Blog Innovates a Form of Journalism — Review on We the Media

It is time that Big Media’s monopoly is dismantled;
It is time that grassroots journalists are joining in the conversation;
Various innovative online technologies can make this conversation happen.

For grassroots journalists, what will be the most powerful gadget in the toolkit?

In his book We the Media: Grassroots, Journalism by the People, For the People, Dan Gillmor discusses about journalism’s transformation from a 20th century mass media structure to something profoundly more grassroots and democratic. Gillmor asserts that “Tomorrow’s news reporting and production will be more of a conversation, or a seminar.” People who lead this infinite conversation, as he predicts, will be “grassroots journalists”, those who turned from readers to reporters publishing in real time to audience via the Internet.

Gillmor lays out a list of new technology tools that grassroots journalists love to use, including email, forum, weblog, WIKI, SMS, P2P, RSS and other innovations allowing them to search for, organize and showcase information they’ve discovered. While as a pioneer and popular weblog writer himself, Gillmor lays greater stress on how weblog creates an online ecosystem where anyone can publish and read, get feedback comments and audience discussions. The bloggers can either offer punditry in specialized areas or touch on gamut of topics and styles. To Gillmor, the best individual blogs are written by human beings with genuine human passion. He also quotes from Jay Rosen to position the role of blog in journalism:” Blogs are an extremely democratic form of journalism.”

Gillmor expatiates on how blog can influence business entities and celebrities in the book. However, being a previous professional reporter and an enthusiastic blogger myself, I’m more interested in the following issues: will blog become a key constituent that redefines who journalists are? Will blog take place of Big Media and reshape our news reporting? Luckily, Gillmor elaborates some directions for us with a bunch of case studies.

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Who will be the First to Catch the Wave?

It is never wrong for the companies to prioritize their customers’ need in different levels. That’s the point I was trying to make in my last reading reflection by endorsing Christensen’s segmentation of three customer groups. However, disruptive innovations don’t always serve the needs of customers, or rather, they barely do. So what if there are no customers in any level need the product? Is the company supposed to give it up? According to my last post, the companies might not blindly take the risk. But the article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave fosters a new perspective for me to look at this.

 “Managers must beware of ignoring new technologies that don’t initially meet the need of their mainstream customers.” Christensen encourages a consciousness of advance among companies. Many successful companies fail to make disruptive technology investment that customers of the future will demand, Christensen points out the reason of this phenomenon “lies at the heart of the paradox: leading companies succumb to one of the most popular, and valuable, management dogmas. They stay close to their customers”. So “when the customers reject a new technology, companies will listen to them but in the end will also be hurt by the technology their customers let them ignore.” he writes.

 The example of Seagate and 3.5-inch drive is a very persuasive one. Small start-up catches the wave while big company loses the game because they underestimate the potential of a disruptive innovation. Comparatively speaking, big companies are more likely to face the paradox since they have more restrictions and concerns when deciding to access a new technology. Customers’ needs and whether it’s profitable in the market seem to be the prerequisites.

 So I wonder, is there a method to help big companies work out the paradox? How can they not miss the wave but be less risky to launch the innovations despite customer’s attitudes? Christensen provides answers in this article. He teaches the companies to spot and cultivate disruptive technologies by executing five steps: determine whether the technology is disruptive or sustaining; define the strategic significance of it; locate the initial market for it; place responsibility for building a disruptive technology business in an independent organization; keep the organization independent.

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How Media Evolution Affects News Reporting: Term Project

Thesis statement

From print, broadcast to digital, technology transforms the media of news reporting, now the general public have faster and easier accesses to almost any content displayed by word, image, sound and video. In addition to display methods, the evolution of news media also affects a great deal on news reporting particularly with the rise of Internet. The old pattern of agenda setting, content preference, and audience engagement has been substantially reshaped in this evolution.

Statement of intent

This paper will document the evolution of news media, including histories of newspapers, magazines , radio, TV and more recently the Internet and mobile.

Along with the technology development, the philosophy of news reporting is also undergoing a series of challenges, especially when digital media boom at mid-1990s. Why is print media encountering a subsequent decline? Is it necessarily the case that news would be more attractive when put online no matter of the style they are presented? How to adopt the right content display style on the right news media? How to switch from a media-oriented mode to an audience-oriented mode? How to make full use of digital media in terms of engaging the audience? The paper will focus a little bit on addressing the impact of digital technology on journalism and all the questions will be elaborated by sufficient cases.

I would intentionally use examples from China, where the change of news reporting is more revolutionary because of its long dominating “government propaganda” style.

I set my “past” from early 1900s to late 1990s: transformation from print to broadcast based media;

the “present” from 1990s to 2009: Internet, mobile forms take over the roles and user-generated content becomes part of the journalistic content;

the “future” since 2010: rich media, which is a comprehensive integration of print, audio, video, and IM interaction with receivers.

References:

Ben, Scott. (2005). A Contemporary History of Digital Journalism. Television & New Media, 6(1), 89-126. Retrieved from Ebscohost.com.

Annotation:

This article documents the history of online journalism, charting its rise with the internet boom of the mid-1990s and its subsequent decline and stabilization within the present newsmedia market. This history is situated within the larger trajectories of contemporary journalism,paying particular attention to changes in the existing political economic structure of theindustry as it assumes digital form, the resultant variations in content and presentation, andthe implications for the health of the free press. In the final analysis, this article argues that themove to an online format has exacerbated negative trends that have dogged print journalismfor decades. It also extends an existing critique of hyper-commercial journalism bydeveloping the arguments to treat the new institutions and conventions of the digitalmarketplace.

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Give Right Customer the Right Product

Companies in either sunrise or sunset industries are clearly aware that they need to approach innovation, but their question is: “When? What are the signals for a change?” Start-ups and small-sized companies with limited resource and outreach are calling: “Are there opportunities for us to adopt innovation and share some market?”

By reading the first part of Christensen’s Seeing What’s Next, what I relate most to real business practices like the above are his theories of evaluating three customer groups and how disruptive innovation develops chances for start-ups.

Christensen defines three customer groups as nonconsumers, undershot customers, and overshot customers. Evaluating these groups, as he states, is the core of the signals of change analysis.

This is a very brilliant classification, which I believe is currently blurred by lots of companies that should have been more successful with their products if they are capable of suiting the right decision for right customers.

As I see it, the first two categories are easier to be identified and targeted by companies because these groups are potentially “asking for more” which caters the company’s responsibility to serve the expanding demand of their customers. But for “overshot customers”, their needs are probably ignored by companies  eager to innovate to take the lead in the industry. So it happens as Christensen writes: “Companies innovate faster than customers’ lives change…thus, products eventually become too good.” And this often results in barely satisfactory market share as anticipated, which in economic parlance as Christensen explains: “they derive diminishing marginal benefits from product enhancements.”

Two examples occur to me are Windows Vista and Word 2010. Vista was created to improve the security of PC operating system and it was quite innovative with its fancy interface. But let alone the fact that Vista was not compatible with a number of older PCs, most of the users’ computers are so technically and habitually entrenched by earlier version of Windows like XP, they are not likely to pay more for further improvements. According to a rating from Time Magazine, Vista was one of ten biggest tech failures of the last decade. The same is true with Word 2010. It is proved by many surveys that most users opt to stick to Word 2003-2007 since they can get almost most of the things done conveniently. I once heard that a friend uninstalled Word 2010 and installed her 2003 back because she thought “Word 2010 windows occupied half of her screen and she could not all the buttons she needed in this new version. So for those customers, Word 2010 is not necessarily better than its predecessors, both practically and psychologically.

At this point, I am not saying that companies should not launch innovations for overshot customers. Christenson tells us that each customer group creates unique opportunities, and companies can launch low-end disruptive innovations or modular displacement to reach overshot customers. How? The answer is simply put by Christensen: convenience, customization, and price.

His theory can be strongly backed up by the growing up of China’s “Shanzhai” mobile phone industry. The word “Shanzhai” refers to Chinese imitation products of big brands, almost with the same appearance and functionality, but completely user-friendly and much lower in price. Some of the products even improve all the shortcomings in the original brand. According to data provided by the Chinese government, 150 million “Shanzhai” mobile phones were sold in the 2007 and this number is increasing dramatically every year. Set aside the legality of “Shanzhai” products, they are definitely disruptive innovation and meet every single criterion (convenience, customization, price) set by Christensen. Since “Shanzhai” products have grabbed so many overshot customers, a large number of start-ups have seized the opportunity and dug their first gold. Meanwhile, they’ve given the big companies a heavy strike.

Shanzhai mobile phone, mix of Sony Ericsson and iphone

But as we all admit, for some of the big brands, especially digital product companies, even they have the resource and technology, it is not as flexible as start-ups to adopt large amount customized features, which they consider could degrade the originality of their product. And they might also be restrained to do that by hierarchical corporative structure and government interference.

How to find the balance of efficiency and innovation always gives rise to fierce discussion both in industry and academy. And I believe Windows 7 delivered a best example. All the customers are well taken care of by seven product models (starter, home basic, home premium, professional, enterprise, ultimate, and thin PC). All seven models are well organized under lean method to share most of the technique and minimize the processing time. All in all, give the right customer the right product. Sometimes the perfect may not be the best.

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A Glimpse of Pioneer Square

This is my first time visiting Pioneer Square. Surprisingly I found, the drizzle today by no means ruins the trip as it always does, but turns out to be perfect for a place so full of history.

The square is literally a triangle neighborhood roughly bordered by 1st Ave and Yesler Way in downtown Seattle, much smaller than I ever assumed. Although surrounded by transportation, the plaza stands aloof from the buzz, quietly telling people the origin of the city.


Panorama of Pioneer Square (photo by Ting Kang)

Nothing sophisticated in decoration, the square only has three eye catchers in the heart, the iron pergola, the Totem Pole, and the statue of Chief Seattle. My favorite is the iron pergola.

Born in Suzhou China, a city well known for its classical gardens, pergola’s never been a novelty for me. But this one in Pioneer Square is different in flavor, very occident-style. Its structure is simple but with ornamental engraving all over the coping and columns. After years of exposure, traces of rust on the pergola are still visible while the original color is hard to identify. It looks like celadon, but much darker. As the sign introduces, the pergola was erected in 1909 as a waiting shelter. But I think the style is more recreational, which now makes it quite a good public rest place for visitors and passers-by. Sitting inside and looking up, I notice the fade leaves flying down on the glass vaulting roof, accompanied by the raindrops tapping. This is a little desolate, but the elegance of aging is not discounted.

The Iron Pergola (photo by Ting Kang)

Right beside the pergola stands the copper statue of Chief Seattle. I can still sense the authority on his weathered face. He is the pioneer, who explored the city and made it home for us. It’s meaningful to place him in this spot where Seattle was established, so this man can witness the growth of the city and his descendent. Someone puts a yellow flower on his chest, the bright color of which gives a lovely shine to this cool statue. Yes, the flowers are things that stand out in the gray environment. Several parterres are put in the center, easing the heaviness brought by history.

Statue of Chief Seattle (photo by Ting Kang)

Flowers in the Square (photo by Ting Kang)

Comparing to the iron pergola, the Totem Pole acts more like a landmark in the square. The pole is estimated over 10 meters. The height makes it overwhelm other sceneries in the square. Like most of the totems that I’ve seen in the Seattle Art Museum, there are faces of eagle, wolf, and dog carved on it. The paint of green, red and black on the pole are fading, some even with lichen adhered. Though I know Totem Pole was rebuilt in 1930s, it still creates an indelible aura of mystery from remote antiquity.

Totem Pole (photo by Ting Kang)

Not only the pergola and totem, there are other elements that add history to this area, like the buildings around. I am not sure about the style of the architecture, but they look old and arty. Most of them have their first floor renovated as art galleries or stores selling exquisite gifts.

Pioneer Building (photo by Ting Kang)

Art Gallery (photo by Ting Kang)

There are not so many visitors in the square today. Ravens and pigeons fly past and stop on the ground sometimes. A group of downtown ambassadors in yellow coat go on an inspection tour here between times to see whether people need direction guide. One man named Mark from the group tells me that Pioneer Square was once a street, but people living in this neighborhood prefer it to be a square.

Why not? This unique place filled with the smell from Seattle’s past transports people who have been living amidst the bustle and hustle of the modern big city to a world full of antiquity, leisure and tranquility.


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COM 546 Preliminary Term Project Ideas

From print media to the Internet, the way people consume information has been reconstructed by the transformation of end platforms. It poses a series of reforms to journalism, the industry that provides information.

As a former online news reporter, I’ve witnessed how our journalistic styles, practices and ethics have been challenged and updated based on the digital technology. So for the class term project, my interest would lie in the evolution of digital journalism, as well as the large impact it has made to news reporting, audience behavior and various social issues.

My anticipated research would cover the following areas:

1) Overview on evolution of digital journalism.                                                                             2) How the way of audience interaction is reshaped by digital platforms.                                   3) Controversies on journalistic ethics, such as news freedom and credibility.                           4) Social impact brought up by digital journalism, such as transparency in government             affairs.                                                                                                                                           5) The future of digital journalism.

Additionally, a comparison of China and U.S media could run through the research.

I realize that this topic may be a little too broad to work on, so I would love to hear feedbacks from Kathy and the class to narrow it down and input more insight.

(All the photos used in the post are either taken by the author or authorized.)

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Goals for COM546 Evolution and Trends in Digital Media

In 2005, I was doing my first internship at TV station, learning as a novice;

In 2006, I graduated and became a reporter at newspaper press, getting comfortable with conveying messages by pure writings and photos;

In 2008, with a weak awareness of “digital era is coming”, I sort of upgraded myself to a web reporter.

Ever since then, I’ve been so surprised yet excited to see how digital media is changing the mass media industry and how traditional news reporting is overwhelmed by multimedia storytelling.

Having worked in both old and new media domains, I might venture to say I am far more than a witness in this big transition in mass media industry, which is also a reflection of how digital media changes our communication theory.

I’m glad to be part of this transition, but now I would like to take a step back and observe it with deep insight. So when one day I go back to my role as a content creator, I will be more confident in engaging my audience with the best channel and best effect. So my goals for this class are:

1. By studying the history and trend of digital media, I want to have a deep understanding of how it has evolved and will continue to change the way we communicate;

2. Specifically to cater my interest in journalistic storytelling, I want to learn how digital journalism will go in the future and what techniques and ideas we shall adopt to go with the trend through case studies, if possible.

3. Very interested in the presentation part, would like to learn more about presentation skills via lectures and class practices.

4. Improve my in academic cultivation in project construction, “term project” sounds to be a very powerful hammer, I hope to be really proficient all along with the process after this class.

(Photos used in this post are authorized.)

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