CBC Online leaves impression on Conestoga students

When I asked my new media students in class today about the things that were most memorable or surprising about last week’s field trip to CBC Online in Toronto, they responded nearly unanimously: It was the buzz, the electricity and enthusiasm they felt among the staff working on the fourth floor of the CBC Broadcasting Centre. Amid the rapid changes that have seized the journalistic enterprise over the past three years, here was a group of eager and committed professionals who avidly embraced the changes that have left so many experienced journalists dour and shell-shocked. For the visiting students, the palpable sense of energy among CBC journalists was at once refreshing and reassuring.

Credit where credit is due: The visit was largely arranged by Waterloo Region Record reporter Jeff Outhit, who teaches computer-assisted reporting in Conestoga’s postgraduate New Media: Convergence program. Outhit contacted one of his former Record colleagues, Lianne Elliott (@cbclianne on Twitter), now a producer at CBC.ca; she met our group and arranged a discussion on the future of online media with Kim Fox (@kimfox), CBC News’s senior producer for community and social media.

Amber Hildebrandt

Following that session, online reporter and producer Amber Hildebrandt (@cbcamber) spent some time describing her use of new media in various reporting assignments, including the trial of serial murder Russell Williams last year. (Read Hildebrandt’s reflections on that experience here.) The morning wrapped up with demonstrations by Elliott of the software and other tools CBC.ca uses in its online reporting, as live coverage of the final landing of the space shuttle Discovery was underway. It included an interview with former Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, who had flown on Discovery, on a set nearby.

Along the way, there was also a quick introduction to CBC Radio weekend news anchor Martina Fitzgerald, another of Outhit’s former reporting colleagues, this time at the Kingston Whig-Standard.

Hats off to CBC Online’s staff, who went above and beyond the call of duty in challenging and inspiring our students. The trip was a stimulating and potent reminder of the power of a well-organized field trip to leave an indelible impression.

Will La Presse be Canada’s first paperless newspaper?

The front page of La Presse on March 12 featured coverage of the earthquake in Japan.

Whenever I’ve taught courses in the history of print journalism in Canada, I have invariably made reference to a book that is now more than a quarter century old: Wilfred Kesterton‘s seminal work, A History of Journalism in Canada (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1984, 304 p.). First published in 1967, the book meticulously chronicles the development of Canadian journalism through four distinct press periods and is an authoritative collection of the significant names and dates along that odyssey.

Yesterday, amid reports that the Montreal newspaper La Presse plans to go entirely digital within five years, I wondered whether some future history book on Canadian journalism (would it be published on paper?) might not point to La Presse and yesterday’s date as the harbingers of a new “press” period.

La Presse is beginning the transition immediately. It plans to offer long-term subscribers a free iPad and hopes to trim its print run drastically over the coming years. The newspaper company, a division of Gesca Limitée, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Corp., has a printing contract with Transcontinental Inc. that runs through 2018.

J-Source.ca reported yesterday that La Presse has already invested more than $7 million in its “iPad plan” and expects to spend another $25 million to realize it. Postmedia News newspapers, including the Windsor StarOttawa CitizenMontreal GazetteCalgary HeraldEdmonton JournalSaskatoon StarPhoenixRegina Leader-PostVancouver SunVancouver Province and Victoria Times Colonist, have been delivering its products via the iPad since late last year. But the La Presse announcement goes further in that it foresees a complete transition to digital.

As a postsecondary journalism educator, I often get asked about the future of newspapers and, for that matter, the future of journalism. My answers: The future of printed newspapers (“ink on dead trees”) has a finite horizon, as it should. Few of today’s journalists entered the vocation because of a love affair with ink-stained fingers, giant printing presses, metal plates and rolls of newsprint (those romances belonged to an earlier generation). Rather, they entered — and continue to enter — the vocation because of their interest in research, interviewing, an innate curiosity, writing and storytelling across a variety of delivery platforms, and a deep desire to better understand the world, from big-picture issues to esoteric minutiae. That future, I think, remains bright.

Murdoch bets on the tablet platform with The Daily

Say what you want about News Corporation magnate Rupert Murdoch (and people do, mostly about his conservative brand of politics and radical reshaping of American journalism). But his unveiling of The Daily this week — a virtual news product built on the platform of Apple’s iPad — provided a prescient peek at the future of news delivery and consumption.

Murdoch introduced the tablet-only “newspaper” at a press conference this week at the Guggenheim Museum in New York:

In the end, however, it’s not Murdoch’s massive financial investment, determination or reputation that will see the virtual newspaper to sink or swim. It’s whether or not the tablet format and its presentation capabilities will catch on with news consumers. Here’s a glimpse of some of the features (not all) of The Daily on the iPad platform:

Murdoch and his team have made no secret of the fact they’re preparing to deliver The Daily to other tablets — they’re merely starting with the iPad and will discern future direction based on the newspaper’s success on that device.

For publishers, the arrival of tablet-only news products means no newsprint, no printing presses, no ink, no trucks, no home delivery contractors. Even The Daily’s website will be a scaled-back version of its tablet edition. The larger question for those of us in journalism is how much in the way of resources will be redirected to the editorial side of the product and, most importantly, to the kind of incisive journalism that, in the long term, sustains any news enterprise.

Tablet news products offer storytellers a vastly different canvas on which to paint their versions of the day’s events — quite different, in fact, even from online presentation via websites. What will it mean for the way we train journalists?

• Content will continue to be king — and that’s our job. Reporting, interpretation, insight and context remain the cornerstones of the journalistic enterprise. Journalists won’t need to learn to write code for tablets any more than they needed to learn to operate a printing press.

• Journalists will, however, need to continue to think about the storytelling process and how the tablet’s capabilities affect how they do that. Multimedia storytelling skills — lucid writing, digital photography, rich audio capture, videography, database development and mobile presentation — will become indispensable within an expanding journalistic toolbox.

• While journalists won’t need to become preoccupied with presentation, they’ll be required to be increasingly conversant and collegial with those who are. A couple of decades ago, reporters and editors (grudgingly at first) permitted art directors, designers, graphic artists and visual journalists to join their news meetings and, more importantly, their pursuit of new forms of telling stories. We began to learn the language of graphic artists and to see that linguistic capability as being essential to communicating ideas, vision and possible storytelling packages. The arrival of tablet news products will necessarily mean we learn the language, if not the technical expertise, of the designers and engineers who translate vision and aspiration into charged electrons on high-resolution screens.

In short, The Daily holds a bucketful of journalistic promise — and may be showing us the near-term future of news delivery and consumption.

The Taliban, the Globe and the Emmy

Less than a generation ago, Canadian newspapers considered the National Newspaper Awards, sponsored by the Canadian Newspaper Association, to be the holy grail of peer recognition for outstanding journalism. Sure, there were the annual Michener Awards for meritorious public service journalism and Canadians occasionally won Pulitzer Prizes (winners include the likes of novelists Ernest Hemingway, Carol Shields and news photographer Paul Watson). But the NNAs were the mainstay of year-to-year bragging rights when it came to public and industry recognition of significant journalistic accomplishment. In some respects, they still are.

Reporter Graeme Smith introduces the Talking to the Taliban series on the Globe and Mail's website.
Reporter Graeme Smith introduces the Talking to the Taliban series on the Globe and Mail's website.

The Globe and Mail, however, has raised the bar once again. Last night’s win at the 30th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards is an extraordinary accomplishment for reporter Graeme Smith, multimedia producer Jayson Taylor and interactive designer Chris Manza. The Emmy recognizes the Globe’s landmark Talking to the Taliban project in the category of New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming: Current News Coverage. Talking to the Taliban had already won an Online Journalism Award for best investigative piece by a large website, an Editor and Publisher (“EPpy”) online journalism award, and an NNA in the best multimedia feature category.

The Globe beat out entries from the New York Times, Washington Post and Reuters for the Emmy honour; the award was accepted at New York’s Lincoln Center ceremony by Smith, who expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to work for a Canadian news organization that could compete with the world’s best.

In winning the Emmy — an award most widely known as one that honours television arts and sciences — the Globe has emphatically underscored the reality of what used to be called “convergence” in days when the notion of legacy media delivering information through a variety of platforms was considered novel or prescient.

The Globe’s story on its Emmy honour is here; it properly acknowledges the work of a large team of journalists in bringing the project to fruition, including foreign editor Stephen Northfield. One name notably absent from the list of contributors is that of Christine Diemert, the former managing editor of globeandmail.com who was sent packing earlier this year and who fairly quickly found work at MSN.ca. Diemert put hundreds of hours into the Taliban project, and no doubt is taking some quiet personal satisfaction in the accomplishment.

Update: The Waterloo Region Record followed up with its own story on Sept. 23. Smith is a native of New Hamburg, Ont.

The Bandidos trial and Twitter

Like some other readers, I’d wondered why The London Free Press had recently allowed its groundbreaking coverage of the Bandidos trial via Twitter (see my earlier post) to dissolve into a hit-and-miss affair that, increasingly, is absent altogether. Stories and updates by justice reporter Jane Sims have been reliably constant, but as for tweets, well, the birdie seems to have fallen out of the tree.

Kate Dubinski
Kate Dubinski

Reporter Kate Dubinski, the journalist most often assigned to Twitter duty at the Dundas Street courthouse, provided some answers in a post on her blog late yesterday. The trial, already into its sixth month, is cutting into the summer vacation season — a period when the paper is trying to accommodate holiday requests while still getting some semblance of a news report out onto the streets and up online. Language in the newsroom employees’ CEP contract with Sun Media’s London division stipulates that each staff member has the right to take two weeks of his/her annual vacation allotment during the summer months. The result is a managerial scramble to fill reporting, copy editing, photo and other duties in a vigorous attempt to keep the machine running. During the high vacation period, it can feel like the entire operation is being held together by duct tape and baling twine.

Dubinski also explains the additional difficulties posed by an order from the judge regarding media coverage during the appearance of the Crown’s star witness, who may only be referred to as “M.H.” Tweets from the overflow courtroom — the place from which earlier Twitter dispatches originated — were forbidden. Reporters were permitted to send tweets only from outside the main courtroom. This poses an additional challenge for journalists, but is not really an issue in terms of the decision on whether to double-team the trial coverage with a Twitterer.

The credibility of M.H. could have an important bearing on the outcome of the trial. Having broken important journalistic ground through the use of Twitter in the courtroom setting, it’s unfortunate that the Free Press couldn’t follow through with consistent Twitter coverage during the latter part of this particular witness’s testimony.

I’m guessing there are at least two additional issues here.

First: Dubinski’s “followers” on Twitter number about 850. Pinch-hitting reporter John Miner has about 350. Sims, not generally concerned with Twitter updates as much as she is about the newspaper’s main trial stories, has fewer than that. The bottom line is that, regardless of the novelty of the tool and complaints by some far-flung Twitter users that the paper is letting them down, the potential readership of courtroom tweets tops out in the hundreds. With stories on city-worker absenteeism, traffic fatalities, storm damage and a string of downtown arsons (or any other such set of calamities on any given day) to be doled out to a mere handful of reporters, any assigning editor at a regional newspaper will redeploy staff to yarns that will appeal to readers in the thousands or tens of thousands instead.

Second: While I was a page editor at The Globe and Mail, the newspaper made an interesting discovery during the case of Robert Pickton. Like other national media, it had planned for a year’s worth of wall-to-wall, witness-to-witness coverage of the trial of the Vancouver-area man accused in the homicides of six women and the suspected in deaths of 20 more. The Globe provided saturation coverage during the first week of proceedings, then surveyed its readership. The results were somewhat surprising and illuminating. To simplify, they showed that readers were intensely interested in the start of the trial and the Crown’s opening account of what exactly had happened. Readers wanted to know that someone was on trial for the horrors that had become evident, and they wanted to be kept abreast of developments. They certainly wanted to know the end result of the trial. But they said a clear no-thank-you to daily detailed accounts of a gruesome case that was expected to run for many months. The Globe, as well as other national media, revised their plans accordingly — and somewhat drastically. Public curiosity and tolerance, even in sensational cases, appears to have its limits.

Search is on at J-Source

Ivor Shapiro
Ivor Shapiro

Saying that it’s time to move on to other projects while ensuring that J-Source.ca continues “breathing fresh air,” the journalism website’s editor-in-chief, Ivor Shapiro, announced his resignation this week, effective in December.

Shapiro, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, was a driving force in the creation of the Canadian Journalism Project and its websites, J-Source.ca (English) and ProjetJ.ca (French), three years ago. The list of individual and institutional collaborators has grown steadily over that time.

Shapiro’s explanatory note can be found here, while the job description for the post he’s leaving can be downloaded from the same page. A search committee, chaired by David Milliken of CNW Group, has been created to seek Shapiro’s replacement.