A screen-less and mobile world, says the BBC

BBC doesn’t just report the news anymore, it predicts it.

The world’s oldest national broadcasting company released a timeline titled, “Future of News: Timeline of the connected generation.”

Here’s the two most interesting predictions:

Mobile newsrooms

First up, BBC predicts news organizations will begin operating without a central newsroom in 2016. Instead, reporters will be able to create a full publication — “from news gathering to publishing — using advanced mobile technologies in 2016.

I find that hard to fathom, given my own newsroom’s reliance on desktops and servers and networks to successfully get a paper to the printer. However, for digital-only publications this seems entirely possible.

BBC’s prediction is reinforced by a recent New York Times piece that details Mike Bloomberg’s efforts to shakeup the newsroom side of his company. In the piece, reporter Ravi Somaiya gives readers this juicy detail:

(Bloomberg) has an iPhone 6 Plus, but largely uses its Bloomberg app, for everything including email. 

The Bloomberg application has the functionality a reporter would need to report, write and publish stories to the terminal. There is virtually no need for a central newsroom — but I have a feeling Bloomberg would never abandon its HQ for fear it would destroy the newsroom’s strong voice.

In-person editing is a valuable tool that typically produces fairer, more accurate stories. Newsroom collaboration leads to better projects, more in-depth investigations and interesting packages. No amount of technology can replace the benefits in-person editing and collaboration provide.

So in a way, BBC is correct. There will be news organizations who can abandon their central newsroom. I’m just not so sure that they will.

An invisible operating system

By 2025, BBC predicts people will be agnostic about screens and devices. Instead, we will all interact with invisible operating systems that allow “us to deploy virtual screens everywhere.”

This would yield Apple’s many products useless, forcing the technology giant to figure out a way to better monetize its operating systems — while making them easier to work with other company’s systems.

(Editor’s note: I fully acknowledge the fact that I may laugh at myself ten years down the road because Apple, Google and Microsoft have morphed into some crazy technology company that we rely on for our every action.)

I guess this comes as no surprise to me. Everyday there is new news about Oculus Rift technology and the progress Facebook is making to bring it market. But it’s just sad. Bars are already getting a little boring with everyone staring at their phones all the time. I would hate to be face-to-face with someone with no real way to connect with them without logging in. I can easily picture the world screen-less, but I hope we make conscious decisions to stay connected to one another in meaningful ways.

Drone journalism taking flight

Last week, The New York Times let readers suggest names for its new drone. The announcement that the nation’s premier newspaper would engage in drone journalism came after the Federal Aviation Administration approved a measure that would allow CNN to use drones as a news reporting tool.

Apparently, the Times is part of a coalition of ten media organizations working with Virginia Tech to test the use of drones during news gathering. For many news outlets, drones would be a more cost-effective alternative to helicopters.

As someone who hopes to be in news management one day, I can appreciate the need to make the transition to drone reporting as a cost-savings tool. I also think drones could provide further protection for journalists in combat zones. To me, the use of drones in journalism should be governed by the following ethics:

  • Drones should only be used if there isn’t a safer way to gather the information. With so many tales of drone crashes, it’s important that editors and publish understand the risks of sending a drone out for information.
  • Drones shouldn’t be used to capture images of private people in non-public spaces. This principle is something reporters and editors would hopefully adopt in a lot of other journalism codes of ethics, and it shouldn’t be abandoned simply because it’s easier to gather this type of information with the unmanned aerial vehicle.
  • Finally, the drone should only be operated by someone with proper training and knowledge. This seems like a no-brainer, but, again, there have been cases where journalists with little experience have crashed drones.

Dronejournalism.org has crafted a primitive code of ethics for news organizations to borrow and personalize regarding the use of drones in newsrooms.

The folks over at the Drone Journalism Lab are adamant the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision earlier this month doesn’t mean newspapers will use drones anytime soon, but they do say it gets the ball rolling on the legislative process.

As the FAA begins to craft laws for drones, it’s important for journalists to have a role in these discussions. The Drone Journalism Lab gave an excellent example of how the new technology could end up hurting the quality of journalism if it gets into the wrong hands:

So while we’re researching this, how about we look into punishing those who would see to abuse the First Amendment? How do we stop someone from using hard-won rights to cover their objectionable actions? This is an old problem, but now it flies. And, to make it worse, it can fly on it’s own. A (paparazzi) could claim it was on autopilot when it caught the celebrity streaking their back yard. It wasn’t him, it was the drone. 

The potential for this kind of situation is high. Just as we need codes of ethics, we’ll needs laws that govern the use of drones as a reporting tool just as we have laws that govern the use of wire taps and recording. But the Federal Aviation Administration will have to act quickly if it hopes to have any permanent effect on how drones are used in reporting.

On a scale of 1 to 10, the Charlotte Five is a…

When The Charlotte Observer couldn’t get its news into young readers hands, instead of upping its print game, it listicized down its content.

At least, that’s my take on Nieman Lab’s article on Charlotte Five, the Observer’s newest project, which posts five bulleted stories a day from the Observer’s main stable of content.

In his interview with Nieman Lab, Ted Williams, the Observer’s digital director, said the site is meant to attract younger readers. Williams said the millennial audience in Charlotte has a “light interest” in local news (meaning “they care a little bit about it”).

In a blog post from earlier this month, my classmate Amber Younger said she hopes readers will stay on a Charlotte Five story “long enough to get them to the Charlotte Observer article” and believes the site will spark interest in the Charlotte Observer.

I somewhat agree with Amber. For sure, Charlotte Five’s strength lies in the fact that it directs new readers to Observer stories they might not have ever seen on their own. For instance, today’s story about High Point University’s history of bringing interesting speakers to campus was a fun read, but one I would have never hit up on the main Observer website (I usually only go for Lake Norman and Panthers news).

However, contrary to what Amber said, I don’t think Charlotte Five does a good job of getting traffic back to the Observer or establishing any real loyalty with the Observer because it doesn’t offer many links back to the Observer’s website. I also think it treats twenty-something readers like children who can’t digest more than small bits of bulleted news.

For example, today’s story about trends in violent crime in Mecklenburg County was actually useless to me. After giving me a bulleted list of whether rates of specific types of violent crime had risen or not, Charlotte Five offered this reductive take on the issues:

“CMPD credits the better use of technology, more vigilant citizens and a focus on repeat offenders for the decline in violent crime. We’re a bit worried about the general uptick in crimes, especially in thefts, but commend CMPD for the notable improvements fighting some of the most egregious crimes.”

I left the story (without ever actually visiting www.charlotteobserver.com, by the way) without any bearing on whether a 7 percent increase in aggravated assaults is something I should worry about or not.

Ultimately, I think the idea is there for Charlotte Five. As a twenty-something news consumer, I appreciate having five stories picked out for me and I like the idea of getting a quick synopsis of the news with links that might take me to the original story. I don’t think the news needs to be dumbed down, just packaged in a way that’s easy for me to find and read.

MTV launches #TheTalk PSA series

For 12 hours on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, MTV aired in black and white. The stunt was done in conjunction with the network’s release of its #TheTalk public service announcements, which encourage viewers to have real conversations about race with family and friends. The campaign was replete with slogans like “MLK is now” and “It’s time to have #TheTalk because discussing race goes beyond black and white.”

In an interview with AdWeek, MTV president Stephen Friedman said “millennials believe strongly in fairness, but they can also find it difficult to talk openly about race…this campaign will give them a forum to express true color bravery.”

I wholly reject the idea that millennials find it difficult to talk about anything, much less something as relevant to today’s current events as race. It was millennials that launched the #ICantBreathe movement on social media — a movement that spawned a nationwide discussion about the prevalence of police brutality against young, black men. And in 2010, a study by the Pew Research Center found that roughly 90 percent of millennials would be fine with a family member’s interracial marriage (that high level of acceptance held true across races).

MTV itself found that most millennials consider themselves to be post-racial. Last year, as part of its ongoing Look Different campaign, the network conducted a survey of 3,000 people between the ages of 14 and 24, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The research found that 73 percent of whites and 66 percent of nonwhites said they don’t see racial minorities any differently than they see white people.

Of course, all of this does not mean there is no room for millennials to further discuss race in deliberate, meaningful ways. And the network’s public service announcements — which include celebrity testimony from people like Kendrick Lamar, Penn Badgley and Common —are a good starting point. However, MTV should have used MLK Day to constructively look at its own coverage and how it might lend itself to different racial stereotypes. I like the idea of airing everything in black and white as a visual representation of what the day is supposed to explore; however, I think MTV could have put together a more thoughtful package that helped viewers examine exactly what MTV means when it says “MLK is now.”

Another example I couldn’t give in my column

Every two weeks or so, my Opinion Editor gives me the chance to talk to my readers. Normally, I ask them to celebrate the good work the newsroom has done. Sometimes, I’ll beg them to apply to work for the greatest college newspaper in the country.

This week, I chastised some of them for failing to keep up with our coverage.

There have been a number of student protests this year that have relied on arguments of ignorance. In my column, I talked about the University’s recent decision to hold its transition to contextualized grading on transcripts — a decision that came after students claimed they knew nothing about the change.

And while that movement irked me, there’s one group that I’m even more disappointed in.

In February, the UNC-system Board of Governors will decide the fates of nine UNC research centers and institutes. You can read the list of institutes on the chopping block here. In response, a dozen or so students have stepped up to protest the closures, arguing that these centers and institutes (and the students who love them) didn’t have enough time to prove their worth.

Only they did.

I first covered this issue in May, after attending a Board of Trustees meeting in Chapel Hill. I told readers that the cuts to centers and institutes would total $13.1 million system-wide. And no one said anything.

In August, after the centers and institutes spent the summer scrambling to prove their worth, we revisited the issue. We told readers how the centers and institutes had already sustained a 35 percent cut to their budget since 2008, and we weren’t sure they could handle much more. Closures seemed imminent. And no one said anything.

We’ve covered every aspect of the Board of Governors’ spending review, from the centers and institutes chosen for review to the center’s response. And no one said anything along the way.

The thing about students being late to the game on this protest is that these centers and institutes won’t be something we can revisit in a few months, like administrators will do with contextualized grading. They’ll be closed, and closed for good. We could lose these places on campus that make this great big place feel a little more welcoming to marginalized populations on campus.

So, again I say. Students need to read their newspaper. I’m still learning how to produce local news in a way that’s relevant and interesting to read for an age group that would rather do anything else. But I’m working really really hard to do my part. And students must do theirs.

Dean Baquet’s ‘Charting the Future’ letter to Times staff

Much has been written about Dean Baquet’s letter to Times staff last week. As an aspiring newsroom editor/manager, I thought it was a fascinating read. While a memo seemed like an odd medium to provide reassurance to a staff hurt by buyouts, I appreciated his candid tone.

Here were some of my favorite parts of the memo:

We will fix the things the buyouts broke. We will look internally to fill important jobs. We will carefully and judiciously make a few outside hires. I know it seems incongruous to hire after reducing the staff. But if we stop bringing in new talent we run the risk of missing a generation of future stars.

Sometimes the constant desire to cut costs could cause a manager to miss out on a money-making opportunity. This was a good reminder to newsroom leaders to never let belt-tightening get in the way of a newsroom’s future, especially when it comes to hiring.

As a journalism student who will graduate in May, I see the potential of so many of my peers. We’re constantly told there are no jobs for us in journalism, so it’s good to know there are editors with the foresight to search for the talent among our ranks.

Amid the turmoil, the newsroom made a crucial decision — it would play a leading role in charting the future. Despite some jeering from those who believed The Times was abandoning its ideals, the newsroom created the feature sections that saved the paper, set it on the road to its most prosperous years ever and made our report richer for readers to this very day.

The idea that people were first critical of The New York Times’ features section is completely ludicrous to me. I’ve always found The Times features enlightening; however, I can see how a section that deviated from the newspaper’s dedication to hard news might puzzle some at first. This made me question what sections/topics I’ve avoided covering during my time as a student journalist that might be widely popular (and profitable).

This is why we are creating an audience development department. Its purpose is not to chase clicks but to expose as many people as possible to our finest work, and to connect us to readers in new and deeper ways. If we are aggressive in making our journalism widely available, and resolute in doing unmatched coverage, we will have more impact on the world, and draw new subscribers and advertisers. We don’t know what audience number The Times should achieve. But if you want a glimpse of the possibilities, consider the fact that in the two months since we began a sustained effort we have seen a consistent 20 percent increase in the number of people who found our journalism — a far more dramatic increase than anyone imagined this early.

Because it’s The New York Times, I’m sure Dean Baquet will have offers from many leaders from top media organizations across the country to run audience development. However, I hope The Times also takes a chance on a few journalists under the age of 30 to lead this department. It takes a millenial to know a millenial. If you want to know how to get me to pay for more content, ask my friends. If you want to know how to reach me, ask my friends. If you want to know what I’m already reading, ask my friends. I might not be able to articulate the answers to each of these questions very well, but my friends would.

Finally, I’m working with the business side to see if there are steps we can take to attract more ads without compromising the line between news and advertising. For instance, can an advertiser sponsor a regular feature? Yes, so long as it does not make readers question our objectivity. This is tricky territory, but some of the best news organizations in the world have already navigated it.

This seems like something The Times is already doing, albeit not regularly. The most notable case I can remember is the post titled “Women Inmates: Why The Male Model Doesn’t Work,” written by Melanie Deziel and sponsored by the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. The post was clearly labeled as sponsored content and had a clear bias toward providing better care for female inmates — an issue regularly highlighted in the television show.

The story was widely read and raised awareness about an issue that is likely deserving of attention in American society. It seemed well-reported and it had all the flair and flash of a New York Times story. In other words, it seemed like a story that The New York Times would have written with or without a sponsor.

So Baquet’s proposition was welcome news to me. The idea that The New York Times could get sponsors to pay for specific stories the newspaper would likely write anyways and that money could help fund those stories that needed to be told but didn’t (or shouldn’t) have a sponsor to pay for it sounds like common sense.

Obviously, it’s easy for lines to blur. But it’s Baquet’s responsibility to uphold the integrity and the ideals of The New York Times. From his memo, I’d say he’s committed to doing just that.