Seven common newsroom myths about online journalism

I was asked the other week by a journalism lecturer about how different I thought life was like for a journalist starting out in a newsroom now than one who started out, say, four years ago.

In particular, this lecturer wanted to know what common misconceptions exist among people looking to get into journalism over online journalism.

Coupled with gripes I regularly see on Twitter from digital journalists from across the country, I’ve compiled this list of seven “myths” surrounding online journalism.

A differing of opinions on the way online journalism should go, especially if you’re in an organisation where online revenues have yet to match those of the traditional media, is to be expected – it’s not as if there’s a handbook or perceived wisdom set in stone after decades of experience.

The following list isn’t meant to be a way of letting off steam, or a way of saying I’m right. Hopefully, it’s a list of five things I would like to see change over time, and, indeed, is already changing:

1. Seeing something on Twitter/Facebook/Myspace is the same as getting a tip on a story. No, it’s not, unless your sources regularly shout their tips to you through the office window from a busy street, where anyone can hear it. Not acting on it quickly  – or worse still, claiming it as an exclusive when it appears in print – will look odd to anyone who reads/watches your form of media and also moves in the same social media circles.

2. A blog is just an online column. Perhaps the biggest failing of so many blogs out there is the idea that opening up a comments box at the bottom of a column written for a print publication is the same as blogging.  Columns can muse in depth about an issue which is up to a week old, and at length, blogs can’t. Letters to the columnist are a nice to have, responses are required to comments on blogs.

3. Video = online journalism. Video,  without doubt, is the biggest new skill journalists have acquired, especially in print-based newsrooms. But simply saying “lets do a video for that story” isn’t doing anyone any favours. Stories can be told in a multitude of ways online, and not just with video. Think audio, think picture galleries, think maps, and, above all, think data. There’s so much which can be done, very easily with data. Often, it’s put to one side for print due to lack of space,  but there’s no reason it can’t be used online. (Paul Canning’s post about why text still rules makes this point very well).

4. It’s better to wait for all the facts before putting a story online. Why? If there’s a print deadline at 10am, a newspaper wouldn’t allow the story to miss the edition completely just because the reporter didn’t have every cough and spit. If you get confirmation of a fire in a city centre, get the basic facts online – you can always update later once you’ve got more from the scene. That way, the other people who’ve heard about it will hopefully have found your story and linked to it.

5. UGC and blogs are there to be lifted – after all, they’ve put it out for free in the first place. As journalists, we’re used to receiving content from people, and traditionally never had to tell people what we planned to do with it – think community correspondents and letters pages for example. But that doesn’t mean that just because people are writing posts or uploading pictures, they’re happy for traditional media to just start using them. As it happens, most would probably be very happy for their work to be used – if it’s credited and if it’s been asked for in advance. Just think how you’d feel if your content was taken and used by someone else (one regional multimedia editor said he uses the case of the BBC regional shows lifting their work as an example to make this point.

6. Forums are there for us to promote our work. Imagine if someone came along to your house and start flyposting over it rather than pushing leaflets through the letterbox. That’s the difference between becoming an active part of a forum or community and just using it to promote your stories. It’ll upset the person who runs the forum, a person who, if treated well, could become one of your best contacts.

7. If you ignore someone/remove their comment from a story, they’ll go away. Allowing comments under stories is always a contentious issue. Some journalists don’t like the sort of comments which appear under their stories, especially if it’s critical about the story. But deleting the comment or ignoring it isn’t the solution. They won’t go away. They’ll probably go to Twitter, or Facebook, and express their annoyance at being ignored. Talk back to them, via the comments box, and make them feel involved and, above all, valued.

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