Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Crazy World of Online Journalism

Welcome to Online Journalism. This is a class blog where students will be posting comments and answering questions about class readings and lectures. The course is Jour 416-516 offered at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

During the the next 10 weeks, we will examine the impact of the Web on the field of journalism.

To help kick things off, I am posting a story from the New York Times that appeared last year that looks at how reporters and editors are frantic and fatigued. As my spouse, Julie, who works at the Chicago Tribune, put it recently, "You walk into work and they turn on the fire hose."

As a reporter, I used to get months to do an investigative story. Those days are gone as reporters work on three or four stories at once, attempting to produce content for multiple deadlines and multiple platforms.

The notion of Politico as journalistic sweatshop is pure myth, say John Harris, editor in chief, left, and Jim VandeHei, executive editor.

In a World of Online News, Burnout Starts Younger

NYT - ARLINGTON, Va. — In most newsrooms, the joke would have been obvious.

It was April Fools’ Day last year, and Politico’s top two editors sent an e-mail message to their staff advising of a new 5 a.m. start time for all reporters.

“These pre-sunrise hours are often the best time to reach top officials or their aides,” the editors wrote, adding that reporters should try to carve out personal time “if you need it,” in the midafternoon when Internet traffic slows down.

But rather than laugh, more than a few reporters stared at the e-mail message in a panicked state of disbelief.“There were several people who didn’t think it was a joke. One girl actually cried,” said Anne Schroeder Mullins, who wrote for Politico until May, when she left to start her own public relations firm. “I definitely had people coming up to me asking me if it was true.”

Such is the state of the media business these days: frantic and fatigued. Young journalists who once dreamed of trotting the globe in pursuit of a story are instead shackled to their computers, where they try to eke out a fresh thought or be first to report even the smallest nugget of news — anything that will impress Google algorithms and draw readers their way.

Tracking how many people view articles, and then rewarding — or shaming — writers based on those results has become increasingly common in old and new media newsrooms. The Christian Science Monitor now sends a daily e-mail message to its staff that lists the number of page views for each article on the paper’s Web site that day.


  1. If this article was intended to scare me, it definitely did its job.

  2. Part of the reason I switched to online journalism was the opportunity to write for myself and set my own quota and deadlines.

    But we all know how well that pays.

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  4. I too switched to online journalism for the continuous open ended opportunities that the sequence brings. But why the intense competition among online writers to be the first to publish "even the smallest nugget of news?" Shouldn't the story based on quality, truth and detail rather than timeliness?

  5. At Senior Saturday, recent grads talked about working conditions like this and bade us kiss our social lives goodbye. Once we broke into groups, older alumni on the news/editorial/online panel advised us against working so much overtime -- not only to avoid burnout, but also to not set managerial expectations so high that you're not able to consistently meet them. I left wondering what a real work-week looks like. I get the impression that it depends a lot on how ambitious you want to be and where you chose to work.

    As I'm looking for jobs in this, my second career, finding an environment where I can be busy but still maintain a healthy family and social life is very important to me. In web development, I watched my young colleagues work more than 60 hours a week, then bemoan all of the work they couldn't finish. I call that job security. But that's an easy attitude to adopt when your deadlines were weeks and months, not days or hours.

    I'm hoping that because online journalism is so new, eventually, the business will settle down a bit. The emphasis should be on building loyal readership, not online "scoops." Anyone can break the news -- the real value lies in making sense of the aftermath. (This is to say nothing of the inaccuracies inherent in whiplash reporting.) Absolutely agree with Courtney (above) re: quality over speed. It's a numbers game, which I understand, but news organizations are focusing on the wrong set of numbers.