The basics of online journalism

Paul Bradshaw, an instructor in the U.K. and creator of the must-read Online Journalism Blog, has put together a handy guide to principles of multimedia journalism—with especially good tips for building blogs.

We just covered the presentation above in today’s class. I would recommend that you check out the rest of his how-to PowerPoints—which, by the way, are excellent examples of the way to do a PowerPoint, much like Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule.

For Thursday, I’d like you to build on what we learned today by skimming through the whole series of BASIC principles of online journalism:

Please respond in the comments section with your impressions on the series. What did you most find interesting, enlightening, novel … and why?

16 Responses to “The basics of online journalism”

  1. 1 jennifer October 28, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    What I liked about the BASIC principles of journalism was that there were real, concrete solutions provided to the “problems of the news today.” While Bradshow still highlights the basic (ha ha) problems of journalism presently he doesn’t stop there – he furthers the conversation with solutions.

    I actually found this really interesting:

    “People read websites very differently to how they read newspapers, watch television or listen to radio. For a start, they read 25% slower than they do with print – this is because computer screens have a much lower resolution than print: 72 dots in every square inch compared to around 150-300 in newspapers and magazines (this may change, but usage patterns are likely to stay the same for some time yet).”

    I’m not sure if that is common knowledge to everyone but me but I was really surprised to read that – and it makes perfect sense. From this standpoint I really like the idea of “brevity” in future forms of online journalism. Everything should have a clear succinct point and get to it quickly.

    Overall I thought of all of these principles were valuable – a lot of them overlap and go hand in hand with one another. For example, it makes sense for something that is brief to be scannable, etc. I like the format he used to present all of his principles as well.

  2. 2 Leigh. October 28, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    i think the easiest way to organize my thoughts on the article(s) is by sticking with bradshaw’s model:

    B – to me, in many ways brevity seems like you’re “tricking” readers. sort of like, ‘here, this article isn’t actually this long…it’s just in categories! it’s on two pages!” (bradshaw’s logic even applies to his own series of b.a.s.i.c. articles…). to this i say, whatever works! still, for as much clout bradshaw later gives in “i” about letting the reader have control, this seems like a very controlling move on the journalist’s part.

    A- just earlier today, i was talking to my roommate about how, ‘maybe i should take up photography. maybe i’d be more attractive as a job candidate.’ the 21st century journalist really is the ‘do-all’ journalist, as bradshaw does an excellent job of portraying. i especially liked how he clarified between actively doing and being familiar with. i will probably always hate twitter, but i’ll use it because i know it’s effective.

    S – i disagree. i think TO SOME EXTENT we ought to follow bradshaw’s principles of breaking up articles, using lists, etc to please the hyper-add reader he portrays. however, i think that in some instances this attitude dumbs the reader down. if you’re trying to convey a specific idea, a certain fact that can be said in a sentence or bullet-point organized list? sure. but i think by no means this is true across the board.

    I – this is hard for me because i’m a huge proponent of clean, ultra-basic design and i recognize that sometimes, a fuller web page is simply more useful to readers, as much as i may abhor the clutter that rss feed widgets create. i’m working on it…

    C/C – i think both bradshaw’s ‘communication’ and ‘conversation’ points kind of bleed into each other. these points basically reiterate the major point we’ve been talking about all year: new journalism is an “ecosystem” (can’t remember who coined this, though guessing jarvis or rosen is usually safe…)in which everyone contributes and the whole thing grows. mutual respect reaps mutual benefits.

  3. 3 Samantha Borger October 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I wrote my first blog post for (plug!) and then read Bradshaw’s BASIC concepts. I immediately noticed some things that I did wrong, especially in the brevity section. I realized I needed to make sure the top of my entry was a decent summary, so readers can immediately see if this is something they are interested in. I had made a long rambling lead at first, but I went back and changed it to get straight to the point.

    The community and communication section struck me as areas that we might need to build on. We have an audience for sure– people looking for things to do in Austin at night. But we need to find a way to start a conversation with our community. Maybe we can ask a question at the end of each post to encourage people to comment? We’ll see!

    The scannability section also provided some really good tips that I would have never thought of on my own. The hints about how to write more effective headlines was interesting because I haven’t had a lot of guidance for writing headlines online. With print you’re worried about space constrictions, but online this is less of an issue. I couldn’t believe he suggested writing in passive tense! It’s crazy but it definitely does work better to have your topic come first in the headline for SEO.

  4. 4 Samantha Borger October 28, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Coooool in my comment I posted the wrong link for our blog haha…try . Pretty sure that other one does not exist. My brain is in a million places right now!

  5. 5 James October 28, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    This reading is very practical and I will probably go over it a few more times to get some good ideas for the blog project. Below are some of my thoughts on each section.

    Brevity: I have always been told to keep my content short online and I’ve thought that part of the reason was attention span online. It’s interesting that the author doesn’t mention this. I agree that brevity is a good idea, but maybe just as important is the writer’s skill to engage readers early in the story.

    Adaptability: The process of adapting to new ways of doing and thinking about journalism is daunting, especially for someone who is not media literate. Although it can be difficult to learn this process, I believe that as more and more journalists figure it out, they will realize that it kind of makes them super-human. Never before have people been able to gather, display, and transform information like we can today. Learning to adapt to new forms of journalism may be difficult but I think it is worth it in the long run.

    Scanability — The rules presented in this section are very clear and will be very useful as I write the group blog. The section really points out how much different writing on the Web is.

    Interactivity –- This section points out that the ability for users to choose what they do on a site is key. The reading made me consider a sort of way to make our class blog more interactive outside of just comments. I think a first step might be to create an RSS for our posts, and from there maybe create and embeddable widget.

    Community and Conversations – This two-part section hit on the new relationships being formed in the media between creators and users of news. What is really fascinating about this section is that the lines between content creators and users are becoming blurred. Still, I like how Cohn explains that professional journalists have the ability to take the lead role in community news operations

  6. 6 Tim October 29, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Since we seem to be approaching an era where it is more important than ever to make material more accessible to the average reader due in part to increasingly shorter attention spans and the speed and convenience of the Internet. I read through the power point presentation and then tried to incorporate some of the principles in my first post on the blog. I tried to express one thought per paragraph for brevity and easy compartmentalization of ideas. I think this also aids the scannability of the article, although I probably could have made better use of the sub-headings.

    One point that I found interesting in the scannability section was Bradshaw’s reference to passive-voice writing. In another journalism class I am taking, we are learning that active voice is the more sophisticated, proper way for a journalist to write. I guess it depends on whether or not you are interacting with old of new media as to which style is preferable to use. As for interactivity, I feel that this ground was well-covered by Jarvis and others in the emphasis on links and crowdsourcing. Although it is important for bloggers to allow their readers to roam free on other sites and explore the alternate means towards content on YouTube, Flickr, etc.

    The sections on Community and Conversation further elaborated on the concepts of crowdsourcing. Bradshaw pointed to more of a “community journalist” rather than a “citizen journalist”, making the contributor more part of a family rather than a faceless civilian. Bloggers should actively encourage readers to not only contribute but also edit and provide feedback on every aspect of the operation of the cite. Because it belongs to the people just as much as the publisher.

  7. 7 tiffanydiane October 29, 2009 at 1:37 am

    I would say that having been writing for online for quite a while now, the BASIC principles were just that. They were easy to catch up on, having been an online reader for so long as well. I mean this not only in the sense that I caught on to good Web site’s formulas to online journalism, but also as an online consumer, I know what I want to read and how I want information packaged for me.

    As for scannability, the only word of BASIC that I suppose caught my eye, mainly because I was thinking about a literal scanner when I read it, I will have to agree wholeheartedly with the idea. Sorry, Leigh, I support the ‘dumbed down’ version of things – at least for online. Online consumers are looking for a specific thing, convenience, and if they are not given that somewhere in specific, then they will go elsewhere. If they are looking for in depth writing and reporting, they will go to the paper or they will read further. But as for the here-and-now-format, it is clear that the simpler / more informative, the better. Why read paragraphs and paragraphs when you can get the same information summarized for you with bullet points. You will have the same knowledge, too.

    Anyway, basically I agree with BASIC. All of it. It is another one of those ‘duh’ things that I think ought to be common knowledge but I still appreciate being listed out for me for reference. This comment is not BASIC enough so I am going to stop typing.

    1. Yes to Basic.
    2. Especially scannability.
    3. Read
    4. Shameless plug.

    xo, Tiffany

  8. 8 Cassandra H October 30, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    This is the first writing for online course that I have ever taken. As a senior I have been talking about online journalism and what that means but now I have actually been seeing it in practice and it really is a whole other monster. However, it has the same principles journalism has to offer but just in a different way.

    I really enjoyed this series because it reinforced everything that we had been doing in this class in a nice sum-up. I, like many online readers, want the information now and concisely. For print, I felt like sometimes you just needed to get several different angles for the sake of filling up the article. With online, it promotes the “doing you best and linking to the rest” that I think is really important for the online audience.

    Besides scannability, which was extremely useful. I liked the adaptability aspect the best. For the multimedia strand, we are ahead of the curve. The components discussed are ones that we are currently being taught. We may be better at some components than others but it is the experience that will help us in the future newsroom. The adaptability also tied in community aspect. Citizens can use the multimedia components that we put out there for mash-ups or in other ways to take what we did and make it their own.

    In reading this series, I can definitely see the value of our degree more and how we will be able to already hold a little bit of everything this BASIC model says of what journalism should be.

  9. 9 Bill Bowman October 30, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I agreed with the post and the class. The basic tenets that he sets out should be common sense for anyone writing for a large audience. The very same techniques used for writing for online are also used when I write for magazines. They are usually easy to read and brevitous.

    I would echo Tim’s comment on using the passive rather than active voice. My other class also stresses that you always use the active voice when writing journalism. That is a nitpicky issue, but stll somewhat confusing.

    Overall, the powerpoint and website are an excellent introduction to writing for online publications and for the mass market.

  10. 10 Adam Aldrete November 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    The most important concepts to me are the ideas of “Interactivity” and “community.” In the world of Web 2.0, users have nearly unlimited options for news. As such, considering the demands of the “audience”, who I agree should help craft the news are “co-producers”, is more important then ever. In class we have discussed the end of the monopoly of Newspapers, and this reality has provided the world of journalism with a new spark to create news that is important and timely, so that users will actually read our online publications.

    The necessity of looking to the community and our users for content is important because of the power of social media sites. One tweet can send a message and link to hundreds, if not thousands of people almost instantly. This is the power of the people. Armed with social media giants like twitter and facebook, they have the ability to produce their own news as citizen journalists via blogs. As journalists, we cannot fear them, but rather welcome them into the fold. Linking to trusted bloggers can have significant benefits to the news industry. It sends a message that we are willing to work with everyone to ensure that we continue to live in a free and safe environment.

    The final part of this presentation I’ll comment on is the practical web publishing advice. With the knowledge that users read slower and skim more when reading from a computer, we should aim for the brevity mentioned in the show and adapt the various journalistic styles to cater to this finding. After all, our goal should be to have users consume the news, not skim and then leave with nothing.

  11. 11 msherfield November 2, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    As much as it pains me to say it, as a long-winded print journalist, I’m coming around on the need to be brevitous (that’s for you Seth). Originally, I was surprised at just how different writing for online is from the good ole’ fashioned printed word. But after a few years spent under the misguided “writing is writing” assumption, I’m trying to incorporate more of the online-only characteristics into my writing. Being brief is sadly one of those.
    From there, most of the other points Bradshaw brought up seem pretty, well, basic. Make it as easy as possible for your reader to get the information he/she wants, make it easy for them to start a conversation about it and make it interesting.
    I would also say that the adaptability section is one of the most important. It’s obviously very important for us budding journalists to be on the cutting edge of the changes swirling around our industries and the new ways to connect with readers or publish information, or we’ll get overtaken by someone who is.
    In the interests of brevity, my new mission for online writing, I’ll stop here.

  12. 12 Katherine Robinson November 2, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    The most important information I got from the articles in scannabiltiy and brevity. “Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare […] Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.” Bradshaw’s argument is 100% accurate I always scan everything I read—books, blogs, etc. This is why I love blogs, the ones I read are pretty short and to the point.

    My time is precious and I don’t have a lot of time to concentrate on one thing at a time. When I read blogs I usually read the things that stick out the most or if it’s long; I’ll just read the first few paragraphs.

    I really didn’t know you were supposed to put the most important information in the first two paragraphs. In the broadcast sequence we’re taught to have a catchy anchor introduction, a great lead, and a nice ending to the story. Everything else in the middle of the story just serves to inform the reader.

    I also agree with Bradshaw on brevity. Writing packages (news stories) for class has taught me how to summarize a lot of material. Each package has to be about one minute and thirty seconds. Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to produce a hard news story in such a small amount of time. But using brevity in packages and in the blog has taught me how to write stories that are tight and to the point.

  13. 13 austintries5 November 4, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    It is an interesting contrast from writing to actually reading online. When I write I enjoy lengthy sentences and quality content, but when I read online I find myself skimming and reading in the infamous F-shape. It is inevitably a sad case of not reading carefully and just getting the main topic point of the article from the first few sentences.

    It’s like Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making us Dumber” where he argues that the generation of books and reading is dead and with it, knowledge. Online writing has got to adapt to these guidelines and appeal to the common online reader so knowledge doesn’t die.

    I agree with Bradshaw’s point of brevity and I somehow casually throwing it in to conversations now. I also like the short paragraph feature and active voice, although I feel that is a given in journalism. Overall, Bradshaw does a good job of covering the basics and leaving the rest to us.

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October 2009

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