New forms of journalism

I’m back for the second day of Highway Africa, and the session this morning is on ‘New Forms of Journalism’, a panel including Adam Clayton Powell of USC, Vincent Maher of the New Media Lab at Rhodes University here in Grahamstown, Mark Comerford of the University of Stockholm, and Lars Nord, a researcher at Mid Sweden University.

Adam Clayton Powell provided an overview of his lab’s research into new communication forms – everything from immersive media to using telepresence and haptics for physiotherapy. He also talked about the rise of citizen journalism, from OhMyNews in South Korea to the BBC’s use of readers’ mobile phone photos in the wake of the London bombing.

Maher is talking about his theory of ‘Blogonomics,’ which posits that there are 3 key areas for blogging: production, distribution and reception. Production and reception are merged in blogs, because the comments mechanism provides for immediate feedback, which frequently means the posts get altered.

Maher argues that a structured approach to understanding blogging can lead to its better use as a journalistic medium.

Nord is talking about the rise of interpretive news, or what used to be called ‘color’ stories, where the reporter provides an interpretation of the story, instead of just the headline. News analysis pieces – which are also part of the interpretive news phenomenon – lack transparency, proportion, credibility and lead to an ‘argument culture’. It can lead to ‘pseudo-journalism’, if not carefully labeled and edited, with clear policy descriptions, and a mechanism for correcting and discussing errors.

Mark Comerford is excellent. He’s talking about the crisis in journalism, brought about by lazy reporting and taking quotes out of context. New media, by providing access to supplemental materials, including entire interviews, not just a single sound bite. Cell phones are going to be a huge factor in media distribution, he argues, and says that local communities must get involved in new technologies to ensure that their voices are heard.

The questions from the audience are also excellent. Numerous participants are active bloggers in their countries. One participant asks to what extent the blogger’s background is important; another asks for a dictionary definition of blogging and ‘blogonomics’.

Maher says he sees blogging as a practice, whereas Comerford thinks blogging is just a medium and not a message. Comerford argues that talking about ‘is blogging journalism?’ entirely misses the point: It’s the same as asking whether telephones are journalism.

Clayton Powell mentioned a shift in the New York Times toward interpretive reporting, where the editor says ‘we know who the good guys and the bad guys are,’ so we’ll take the labels like ‘News Analysis’ off the pages.

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