.

Multimedia no longer complements online news stories; it’s simply become part of the way journalism runs on the web. Having multimedia no longer sets one news site apart from others; instead, the only way multimedia distinguishes a certain website is by its lack of it, and trust me, that distinction is not one you want to have in the age of the Internet.

2. Multimedia doesn’t have to be good to be effective. In fact, sometimes the worse quality it is, the better.

Grainy cell phone videos and reader-submitted photos usually trump the most sophisticated pieces of multimedia. Compare Don’t Tase Me, Bro to the New York Times’ Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. One took 2 minutes and 23 seconds to record, the other I couldn’t guess the amount of time and effort poured into it. Which one reached more viewers? Noting the over 7 million views Don’t Tase Me, Bro has received, I don’t think even a Pulitzer Prize could give Snow Fall the boost it needed to compare. Plus, Don’t Tase Me, Bro has long been inducted into the Internet Hall of Memes.

3. Multimedia fuels views, not facts.

Just a reiteration of what I’ve said time and again – most multimedia today seems created only to attract more viewers, not to inform those viewers more effectively. Online journalism has become a popularity contest, and while competition has always fueled the media, it used to push journalists to improve; now, it only gives them the incentive to dumb things down.

Despite my disappointment at the state of online journalism (and I’ve got Hillary Clinton to back me up here), I still believe that multimedia can provide society with an elevated news experience. Will it actually happen? I sure hope so, but unfortunately, only time will tell.

Farewell, NewsTrack Blog. It’s been real.

 

 

 

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Multimedia as a Source

Today, journalists have the world at their fingertips. All they need to do is open an internet browser to gain access to more than enough information to produce stories for the rest of their careers. While some stories still require getting out and doing some good old-fashioned reporting, many others take shape electronically.

One of the rockiest of these new electronic landscapes is social media. The more popular social media becomes, the more fake accounts, scammers, and phishing schemes appear online that threaten to undermine a journalist’s credibility.

If journalists use the Internet wisely in the news-gathering process, they can create a piece that reflects not just one or two people’s opinion on an issue, but a global community’s perspective. However, if they use it carelessly, journalists can quickly disseminate false information and sink their careers, often in 140 characters or less.

Journalists have long reached out into their communities for story ideas and the facts and opinions that ultimately fill out the piece, but social media marks tricky territory. However, some stories can only be told through the eyes of the audience, and Al Jazeera America appears to be chasing one down. Instead of simply providing multimedia to its audience, Al Jazeera America is now using it to fuel its story on campus sexual assault, a move that, while dangerous, could potentially produce an exceptionally revealing and insightful piece.

Al Jazeera America's request for those affected by sexual assault on college campuses to bring their stories to light.

Al Jazeera America’s request for those affected by sexual assault on college campuses to bring their stories to light.

Throughout this semester, I’ve analyzed Al Jazeera America’s multimedia end products, but until now I’ve neglected to critique its use of multimedia as a source. Colleges are facing sexual assault-induced headaches right now, as many victims begin to speak ou and share stories of the ineffective resources for victims of sexual assault offered at their universities.

Please note, I don’t mean to generalize – I understand that not all universities fit this description – but for the ones that do, exposé stories play an important role in fulfilling one of journalists’ most essential responsibilities: covering both sides of a story. Most campuses  have extensive PR departments that can defend the schools’ reputations in response to accusations regarding improper handling of sexual assault cases. On the other hand, while, in the past, victims often had no outlet to widely disseminate their version of the event, the Internet now provides them with an unparalleled opportunity to insert their stories into the public domain.

As part of its coverage on sex crimes on college campuses, Al Jazeera America is now asking victims to come forward with their stories, either by posting on social media with the hashtag #TrackingAssault or by submitting an online form located on its website. The pitfalls of this approach are obvious – it remains extremely difficult to unveil who really lies behind the veil of an online profile, and publishing false accounts – especially accusatory ones – of how colleges handled instances of sexual assault can put Al Jazeera America into some extremely hot water if the inaccuracy is revealed. However, because of the prevalent “rape culture” in the United States, which a heavy presence of victim blaming, this may be Al Jazeera America’s only way to produce a story that takes into account all sides of this extremely heated issue.

Probably not the most well-worded post, but it shows Al Jazeera America's commitment to social media as a source of information.

Probably not the most well-worded post, but it shows Al Jazeera America’s commitment to social media as a source of information.

This being my second-to-last NewsTrack post, I wanted to focus my attention on an emerging trend in multimedia – namely, the use of social media as a reporting tool. Though it lacks in its social media postings, perhaps Al Jazeera can still get something out of social media. I’m glad to see that they’re jumping on the social media reporting bandwagon – I’m not sure a news organization would ultimately survive if it didn’t, given the pervasiveness of social media in most Americans’ lives – but it’s crucial that they remember to respect the power of social media to build – and to destroy – a story.

For now, I’ll just have to wait and see which other news organizations take that plunge as well. Here’s to the future of journalism, to which I hope the ideals of fairness and accuracy will survive.

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Writing about Writing about Social Media

Social media: if you’re tired of hearing me talk about it, you can  just stop using it. Deal?

No?

My point exactly. In the age of online journalism, social media plays a key role in disseminating news. However, today I want to focus not on how news sites use social media but instead on how they cover it.

For those of you who’ve read my previous posts, you may know that I’ve been fairly critical of Al Jazeera America’s use of social media; namely, I bashed it for only using its social media accounts to promote the stories on its main website. Its coverage of social media is a far different story. In fact, it reminded me why always catering to the quickly distributed, constantly updated news consumers doesn’t always pan out for news websites. To illustrate this, I selected a social media controversy that hit the web late last week – namely, the recently dismantled @ColbertReport’s tweet that many deemed racist and insensitive to the Asian community. I pitted Al Jazeera America’s coverage of the story against three major news networks’ – CNN.comFox News, and NBC News – online coverage.

Colbert's response to a controversial tweet quoted directly from his show.

Colbert’s response to a controversial tweet quoted directly from his show.

In order to select the stories I would base my analysis on, I did what most millennials would probably do: searched “colbert” on each of the four websites and selected the most relevant-looking story out of the top three hits. The searches produced the following headlined stories:

Al Jazeera America: Analysis: A tone-deaf joke from ‘The Colbert Report’ and resulting backlash show the pitfalls of Twitter activism

CNN: Stephen Colbert denies racist tweet

Fox News: Stephen Colbert accused of racism, #CancelColbert trends on Twitter

NBC News: Stephen Colbert responds to Twitter backlash: ‘#CancelColbert — I agree!’ 

Each of the three major networks followed a similar approach: a summary of how Colbert insulted the Asian community, some mention of the trending #CancelColbert hashtag, a screenshot of Colbert’s response to the controversy on his @StephenAtHome account, and a variety of Twitter posts commenting on the debacle.

The "experts" referenced in most of the coverage: other Twitter users.

The “experts” referenced in most of the coverage: other Twitter users.

As for Al Jazeera America? It produced an article with a refreshingly different angle. Instead of simply restating what had thus far occurred and sprinkling some random Twitter comments into the text for good measure, Al Jazeera America placed the incident in the wider context of “hashtag advocacy” and its overall effectiveness in exacting political and social reform. Though the article contained no images beyond the featured picture of Colbert, it proved an engaging read, pulling from various expert sources and providing a detailed account of the many sides of the debate.

In rejecting the notion that all online news needs to be short, to the point, and filled with pretty pictures and videos in order to keep the audience’s attention, Al Jazeera America created a poignant, relevant piece, all without a heavy reliance on multimedia elements. Ironically, the best coverage of so modern an issue as social media utilized some of the oldest tools of the journalistic trade: thorough research, balanced reporting, and a fresh take on an overdone story.

Maybe there’s hope for journalism after all.

 

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Video Shot Sequencing Practice

5 Shot, 10 Second exercise starring my mother.

Shot with my iPhone 4S, so please excuse the poor quality.

Make sure to watch with your sound on – the background music makes the video!

Enjoy!

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Numbers: Sorry Journalists, They’re Not Your Enemy After All

Be warned: I’m about to throw a small bit of data at you. I understand that, if you’re part of the “math fearing”  media (which I don’t quite understand, but that’s a post for a different time), numbers can be scary. However, I promise you, I’ll go easy on the mathematical analysis. I even included a pretty graph (thank you Excel!).

Two days ago, the Pew Research Center released its annual State of the News Media report. While journalism professors around the country quickly pointed out the new evidence that the newspaper industry is rapidly deteriorating or reemphasizing their lesson of go digital or go home, a far different data set drew me in: the relationship between news sites and social media.

A few weeks ago, I ripped into Al Jazeera America for what I deemed an exceptionally poor usage of social media. It turns out, social media may not be as dominant a player as I thought.

Let me explain.

The Pew Research Center’s study reiterated what probably most of us already know: a lot of people are using social media to get their daily news. However, what surprised me the most was also something I already knew, yet I never really acknowledged it until I read the study’s recap on social media. Two main points stuck out:

1. Most people (78%) who get their news on Facebook are not on Facebook to actually get their news. Pew refers to this as an “incidental” occurrence of news consumption (i.e. they didn’t really want the news, it just happened to be there).

2. A reader who goes directly to a site to get his or her news spends much more time and looks at a greater number of pages than a reader who is referred to the site by social media or a search engine. How big is this difference? The following data comes straight from the study:

Graph comes directly from Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2014 Report. Click on the graph to be taken to the original site.

Graph comes directly from Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2014 Report. Click on the graph to be taken to the original site.

 The following chart presents this data as the percentage greater a visitor performs an activity when he or she arrives directly to the site as opposed to him or her arriving through Facebook or a search engine. Because that’s a convoluted but the easiest way for me to explain it, I’ll give an example: users accessing a site directly spent 273% more time on it than those who arrived by Facebook and 271% more time than those who arrived by search engine.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 3.21.45 PM

Table by Nicole Seese. Data from Pew Research Center. Made using Microsoft Word.

 

And for those of you who are visually inclined, I also converted the data into a bar graph.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 2.28.17 PM

Graph by Nicole Seese. Data from Pew Research Center. Made using Microsoft Excel.

After viewing this data, I realized that, no matter how prominent social media may seem in the online news market, sites still post the highest stats from loyal readers who may not be inclined to the quickly digested and always changing news of millennials. I think I berated Al Jazeera America’s social media use prematurely. In this ever-transforming world, it’s easy to believe that social media is king, but Pew’s study may show that traditional journalism hasn’t taken it’s last breath yet.

However, it does show that sometimes journalists need numbers after all (but don’t blame the messenger on this one!)

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It’s the Little Things that Count

So for this week’s NewsTrack blog post, our professor assigned a theme: video. Makes sense, considering we’re entering our video unit. So, as the gears in my head started turning, I hopped on over to the video pages of Al Jazeera America and three major news websites I planned to compare it to: CNN (my go-to news source), MSNBC (the liberal side of the spectrum), and Fox News (the conservative side of the spectrum – I have to cover all my bases here). My plans were grand: comparative analysis of the length, topics, and variety of the four video web pages (see below screenshot for proof of such plans), but unfortunately, after about an hour of frustration, I gave up hope. However, my failure did lead me to the topic of today’s post: accessibility!

[Note: I am speaking of accessibility in general terms, not on the specific topic of web accessibility.]

I promise, I was trying to do some fancy data analysis. This excel sheet should serve as evidence.

I promise, I was trying to do some fancy data analysis. This excel sheet should serve as evidence of that, right?

Accessibility on a website seems an obvious enough concept: if a piece is hard to access, readers probably won’t work to read/view it. Extending that logic further to videos, if basic information about the video is difficult to find or the video itself is difficult to view, news organizations can say goodbye to a slew of potential viewers.

First, I’ll start off with my rankings of accessibility for the four web sites:

1. Al Jazeera America (Don’t worry. If you’ve read my other posts, you probably realize I am in no way biased towards Al Jazeera America simply because it is the focus of my NewsTrack blog. Trust me, I give it plenty of criticism, both constructive and non.)

Al Jazeera America's video preview: just enough information to tell readers what the video is about.

Al Jazeera America’s video preview: just enough information to give readers a good sense of what the video is about.

2. Fox News

3. CNN

4. MSNBC

Now, the analysis that led me to these rankings:

Al Jazeera America: Suggested videos were conveniently gathered at the top of the page in a single player, which allowed for easy switching between videos. As the reader scrolls down the page, shows are separated from video content, which can be sorted by topic. Each video includes title, length, keyword descriptions, and a preview picture. Overall, fairly easy to navigate website and to find and play videos. Only downside: clicking on a video clip will take you to a separate page (or is this a hidden tactic? More page maneuvers may equal more page views, but it could also amount to more frustrated and impatient readers.)

Fox News: Similar to Al Jazeera America. However, featured video player at top only plays a single video at a time. Videos include title, length, and a preview picture. When selected, videos play in the viewer at the top of the page. Videos are sorted into categories, though those categories are fairly vague (ex: Editor’s Picks, Trending, Recommended – I’m not sure what the difference between them all is). Overall, decent to navigate, but could provide an easier way for viewers to find the content they are looking for.

Fox News: decent video descriptions, vague video categories.

Fox News: decent video descriptions, vague video categories.

CNN: Aside from a “Videos Worth Watching” section, contains mostly collections of videos on specific topics (Flight 370, the Pistorius trial, the crisis in Ukraine). Videos include extremely short titles, length, and a picture preview. When selected, videos play on a small viewer at the top left corner of the page. Overall, not very helpful or useful unless one is looking for a collection of videos on a specific topic.

CNN: video player is approximately the side of video previews.

CNN: video player is approximately the side of video previews. Descriptions are short – perhaps too short to give readers a sense of what the videos contain.

MSNBC: Video player contains forty videos yet only provides previews of  two videos at a time. Videos include only title and picture preview; cannot access length until video begins. Has a better selection of videos when a topic is selected from a below list, but the frustration with the initial video player may prevent readers from ever reaching that portion of the page. Overall, just incredibly frustrating, and a large part of why my initial analysis was taking far longer than it should have.

MSNBC: scrolling is a must if you want to get past the first three out of forty videos. Plus, no access to length of video until it starts.

MSNBC: scrolling is a must if you want to get past the first three out of forty videos. Plus, no access to the length of video until it actually starts playing.

The moral of today’s post is one I’ve said many times before but is always worth repeating: there’s no point in producing multimedia content if readers can’t access it easily. Most of the time, if readers can’t access content quickly, they probably won’t access it at all.

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Google Pie Charting It Up!

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March 20, 2014 · 6:17 pm

Should Social Media be Social? Probably.

I have something to confess. Though admitting it may break my journalism professors’ hearts (or my grades), transparency  seems to be the new cornerstone of effective journalism, so it’s only right that I come clean.

Honestly, I hate social media.

Reason one why my grammar-loving self can't quite get behind Twitter.

Reason one why my grammar-loving self can’t quite get behind Twitter.

As a self-proclaimed tech-nerd, I originally welcomed social media with open arms. That is, until I realized that Facebook could cost me a job, Twitter’s 140-character limit discourages the use of correct grammar and punctuation (abbrevs anyone?), and that I really have no desire to create a pin board representation of my future wedding to share with the entire world.

However, that being said, I cannot deny that social media presents today’s media with unparalleled opportunities to interact with their audiences, whether it’s through crowdsourcing, multimedia content, or simply breaking the barriers between those who report the news and those who consume it. In fact, latecomers to the social media party, at least those in the journalism world, are now scrambling to catch up with their more social media-friendly peers.

Yet, as I’ve said before about multimedia, just having a social media presence won’t inherently up your news ante. If you’re going to be on social media, then you need to do it right.

Al Jazeera America's homepage features links to four major social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube.

Al Jazeera America’s homepage features links to four major social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube.

Which brings me to today’s NewsTrack topic: Al Jazeera America’s social media presence. Unfortunately, despite having accounts on four dominating social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+), Al Jazeera America’s use of them exhibits three major weaknesses that significantly reduce their effectiveness.

1. It’s more advertising than interaction.

While social media can provide a far-reaching platform for promoting articles and features, advertising should not be its main purpose. I once read that, for a journalist, Twitter posts should consist of 80% outside content (retweeting, interactions with audience, etc.) and only 20% self-promotion. In contrast, Al Jazeera America’s Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts act as nothing more than lists of links to Al Jazeera articles. The power of social media lies in what it offers beyond a traditional news website, and if it’s only echoing that website’s content, it loses its purpose.

Al Jazeera's Google+ account: mostly self-promotion.

Al Jazeera’s Google+ account: mostly self-promotion.

Al Jazeera's Facebook account: more self-promotion.

Al Jazeera’s Facebook account: more self-promotion.

Al Jazeera's Twitter account: still more self-promotion.

Al Jazeera’s Twitter account: still more self-promotion.

2. Lack of content = lack of patience.

Stereotype as it may be, social media users tend to want their news to be quick and current; nothing tries their patience more than stagnant feeds. Al Jazeera America’s YouTube channel contains only 25 videos, 15 of which are either introductions to shows or “behind the scenes” footage. With video serving as one of the most popular forms of multimedia content, a strong YouTube presence is vital for news organizations looking to stay relevant in the digital age. In other words, your video can’t go viral if it doesn’t exist.

Al Jazeera America has posted only 25 videos on its YouTube channel, with many of them only short introductions to the network's various shows.

Al Jazeera America has posted only 25 videos on its YouTube channel, with many of them only short introductions to the network’s various shows.

3. It ignores feedback.

A quick scroll down the discussion session of Al Jazeera’s YouTube page reveals that users have been quite vocal regarding the changes they’d like to see made to the site, the consensus of which appeared to be “more content.” Yet, it doesn’t appear as if Al Jazeera America has listened. Long past are the days when criticism of journalists and their work never reach their desks; the Internet allows for instantaneous feedback. However, there’s no sense to receiving feedback if you ignore it, especially in an industry that relies more and more heavily on its audience to keep it afloat. When users take the time to provide constructive criticism, heed it. Otherwise, you risk losing readers.

While Alex N may have given Al Jazeera American some good advice, Karoke77's may do a better job at illustrating what a poor social media presence can do.

While Alex N may have given Al Jazeera America some good advice, Karoke77’s comment may do a better job at illustrating the impact a poor social media presence can have on a news organization’s reputation.

Overall, Al Jazeera American needs to rework its social media strategies if it wants to develop a stronghold in the arena of Internet news. Like it or not, social media can now make or break you. My advice: use it, and use it wisely.

 

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Mobile Reporting (Video)

Commonwealth Ave. from Nicole Seese on Vimeo.

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Mobile Reporting (Audio)

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