‘… our newsroom didn’t even have e-mail yet …”

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 1:05 am

Robert Boos, aka @earthtobobby, has been an Arizona journalist for 18 years, with the bulk of his experience coming via the Web. Currently, he’s the editor of JournalismGIS.com, a non-profit startup where he hopes to educate journalists in the use of map-based data analysis and visualization in the pursuit of reporting. He’s worked for The Tribune and The Arizona Republic, and he’s an adjunct professor at The Cronkite School.  He also like soccer.

How has journalism changed during your time in the business?
When I first started at newspapers, our newsroom didn’t even have e-mail yet. Sure, we had electronic messaging that we’d use to contact each other, but it wasn’t instant. You had to sign into the system, and it would load all your messages you received since your last login.

But we didn’t have POP or SMTP access to email. Sure, a lot of businesses were beginning to use it at the time, but our newspaper did not. In fact, I remember our IT department was very reluctant to implement e-mail access to the outside, as they said it would open our network to hackers.

I guess that says a lot about the sophistication and tech savvy of the business when I started. The Web was just barely existent, so there was no way to research a story using that means. The newspaper library of clips and LexisNexis were the only means of getting background info. That, and, of course, actually talking to people.

I took a year off from the biz and came back at another paper—one that had just recently jumped in with a website with the intention of delivering news and earning readership. That was cutting edge, and I wanted to be on it. And we actually had email. I did that for the next 13 years.

Journalism has certainly changed since the time I got my start. Obviously, the Web has changed the way daily business gets done, but I really think it brings the business back to its origins of getting the story out as quickly as possible. Now every newspaper, once a daily operation, is a wire service with the purpose of moving copy through the journalistic process and to its audience. I realized that very early on, and that was what really excited me about working for a Web news operation.

There was an interesting Slate.com post this week comparing “news articles” to “blog posts.” What did you think of it?
I tend to think of a blog as a running commentary on a topic or series of topics. The entries may range from quips or a “Here, look at this” to a print-destined column. One could write a blog that runs as commentary alongside their thesis, or as they write their book.

I also still believe that newspapers do and should hold themselves to high standards. Reporters can and do write blogs, and, in my opinion, they’re a little more interesting when it is commentary on the craft of the job. On the one hand is the story or the column the reporter wrote, and in the other is the insider tale of what it took to get that story, or an anecdote about the interview that adds color and background for the reader and offers insight and transparency to the reporting process.

What should newspapers and magazines be doing to adapt digitally? And what are some currently doing really well or really poorly?
The need for reporters to be doing more to drive stories to the Web is pretty well established, but I think newspapers are not doing enough to equip them. A reporter who whips out their smartphone to cover a breaking news event with live video always seems to bring congratulatory pats on the back, but it doesn’t seem like the lesson is learned. These need to be every day and more equipment and training is needed to help reporters along.

Now, if reporters are to be expected to expand their function and skills, so should the production and editing staff. There needs to be better integration between the print and online production teams. The online producer as I knew it is thinning out. Real integration needs to happen between the copy desk and online production. Copy editors need to learn online production and online producers need to be cross-trained to the skill level of the copy editor. Page designers and especially graphic artists and visual journalists need to be integrated into online production. As it stands, stories are passed from the reporter to their editor and then to the copy desk and somewhere in that process it is forked for print and online. Online production needs to happen as part of the function of the copy desk and page- and graphic-design teams. I think as online production tools and content management systems improve, the online team distinction will disappear as their role is merged with other teams

Will actual hard-cover/soft-cover books and newspapers disappear in 10 years, 20 years … or some other timeframe? What do you see happening with that?
I know that I can’t read a book on a laptop—it’s just not suited for the kind of comfort I get from a book. I’ve never used a Kindle, but I have used an iPad and I can see that becoming a greater experience.

In the next 10 years, I think the economics of running a newspaper will continue to force many to scale back their daily printing—maybe Web-only all week for daily and breaking news, and then on weekends and Sunday a publication that offers special projects and in-depth reporting and analysis.

In 20 years, I really hope to see e-paper that updates itself wirelessly and offers a reading experience similar to the broadsheet—like the newspaper we saw in “Minority Report” and the “Harry Potter” films.

I hope I never see books go away.

If an angel investor said, “Hey, here’s $10 million, form a news site/product/app/combination thereof from scratch,” what would you build and why?
I’m working on it! I think JournalismGIS.com is a good start, but I’d really like to build a research group or non-profit center for geographic information science, data visualization and statistical analysis in a journalism pursuit. We’d pursue public data, conduct our own research for publication or take commission for research, and train reporters and visual journalists on how to use those tools. Who says journalists have to be bad at numbers?

Now, can I have that $10 million?

  1. […] in their careers. It was my turn, and I had an opportunity to get a few things off my chest. Here we go. TAGS: journalism, Justin Doom, newspaper This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 20th, […]

  2. Nice post, only that…my eyes don’t feel comfortable with the word size. Don’t what other people think about this. 🙂

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