Category Archives: web journalism

A web journalism start-up worth a long look

A former student of mine, Hannah Margaret Allen, is a founding editor at a new website called Inverse.

The site is aimed at people who are seriously into looking at the present and the future.

Here’s what she says about it: “Men’s publications have historically leaned on the idea that manhood is an achievable goal, not a default. Different brands have pushed different strategies to achieve their favored form of archetypal machismo. We’re not into that at all. We work to publish stories capable of changing our readers’ worldviews, but we don’t strive to homogenize.” is worth a long look.

The who, what, when, and why you’ve possibly wanted to know.

Source: The Genesis of Inverse | Inverse

Writing good tags should be part of the journalist’s writing process

Tags are words or phrases that are related to a story. As the writer is composing the story, he or she should consider the words and phrases that a potential reader might use in a search engine to search for information on that topic. Those words and phrases can then be listed at the end of the story as tags.

Most content management systems (the software that supports and operates news websites and weblogs) have designated functions that allow writers and editors to list tags. And many web journalists today have gotten into the bad habit of ignoring that function. To ignore tags, however, is to miss out on a golden opportunity for a journalist or a news website to build an audience. Tags are part of the search engine optimization concept referred to earlier in this chapter.

At minimum, tags should include

  • all of the proper names and places referred to in your story;
  • major ideas and concepts of the subject of the story:
  • important actions and processes referred to in the story.

One technique for developing good tags is to pay attention to the way that you search for information and the way that your friends search for information. Think about how you would search for information on the topic on which you are reporting. That’s the place to start understanding tags.

Developing good tags gets easier with practice. The writer should think about tags as the writing is being done, not after it has been completed. If that happens, tags become an integral part of the writing process.

Note: A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media, which will be published in the summer of 2014 by Allyn and Bacon.

The web imposes new responsibilities on journalists

The web has imposed new responsibilities on the journalist – responsibilities that go far beyond those of the traditional print or broadcast reporter.

Web journalists must report and write original information, just as traditional journalists do. They have the additional responsibility of finding the best information about the topic that is already available on the web and presenting that information through links. That process is sometimes called curating information.

Competence in using all of the tools of the journalist – text, pictures, audio and video – is another responsibility of the web journalist. And with knowledge of the hardware and software available for reporting must also come an understanding of when these tools are best used to present the information that the reporter has gathered. The choice of tools of reporting has many aspects, not the least of which that the reporter often choose the tool he or she is most comfortable and most confident in using.

Web journalists must also work with speed. The web is an immediate medium, DF-ST-99-05401ready to disseminate information as quickly as it is prepared. Reporters often find themselves in increasingly competitive situations where a few minutes or even a few seconds will mean the difference between having an audiences and not having one.

Once information is posted, journalists must be willing to promote their material so that those who are interested in it know that it is available and have some incentive for finding it. As they get better and more experienced, reporters should have an increasing and committed audience for what they do.

Finally, reporters should be willing to engage their audience. The interactivity of the web, referred to earlier in this chapter, allows audience members to be participants in the conversation that is generated by a reporter’s efforts. The reporter, in a real sense, has a responsibility to join in and even lead that conversation.

All of these responsibilities make the life of the reporter more interesting, complex and demanding. They give journalists an important part in generating and supporting the public conversation that is vital to a democratic society.

A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media. The new edition will be in print during the summer of 2014.


7 reasons why you should encourage your students to tweet your lectures

Your journalism students should be tweeting your lectures.

Twitter is a modern form of information distribution that students should understand and know how to use. It has grown so much in popularity and use that it has become the source of first resort in breaking news. No journalism student can escape Twitter. Nor should he or she want to.

Journalism instructors should embrace and encouraging students. They should do so by having them tweet their lectures.

Here are some good reasons for doing that:

— It focuses students on the lecture and makes them listen. When they tweet, their thoughts need to be summed up into less than 140 characters. They have to write short, but they must also make sense.

— Students, when they tweet, are writing for an audience (fellow students and beyond) who will be reading and making a judgment on what they’ve written. What better training is there for a journalist.

— Students can read the tweets of fellow students and will see how others are reporting the same event.

— Students can conduct a dialogue with other students — a conversation that help them understand what is being discussed.

— The conversation can be self-correcting. If students make a mistake with one of their tweets, another student can offer correction.

— You and your students will have a permanent record of the notes of the lecture. As instructors, you should save the tweets and read them carefully. You might be surprised by what you learn from them.

— Your students can practice writing in real time, as an event happens. Course lectures offer the perfect opportunity.

For several years I have encouraged students to tweet my week JEM 200 lectures. I plan on strengthening that encouragement during the Spring 2014 semester. If you would like to join that conversation — or just lurk, as they say in social media lingo — you are welcome to do so. The lecture meets at 5:05 p.m. (Eastern) on Thursdays. The hashtag we use is #jem200. I plan to post a live Twitter stream on the home page of, so you can look in from this site if you like. We’d love to have you join us.

Creating an interactive chart with Google Spreadsheets (video)

The software and the process for building a chart and embedding it into a website are no longer mysterious, complicated or expensive.

And you should be having your students use it.

The software is Google spreadsheets. The process is as simple as entering the data into the spreadsheet and creating a chart with a few simple clicks. Google spreadsheets give you an embed code that allows you to place the chart onto a web page. That chart is interactive.

And all this is free.

The video below shows you how to do it.


Building a graph with Google spreadsheets from Jim Stovall on Vimeo.

And here is the chart that was made in the video.

As you can see the chart is interactive. That is, when you roll your mouse over any part of it, the numbers pop up. (The embed code for this chart is included below the chart just so you can see what it looks like.)


<iframe src=”;single=true&amp;gid=1&amp;output=html&amp;widget=true” height=”400″ width=”600″ frameborder=”1″></iframe>

Katie Couric, David Pogue, Yahoo and the inexorable march to online

David Pogue, and now Katie Couric.couricyahoo380

Two media stars seem to have caught a glimpse of the future.

That future is online, on demand, and inevitable. And a big part of that future will be video.

The announcement by and Couric will be joining the web conglomerate as a “global anchor” left folks in the traditional media scratching their heads a bit. The business press, with the point of view of earning profits for investors, wonders about the details of the deal and whether or not Couric is “worth it” in terms of Yahoo’s bottom line.

For instance:

Yahoo Hired Katie Couric, but Is She Worth the Money?


By adding Couric, Yahoo is clearly trying to give people a reason to visit (and revisit) its site. But adding a 56-year-old news veteran with a lukewarm following probably isn’t the groundbreaking move the company needs to turn itself around.

Kara Swisher at has the better story. Why is Couric reducing her television (traditional media) profile for a high profile spot on the Internet? That’s a good question.

All Things D:
Katie Couric Deal to Become Yahoo’s “Global News Anchor” Set to Be Announced Monday

Perhaps more interestingly, it is a novel shift by Couric, who sources said became interested in the idea of doing a Web-only news show when she attended a Yahoo event for advertisers in the Caribbean last fall.

That said, pre-Mayer, Couric had also been engaged in talks with the company for some kind of Internet presence since early 2011, according to internal memos from Yahoo from the time (more on that later). And she also had talks back in 2004 when Lloyd Braun was running Yahoo media.

Andrea Peterson, writing in the Washington Post, does a good job of nailing down the important point — the long-term point in her assessment of why people like Couric and David Pogue, formerly of the New York Times and now also at Yahoo, made their moves: the rise of video on the web.

Washington Post:
Katie Couric, David Pogue, and why Yahoo wants more video content

By Andrea Peterson

But Couric isn’t the only recent hire that appears aimed at attracting engaged eyeballs to video content: Yahoo recently recruited the prolific New York Times tech columnist David Pogue, known not just for his writing, but for his frequent video posts, appearances as a technology commentator for CBS News’s “CBS Sunday Morning” and his PBS Nova series.

And there’s a pretty compelling reason for Yahoo to be investing in such people: They are established personal brands with a proven track record of bringing in video-content audiences. That’s key to Yahoo’s efforts to build out its media arm, which is itself key to building its ad revenue.

As it stands now, the company doesn’t have enough supply to fulfill the demand for video ads. In fact, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told investors that during a call in July, saying, “Our video inventory sells out months in advance, which is not a good thing.” Her solution: “Working hard to drive traffic and video views will make this a primary area of investment over the next year.” Part of that campaign is about bringing on personalities such as Pogue and Couric who more or less guarantee those video views.

And that’s even more important because consumers are spending more and more of their time online with digital video as online speeds have increased and the quality of video streaming has improved. The most recent Pew Internet & American Life Project data show that 78 percent of adult online visitors watch videos online or download video.


The evidence is clear whatever the short-term wisdom (or lack thereof) of Yahoo’s moves turns out to be.

More and more people are going online, in great part because their online content is “on demand.” Those who try to stand in the way of this shift — newspapers, cable companies, cable channels, book publishers and the like — will be like those who stand in the way of a mighty, flooding river. They will be swept away.


Going online: What I tell high school teachers and students

When I am talking to high school journalism workshops and groups these days, I try work in the following points about what it means to work online:

A news website gives scholastic journalists the opportunity to do something they’ve never done — practice “daily journalism.”

They would have to think about the news constantly. “What happened at your school today? What happened yesterday? What will happen tomorrow?” he said.

Finally, I tell them:

  • pay attention to the basics of journalistic writing: accuracy, clarity, precision and efficiency
  • think about the audience: “Always think about the audience. What is it they want to see on your site?”
  • post something new on their news website everyday

This fall, I have spoke to workshops in Chapel Hill, N.C., Knoxville, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn..

Website design: what the ACA designers missed, and KY got right

Website design – specifically that of the federal government’s new insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) – has been in the news lately.

Of course, it isn’t the design so much as its lack of functionality that’s become a political football.

It should have worked better than it did. It should have been tested more thoroughly than it was.

So, what was wrong with it?

Jakob Neilsen’s Nielsen Norman Group, web design researchers, has a critique of the site that is as enlightening as it is devastating. (Actually, it’s just a critique of the account setup of the site, which is even more devastating.) There are lessons in it for all of us who work with the web. The critique is written by Jen Cardello and says the website broke 10 usability guideline the NNG preaches over and over again.

It’s pretty simple stuff, but the designers blew it on a number of points, including:

  • Not letting users use their email address as a user name
  • Making users go through too many steps.
  • Not telling users what the process is before they start
  • Creating confusing password requirement.
  • Not giving users good information on how to correct errors.

At the state level, Kentucky gets high marks for starting early, keeping things simple, and testing-testing-testing before it launched a website that works. has this to say about Kentucky’s site:

Dylan Scott of TPM writes:

. . . Kentucky’s game plan for a successful website launch could be read as a counterpoint to the mistakes that the Obama administration made in building its own website. The recipe for success in Kentucky was: A pared-down website engineered to perform the basic functions well and a concerted effort to test it as frequently as possible to work out glitches before the Oct. 1 launch.

That’s about it. The formula for a good, functional website that you want people to use is

  • Know what you the site to do.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Test, and then test some more.

Discussion notes: Online journalism and audience

The Big Picture principles and concepts of photojournalism


>Importance of the single image. Nothing gets into our heads and stays there like the single, iconic image. Many of examples of this throughout history. See What did Abraham Lincoln look like? here on JPROF.

All journalists are photojournalists. When they were first introduced in the late 1830s, cameras quickly became widely popular. Their popularity has never waned. Now cameras are even more prevalent. Demands of the profession make it imperative that every journalist carry a camera, know how to use it and know what to do with photos.

Text and photos. No picture can stand alone. It needs text to explain its action and context.

Accuracy. Photos can give an incorrect impression or even lie in some circumstances. Journalists must take care to explain photos carefully, handle the editing with great care, and make sure that viewers gain a level of factual truth from them.

Ethics. The power of the image gives rise to special ethical considerations. This includes the preparation of photos as well as their presentation.

Print vs. web. On the web, photos are usually smaller, but there is greater capacity and potential for versatility.

Carry your camera. Be ready to use it.

The practice of photojournalism
general considerations

point of view – find different angles, unique aspects

contrast – subject-background differences

framing – look at all parts of what’s in the fame, not just the subject of the picture

composition – rule of thirds

lighting – know the source of light; learn to judge the lighting conditions (outside is better than inside)

distance – three types of photos: long shots, medium shots, close-ups (see photos at right)

decisive moment – what tells the story of a news event, captures the elements of the day, time, people, weather, subject; sometimes you can plan for this, sometimes you can’t; be ready
See Heller’s Guide to Making Strong Photographs

Practices and techniques

plan, plan, plan

take lots of pictures – longs, mediums, close-ups

know your equipment and push it

move around – don’t be self-conscious

be creative

See Guidelines for the student photojournalist


Downloading, editing photos

— Become familiar with you camera and the settings with which it records pictures (large pictures at low resolution; small pictures at high resolution; etc.).
— Develop a system for downloading your photos efficiently; file your photos in some order and rename the files if necessary; use descriptive file names for efficiency
— Learn basic photo editing functions and techniques of Photoshop; Photoshop offers some free editing tools. Free alternatives to Photoshop: Photobucket, Picnik, others. Low-cost alternative ($60):

Editing photos
–the trick is not to do too much

  • selection
  • cropping
  • lightening
  • sharpening
  • sizing

Getting photos web ready
— photos should be sized properly for the web site for which they are prepared; if you don’t know what size works best, ask. And always change the resolution to 72 pixels per inch. (right)

See Preparing images for the web (PDF file)



— At the picture-taking stage of the process, you should be carrying a notebook and writing down information for each picture or set of pictures that you take. Do not trust your memory. With some exceptions, you will need to identify every person whose face is visible in your photographs.

  • Use the present to describe the action in a picture. 
  • Always double-check identifications; never guess. 
  • Be specific. 
  • Avoid cutline clichés. 
  • AP style rules.

Constructing the picture story

A picture story should be developed around a single event or subject that the photographer has thought through beforehand.
— Begin with basics: who, what, when, where, why and how.
— What is the main action of the story, the main event; what are the secondary actions and events.
— What are the photo possibilities: people, actions, angles.
— What are the restrictions, physical and otherwise (children, etc.).
Remember: If it is happening in a publicly accessible place, you can take a picture of it. You are not violating anyone’s rights when you do. People in public places, or visible from public places, have no reasonable expectations of privacy.


Remember that even with a slideshow or photo story, you are single images – the photo in isolation. One of the big questions then is sequence — how are the photos presented to the viewer?
–If the story is about an event, the sequence is likely to be chronological so that you can the story from beginning to end.
–If the story is about a subject that is not an event, the sequence can be whatever the reporter/photographer decides it should be.

Make sure your cutlines are accurate and complete.

Are your pictures of the highest quality you can make them?

You should write some kind of an introduction to the photo story in addition to the cutlines themselves.

Have you included links on the page that would take readers to other information?

You can use a variety of galleries and slideshows that are available for free on the web: Photobucket, Picasaweb (Google), Flickr. Mac users also have the slideshow function of iPhoto available. These can be embedded onto your stie. (The Tennessee Journalist content management system Ochs has its own photo viewer/gallery function.)


Audio slideshows
marrying sound and photos

Discussion notes: Online journalism and audience

— The journalist and the news organization can no longer afford to ignore the audience. Instead, they must be prepare to build, cultivate, engage and respond to the audience.
— People on the web have plenty of places to go besides your site. As Jakob Nielson says, visitors to a web site are “selfish, lazy and ruthless.”

— Audiences value what THEY think is important and interesting; they also want the opportunity to engage.


Discussion notes: Journalism concepts and practices

Journalism on the web, starting with just journalism

Teach the basics of journalism — reporting, writing, presentation; they’re much the same on the web as they are in any other medium, but there are important differences that you should introduce:

    • lateral reporting
      We are used to thinking of journalism in a certain form. If it’s a newspaper, it’s an inverted pyramid news story. If it’s television, it’s a 45-second package with video (or something). The web offers the flexibility to tell and expand a story in many ways. What pictures and images can be gathered for the story? Are there graphics that can be produced? Are there documents (PDFs) that need to be included? What are the links that are most important for this story?
      Lateral reporting (excerpt from Writing for the Mass Media)
    • backpack journalism
      Backpack journalism is a reporting technique in which a reporter uses a variety of tools — computer, digital camera, voice recorder, video camera, etc. — to gether information for a story.
    • web packages
      An important consideration for the web journalist: what is the best way to present the information I have gathered.
      A web package is the gathering together of a variety of formats (usually on a single web page, but not always) to tell a story. One element of the package is often the central part of the story, but readers should find it obvious and easy to find any part of the story they wish to read or look at.
    • blogging
      An individual blog is a personal journal.
      A group blog is a blog that has several contributors. The New York Times, for instance, has a number of group blogs:
      Group blogs are common outside of journalism. For instance, Murderati, the group blog of a set of mystery novelists. Group blogs have a lot of power with an audience.
    • new story forms:
      tipsheet journalism:, for instance
      Amy Gahran, “Tipsheet Approach to News: The Launching Point IS the Point.” Article argues that sometimes all you need to do for a story is a list, not a narrative. “News doesn’t always have to be a finished story. In some cases, a launching point might be even more intriguing and engaging.”

      twitter: 140 characters including a link

Discussion notes: Understanding the basic concepts of the web

Introducing your students to web journalism

Basic understandings


And don’t assume they have them already.

HTML, general concepts, a few specifics, such as linking tags, boldface, lists, etc.


web site — basics

  • what it is
  • what makes it up
  • how it’s organized
  • where it is


URL — uniform resource locator


networking — email and beyond, way beyond


gathering an audience — understanding the audience is an integral part of journalism now
You cannot practice web journalism without considering how you are going to interact with the audience.
THINK: communities of interest.

Hardware and software


  • computer/connectivity
  • digital camera
  • digital sound recorder
  • video camera
  • blackberry, iPhone (something hand-held)

Take an inventory of what the students have on the first day of class.


Anything that helps the journalist gather information and connect with an audience.

Take an inventory of what the students know on the first day of class.

Do they have a Facebook page? (Probably)

Do they have a Twitter account? (Probably not)

Do they have a blog? (Unlikely)
Two of the best places to start a blog are and And they’re both free. You can be up and blogging in a matter of minutes.

Do they own their own domain? some variation of their personal name?
Where do you get a domain name? Try or
How much does it cost? Very little.



Getting started with HTML, Dave Raggett;

HTML Cheatsheet, Webmonkey

Audacity tutorials

Ellyn Angelotti, “Journo Tweeting”: This excellent article by Ellyn Angelotti takes you through Twitter step by step and then tells you how a journalist should be using it. Lots of links and good advice.

Introduction to online journalism

Introducing your students to web journalism

Introduction to web journalism

    • The web is the future of journalism.
      News organizations see the day — very soon — when the web will be the centerpiece of what they do. Not print or over-the-air broadcasting. The good news is that the web is a relatively low-cost way of distributing information compared to printing presses and delivery trucks. The bad news is that the overall economics are not as lucrative. More bad news: news organizations haven’t figured out how to use the web to gain audiences. Many do not even understand what the web is about. (Unfortunately, that goes for many journalism schools, too.)


      • Recent quote: “Going into newspapers is like being a cowboy on a dinosaur ranch.”
        Unfair? Not really. Print is old and slow. The web is new and fast. Where would you want your students to be?


      • Consider the web as a news medium. Is it a newspaper, a television station, a magazine or what?
        A news web site is NOT a newspaper on a computer screen. It is NOT a television broadcast with text. It is something completely different. If you do not recognize that — if you persist in calling it a “web newspaper” — you do not understand the power of the web.



      • Two approaches to web journalism— an extension of the journalism we know
        Because the web handles most of the forms of journalism with which we are familiar, we have assumed that we can simply put what we have done for print or broadcast onto a web site and it will be satisfactory. Publishers for more than a decade have been charmed by this idea, thinking it won’t cost them very much to have a web site. But, we are beginning to understand that this is not how the web works.

        — OR something very different
        The web demands a different kind of journalism with different rules, customs, protocols and considerations.
        EXAMPLE: Deadlines


      • And teachers, hear this: What we need to be teaching our students is what we need to be doing ourselves: Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. celebrates 5th anniversary

JPROF celebrates its fifth anniversary today.

In the past five years the site has grown in size (more than 400), expanded in purpose and reached around the globe to people I never would have touched or heard from.

JPROF was originally conceived (in my small study in Emory, VA, where we were living at the time) as a large, personal filing cabinet for material that I had accumulated during more than 25 years of teaching journalism. The amount of material on the web was expanding exponentially (as it still is), and I also wanted a place to store the things I had found that I might be able to use.

And, because I had several textbooks in print at the time, I wanted a web site that would give users more expanded and up-to-date material.

Since that time, JPROF has also become a forum (particularly through the companion blog for my impressions of what is happpening in the world of journalism and a site for all of the courses that I teach.

Because of JPROF, I have taken on some interesting and exciting projects, particularly this year for — something you will hear a great deal about during 2010.

Much has changed in my life during the last five years. I am now on the faculty of the University of Tennesse, having moved from Emory and Henry College in 2006. I am the faculty adviser for the Tennessee Journalist, the students news web site of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, and through it, we have been able to launch a national organization of campus news web sites, the Intercollegiate Online News Network (ICONN). At UT, we have been able to change our curriculum in an interesting and innovative way, and I have the privilege of being in the midst of those changes.

The field of journalism offers many excellent opportunities for our students, and I am happy to still be a part of it.

Personally, 2009 brought Sally and me a move to the farm where she grew up and a new daughter-in-law. Our video review of the year is now on YouTube.

As ever, I am profoundly grateful for the friends I have made through JPROF and for all of the people who have contacted me over the years because what they have found here.

Now, as is my usual custom on this date and because it is New Year’s Eve, I bid you: Party on!

Have a great New Year.

(In case you’re interested, you can read what we said about JPROF on each of the previous anniversaries on JPROF’s About page.)

Niles: Murdoch thinks he can screw Google. Think again.

Bob Niles is taking Microsoft and News Corp. to task for trying to restrict access to content. Their agreement, he says, is oh so 20th century — when you could get away with creating content and then parceling it out.

Not any more:

But, today, it (the deal) illustrates just the latest example of backward-thinking by legacy media executives who’ve been left lost and clueless by the Internet revolution.

Niles is more than a little gleeful about this wrong-headed move because he detests “the Fox News’ cynical Republican-propaganda-masquerading-as-news” stuff that News Corp. produces.

But he also makes the point:

The Internet is killing one legacy media business model, however, and that’s the supply-side model based on creating value by restricting access to content. That’s the model upon which the News Corp.-Microsoft deal is based. While it might have worked in a pre-Web, channel-driven world, the public simply has spun too many ways around content-control deals to make this one worth Microsoft’s time or investment.

Can’t say as I disagree with much that Niles had to say.

The demise of newspapers – revisited

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about the demise of newspapers being a good thing for the future of journalism.

Today, I am using those ideas — and a new more — as a basis for a speech I am giving to the Knoxville Torch Club.

Here is the basic text of the talk:

A couple of weeks ago, my son got married in Washington, D.C., at the Willard Hotel . . . [STORY] (audio to come)

What’s this got to do with newspapers? Nothing. And that’s the point.

What’s this got to do with journalism? A lot, I think.

Our world of communication – and our way of delivering the news – has shifted dramatically over the last ten years, even over the last five years. Print is no long a viable option of telling ourselves about ourselves on a timely basis, which is what journalism is. Print is slow, cumbersome, limited and expensive.

The web, on the other hand, is fast, flexible, inexpensive and seems to offer the future of journalism a cafeteria of possibilities that make the future both bright and interesting.

That’s why I believe the quicker we can get over our adherence to print in journalism, the better journalism will be.

Now, notice the wording of this talk. I said the demise of newspapers, not the death of newspapers. I do not wish death upon newspapers.

I grew up, so to speak, with newspapers. Reading them and later working for them. I have worked for six different newspapers as a reporter and editor, and since I have been in academia I have consulted with many more. I have many friends and former students who are fulltime newspaper people. I do not wish them ill.

And, in fact, I do not believe that newspapers in general are going to die. Some have, and some will, certainly. But when you look at the newspaper industry as a whole, particularly smaller newspapers, you see an industry that is in pretty good shape.

Smaller newspapers are better able to weather the rough economic climate that we are experiencing today. And, I think, they have more time to figure out the new media environment that we are in. Plus, their structure makes them more flexible and adaptable, and I think there is a great chance that they will come through all of this – though I believe their days of monopolistic practices and fat profits are over.

So, if a journalism student still wants a career in newspapers, I think it’s still a viable option.

But if a student is interest in doing journalism, I no longer think that newspapers are the best option. In fact, I’m not convinced that they are a very good option – for the reasons I mentioned earlier. They are slow, cumbersome, and expensive.

And they are limited.

Newspapers, by their very nature, can give you the news in only one way – print. The web can use a variety of forms and formats – text, pictures, audio, video and combinations of these platforms. Newspapers are geared to production deadlines. The web has significantly less production time involved in the process, and that production is significantly cheaper.

The quicker that newspapers transform themselves into news organizations – ones where print is only a small portion of what they do – the better off they will be. And the better off we, as news consumers, will be. To do that, newspapers will not only have to change what they do but also the way they think.

And here, I think, the evidence is discouraging.

Newspapers should be hiring reporters and editors rather than firing them.

Newspapers should be investing in journalism and in innovative ways to inform their readers rather than cutting back on page numbers and page sizes.

Newspapers should be looking for new ways to serve their readers. They should be trying to find new services based on the fact that they are the chief information gatherers in their communities.

Newspapers should be more attuned to what their audiences want and need. And they should be more responsive.

Several months ago, I was trying to sell a house. I visited the web site of the local newspaper to find out information about buying a classified ad. That began a rather torturous journey that wasted an hour of my time . . .[STORY](audio to come)

If newspapers are going to have paid subscribers – and I think that is a BIG IF – they should stop whining about the Internet and charge those subscribers something much closer to the cost of production than what they do now.

Finally, newspapers have to accept two irrefutable facts:

• Their economic environment has changed. They are no longer the monopolies that can command 20, 30, or even 40 percent profit margins.

• News and information is no longer what they thought it was.

In the good old days – about 10 years ago – news was a product. Newspapers produced it and sold it.

But the world is shifting so that news is now conversation. Economically, how does that work? The answer is we don’t know. But there it is.

Let me give you a non-newspaper example of this:

I coordinate all of the sections of our beginning news writing course. We offer about 11 sections, and once a week, all of those sections come together for a lecture that I give. There are between 150 and 200 students there. Most of you have probably heard of Twitter. [EXPLAIN] Well, Twitter is not all that popular with students . . .[STORY] (audio to come)

Unfortunately, I do not see a lot of evidence that newspaper are accepting their new environment or changing their thinking. There is very little innovation going on with newspapers now. It’s most retrenchment and hoping that all of this will go away.

The innovation is being done by Google and Yahoo and the small entrepreneurs who will shape the new media world. They are the ones that are creating a very bright future for today’s journalism students.

And that is why I believe that the demise of newspapers, ultimately, will be a good thing for journalism.

Writing for the web: making a (bulleted) list

The list is one of the most important aspects of writing for the web that the writer must master. A well-formed list not only adds visual variety to the writing but aids in comprehension. The list invited the reader to scan the text, but it can offer the visual cues to arrest the eye.

Lists do not form themselves. The writer must make them happen. Here are some considerations and guidelines:

  • Appropriateness and significance. Lists are fairly easy to form, but they must be appropriate to the subject matter and significant to the subject. They must help introduce new information and concepts to the reader that are due some consideration on the part of the reader.
  • Number of items. A list must contain at least two items. In web journalism, the best lists are three to five items, but there is no hard rule about the number of items in a list.
  • Use of boldface. A list is best used when one or two of the most important words can be boldfaced. Doing this aids the reader in finding the words with the most informational value in the list. But boldfacing should be used sparingly. If you boldface an entire item in a list, you dilute the effect of the bold type.
  • Numbered and unnumbered lists. Two of the most common types of lists in HTML are the numbered and the unnumbered list. The numbered list uses numbers to introduce each item in the list. Use the numbered list when the numbers are important either for sequence or importance. When numbers are not important to the list, use the bulleted, or unnumbered, list. Numbers can be distracting if they do not carry any informational weight.
  • Parallelism. Ideally, lists should be constructed so that they are parallel. That has two meanings. One, grammar constructions of all items of the list should be the same. If one is a complete sentence, all of them should be. If one is a fragment beginning with a participle, all should be.

    The second meaning of parallelism is that the items in a list should be of the same type or alike in a discernible way. Another way of saying this that no one item in a list should seem out of place with the other items

    (Parallelism is an important tool of the writer — one that should be understood thoroughly so it can be put to good use. The concept goes beyond the explanation presented here. To learn more about parallelism, start here at the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.)

What good is all this?

Jakob Nielsen’s research group has confirmed that readers of text on a web page are likely to do so in an F-shaped pattern. The research produced the “heatmaps” shown here that indicated the hot spots on a page of text where the eye of the reader tends to stop.

Nielsen says this about the implications of this pattern:

The F pattern’s implications for Web design are clear and show the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the Web instead of repurposing print content:

  • Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.
  • The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.
  • Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.

A well-structured list thus plays into the tendencies of the reader and gives the producer of the web page a great chance to satisfy the reader.

Writing for the web: guidelines for an introductory writing class

The following are some notes I have made for a discussion I am having with the JEM 200 writing instructors about what we are teaching concerning writing for the web. I invite your comments.

As we move from writing in print mode to writing for the web, here are some general principles that we should keep in mind:

  • The writing should be tighter – more concise.
  • Writers should use words and phrases that are information rich.
  • Writing should be shorter but with no loss of information.
  • Writers must learn to write quickly and with confidence.

We need to explore in some depth what each of these principles mean with our students. I admit that we haven’t gotten them all figured out yet, but all of us have ideas about them that we should share.

For instance, what are words and phrases that are information rich? Well, I know one that isn’t: “There is.” We should avoid those kinds of constructions. Maybe you know of others.

Possibly one way to think of information rich is to think of the Ws: who, what, when and where. If the words we use don’t convey something about those, we probably shouldn’t be using them.

But I digress.

Here are some specific guidelines that I want us to discuss at our meeting on Friday:

— No story should be more than 200 words unless there is a compelling reason for it.

— Summaries should be a maximum of 35 words.

— Headlines should be a maximum of eight words. They should be abstracted sentences. That is, they must contain a subject and a verb and be as specific as possible. No puns, no play-on-words. Use alliteration only when it makes sense. In the words of Jakob Nielsen, they should be “pearls of clarity.”

— Use lists when appropriate. Teach your students how to create lists. Check out what I say about lists in the third lecture on writing for the web.

— Paragraphs should be a maximum of two sentences and 50 words.

— Only one direct quotation per story. Direct quotations generally do not pull their informational weight. They add a bit of color and character to the story, but that’s about it.

— Every story should contain at least one in-line link to additional information. The link should be constructed in a way so that the reader will have a good idea as to where the link goes. Check out this article on linking on JPROF. Teach your students how to set up a link in HTML.

— Teach the concept of key words. Students should identify key words and put the tag around them.

The goals of our writing should be to deliver as much information to the readers as quickly as possible. Send the readers on their way satisfied, and they will return.

Audio journalism III: Teaching j-students about recording, editing and distribution

  • Beginning journalism students, in their first news writing classes, should be taught the basics of audio journalism and should put those basics into practice.

The concept of audio journalism takes us beyond the medium of radio and requires that we think about sound itself as an increasingly available and important tool of the journalist (as we argued in the first two essays in this series — see Audio journalism I and Audio journalism II).

How then do we as journalism educators train our students to use this tool?

At the University of Tennessee, we are trying to turn our curriculum more toward the web and away from the traditional media forms of print and broadcasting. This is a systemic change that will not be accomplished by simply adding one or two courses on web journalism to the curriculum or even by creating a sequence of courses. Instead, it involves changing our approach in our most basic courses.

One of those basic courses is JEM 200 Introduction to news writing. This course is required of all journalism majors as the gateway course to the journalism curriculum, and it has traditionally introduced students to the concepts of good writing, AP style, attribution, the inverted pyramid and other skills necessary for a start in journalism. We are now putting more emphasis on developing skills for writing for the web — conciseness, headlines, summaries, lists, linking, etc. — and in the section that was once “writing for broadcast,” we are now teaching the concepts of audio journalism.

Here’s what we are including:

  • Audio journalism
    The importance of sound. Sound can be an excellent way to go beyond the pictures and text a reporter produces in covering a story. Sound gives voice to sources in a way that text cannot.
    Formats. We reviewed some of the formats available to audio journalists in the second post of this series. Sound can be a complement to the other reporting or it can be the dominent form of the report. The web is allowing us to develop new formats, such as the audio slide show.
  • Writing for audio
    Traditional radio formats. These forms of presentation of news and information including the drama unity broadcast story structure are still important for students to learn and use.
    New forms of writing for audio that web journalism offers. We have already referred to audio slide shows, but we also must give some attention to writing introductions that alert readers as to what they are about to hear and to describe links included with the sound stories.
    Writing scripts, questions and outlines. Most of what is broadcast in traditional media begins with and follows a script. Good scripts promote the efficient presentation of news and information, and they are likely to continue to be necessary on the web.
  • Speaking clearly
    Enunciation and beyond. In previous times, training in this area could generally be ignored by most journalists, particularly those going into print. No longer. Journalists now need to use their own voices. Their accent, grammar and pronunciation skills must be developed beyond the normal level of speaking. Their speaking habits must exclude the use of the word “like” after every third word, and they must speak with the confidence that allows them to drop the hesitant pauses, the “uhs” and the “you knows.”
    Developing habits and practices that enhance the clarity of sound and the quality of reporting. We might jokingly call this our “radio voice,” but it is no longer a joke. Journalists — all journalists — must be heard and understood.
    Acquiring the skill of the short, concise question. Asking well-formed, concise questions — and then shutting up — is a rare skill, but it is one that should be developed by all of our students.
  • Recording
    Tools and equipment. Basic recording equipment is inexpensive and simple to use. Every journalism student must have some kind of ditigal recorder and must be aware of its capacity.
    The importance of sound quality. Sound quality does not have to be an obsession because of the good equipment that is available. Still, journalism students must learn to make their equipment produce clear, understandable sound on all occasions.
    Ambient sound and music. The qualities of ambient sound and music can enhance the reporting. They are special products of audio journalism that cannot be duplicated by any other medium.
  • Editing
    Putting audio files together for presentation. Editing audio can be as simple or as complex as the reporter and editor choose to make it. Some audio reporters, such as NPR’s science reporter Robert Krulwich, develop their stories through complex and highly sophisticated editing techniques (see Darwin’s Very Bad Day, for example). Our goals for beginning journalism students are more modest. Simply producing a clear, coherent recording would be enough.
    Multiple tracks. Student should have some basic understanding of mixing sound tracks.
    Importance of beginning and ending. Writing good introductions and planning the sound story from beginning to end is basic to good audio journalism.
    Standard constructions and techniques. Students should learn the standard techniques of audio editing as the well as the terms, such as fades, cross-fading, establish music, segue, transition, voice out, music up, and voice wrap.

Covering these areas in just a few weeks of a writing course is ambitious. Not all of these subject will be areas in which the students can acquire any mastery, but their introduction and practice can show students their importance.

Note: I post the lecture notes for the lecture section of JEM 200, and at this writing I have posted the notes for the first of three lectures based on these essays about audio journalism. Two more sets of lecture notes are planned.


The one piece of software that students should learn for audio journalism is Audacity.

While editing sound has a wide array of possibilities, it has been rendered simple and easy by Audacity, a free and downloadable piece of software from Audacity comes with a set of tutorials, the basics of Audacity can be grasped in just a few minutes by those who simply use the software. Audacity allows users to add and delete portions of a soundtrack and to place new soundtracks into a file. Its visual dashboard (below) includes all of the tools for basic sound editing, and it is likely that student will be able to learn the program to create audio files very quickly.


Podcasting is a term sometimes used for the general idea of audio journalism, but in reality it has a much more specific meaning. Podcasting is a means of distributing audio files through RSS (really simple syndication) feeds. Students should be taught the basics of using this system for distributing the audio files they produce, but we will refrain from going into details about it until a later post.

Read the two previous essays in this series on audio journalism:

Audio journalism I: Defining the field – the power and importance of sound

  • A clarion call for journalism instructors to think beyond the strictures of radio and to teach audio journalism — using sound as a reporting tool — to all of their students.

Audio journalism II: Forms and formats

  • Creative journalists can use the tool of sound as an effective in their reporting. They can start with traditional formats, but the web will allow them to develop their own.