July 30, 2014

Journalists shared personal stories about a “Goosebumps” fan site, a three-year-old riding an elevator, and dropping computer science classes in college to illustrate how journalism has changed since 1989 — and needs to change more quickly today — at Poynter’s “Journalism and the Web@25” event Tuesday night.

The panelists at the Ford Foundation in New York represented both new and old media, and television, print, and mobile:

  • Rob King, ESPN‘s senior vice president, SportsCenter and News
  • Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and senior media correspondent for CNN Worldwide
  • Melissa Bell, co-founder, senior product manager and executive editor at Vox.com
  • Kathleen Carroll, executive editor and senior vice president of The Associated Press
  • Jeff Jarvis, founder of BuzzMachine.com and professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism

Here’s a replay of the lively discussion (the event begins around the 8:50 mark) and some digital journalism lessons shared by panelists as they reflected on the past 25 years of the Web:

The time for urgency was then — and now

When it comes to digital transformation, “I think we probably all wish we had been faster, sooner,” said the AP’s Carroll. Jarvis made a similar point: “I wish I’d done a better job of scaring the shit out of people,” he said. “The problem is you don’t want to be Chicken Little, but what I was trying to say was we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of experimentation to do.”

Watch live streaming video from fordfound at livestream.com

Audience expectations rise quickly

ESPN’s King told a story about his son, who as a three-year-old visited his grandparents’ house after the recent installation of an elevator. After three days, he returned home and asked King as he was being carried upstairs to bed, “where’s the elevator?”

“That is audience expectation in the digital age,” King said to laughter. “You see something one time, that’s it. It exists. It can’t not be anymore. The first time you ever pick up a tablet and watch a movie, you’re like, ‘hey, I can do this now.'”

Writers should embrace technology

Vox’s Bell started college as a computer science major but switched to literature. “I never went back to computer science classes, and I think it was a mistake to think of those as different things, to really think about my love of computers and my love of the sciences and maths as separate from writing,” she said. “It took me a long time to realize how intertwined they can be.”

We can’t afford separation between church and state

King used the example of Craiglist’s early days (founder Craig Newmark was in the audience) to illustrate the dangers of a newsroom unaware of what the business side is up to — and vice-versa. “We had business writers writing about Craigslist, story after story,” he said. “And nobody got up and walked over to the classified folks and said, ‘we got a problem.'”

“We felt as though it wasn’t our responsibility or it wasn’t our job to care about the building of the business, or to care about things that were germane to the business, and then we got surprised when the lights started going out.”

Brian Stelter, Melissa Bell and Rob King. (Photo by Serena Dai)

Brian Stelter, Melissa Bell and Rob King. (Photo by Serena Dai)

Community and conversation have power

CNN’s Stelter said his pivotal Web experience came in 1996, when he made a “Goosebumps” fan site. “My a-ha moment was when R.L. Stine, the author of the books, started reading the site and emailing me and answering questions.”

When Jarvis started blogging after 9/11, he said, “People started communicating with me, and I realized that the proper structure for media is a conversation among people, and that wasn’t the structure we had.”

Audiences have always wanted to engage, King argued: “People have been yelling at televisions during sports events for years.” Added Stelter: “Now we can hear them.”

Potential for news customization/personalization is unrealized

How far have we come in 25 years? Maybe not far enough, Stelter said: “I wish that when I landed at an airport in a new city that my phone would light up with options: ‘Here, sign up for the local paper, just $1 for one day. Here’s a live broadcast from the NBC affiliate, you can access it without jumping through hoops.'”

Added Stelter: “It just doesn’t feel to me like my technology knows me, and I don’t feel like these news outlets, who could get a buck or two from me at a time, know me either.” Jarvis made a similar point: “Waze knows where I live and I work. My newspaper doesn’t.”

Kathleen Carroll and Jeff Jarvis. (Photo by Serena Dai)

Kathleen Carroll and Jeff Jarvis. (Photo by Serena Dai)

News should serve audiences ‘anytime, anywhere’

“If there’s a big game we’ll cut a three-minute highlight for SportsCenter and we’ll cut a 30-second clip for the mobile space,” King said. “We know that if you’ve got a phone with limited LTE we can’t be sending a 6-minute 59-second, beautiful ’30 for 30′ short because that’s just not respectful of how you use that device. But we have to make that easy to access online or in the tablet space.”

One person’s theft is another person’s aggregation

“Yes, we have too many damn sites, especially in technology, too many TechCrunches that repeat and repeat and repeat until the Xerox gets so light you can’t read it anymore,” Jarvis said. But he defended purposeful attribution done right through linking as a key to good Web journalism, while Carroll said linking isn’t always sufficient to ensure original reporting gets the credit it deserves.

King argued that questions of aggregation ethics aren’t something readers care about: “That’s really an ‘us’ problem.” But Carroll said her worry is that “we will have so many people riffing off the facts that there won’t be enough people actually able to uncover the facts, whatever they are. And that is an audience issue, because we need reporters.”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

More News

Back to News