May 14, 2014

Many newsrooms in the U.S. are still not taking advantage of the low-cost digital tools for gathering and distributing journalism, even when journalists and producers know about the alternatives to traditional technologies.

That’s one of the findings in a report published today by Mark Stencel, Poynter Institute digital fellow, Bill Adair, Knight chair of computational journalism at Duke University, and Prashanth Kamalakanthan, a former assistant at the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

The report, “The Goat Must Be Fed. Why digital tools are missing in most newsrooms,” is based on interviews with more than 20 editors, news directors and digital editors at newspapers, TV and radio stations.

Some of the other interesting findings include:

• Journalism awards and well-attended conferences create a sense that the adoption of data reporting and digital tools is broader than it really is. But there is a still significant gap between the industry’s digital haves and have-nots — particularly between big national organizations, which have been most willing to try data reporting and digital tools, and smaller local ones, which haven’t.

• Local news leaders often cite budget, time and people as their biggest constraints. But conversations with more than 20 senior editors and producers also revealed deeper issues — part infrastructure, part culture. This includes a lack of technical understanding and ability and an unwillingness to break reporting habits that could create time and space to experiment.

The authors write that their conclusions are also informed by their experience working directly on digital journalism initiatives. Both Stencel and Adair have had experience in developing new digital initiatives.

This report’s conclusions support findings of Poynter’s recent “Core Skills for the Future of Journalism” report, which said that professional journalists in legacy media rated new digital skills as much less important than traditional skills. Educators, students and independent journalists rated digital skills as much more important than the professionals.

The authors of the “Feed the Goat” report wrote that one of their major concerns was the disparity between the digitally savvy news organizations, a “digital 1 percent,” and the rest of the newspaper and broadcast newsrooms:

Our biggest finding is that the reality of data journalism is out of whack with the hype — and we need to acknowledge that we’ve been part of the problem. Two of the authors of this report have attended many conferences — and even spoken at a few — where we’ve celebrated the successes of digital innovation. The reality, though, is that much of the U.S. media hasn’t shared in the success.

The report draws its title from Jim Farley of WTOP-FM, who the authors quote: “We’re live and local, 24/7, 365,” Farley said. “The goat must be fed.”

Since the report is based on interviews and a limited sample of newsrooms, more research is needed as to the reasons why managers and journalists don’t embrace and adopt the new (and often free or inexpensive) digital tools. The “Feed the Goat” report is a good start in finding those reasons.

Poynter’s e-learning site, News University, has more than 60 tools listed in its Digital Tools catalog, which is an American Press Institute and Poynter Institute project, funded by the Knight Foundation.

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Howard has been in journalism for 40 years. His resume includes positions with the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and…
Howard Finberg

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