The Project for Excellence in Journalism has just released its massive annual report, State of the News Media 2007: An Annual Report on American Journalism. If you are interested in the future of journalism anywhere, this report is a must-read. I'm going to write something longer in the coming days - both on this blog and elsewhere - with my take-aways from that report and some other recent reports that help us get a grips on what journalists and news organizations are and aren't doing to reinvent themselves in the digital age.
But first things first.
As a result of their creativity, energy, and hard work GV was praised by this year's report one of the most "interesting experiments in new journalism" and scored as one of four "High Achievers" in an analysis of a broad range of news sites (broadly defined) including the NYT, Washingtonpost, CNN, Daily Kos, Digg, and many others.
The narrative overview of the entire report begins by stating that "The pace of change has accelerated" in the news business. It goes on to describe this rapid change, the sense of uncertainty at many news organizations. It also affirms that "traditional journalism is not, as some suggest, becoming irrelevant." A statement with which I fully agree. But it points out that professional journalists have been slow to adapt:
...But practicing journalism has become far more difficult and demands new vision. Journalism is becoming a smaller part of people’s information mix. The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows.
Journalists have reacted relatively slowly. They are only now beginning to re-imagine their role. Their companies failed to see “search” as a kind of journalism. Their industry has spent comparatively little on R&D. They have been tentative about pressing for new economic models, and that has left them fearful and defensive. Some of the most interesting experiments in new journalism continue to come from outside the profession — sites such as Global Voices, which mixes approved volunteer “reporters” from around the world with professional editors.
The report's Digital Journalism section evaluates 38 websites according to the following five criteria: user customization, user participation, use of multimedia, site depth, editorial branding, and revenue streams. Global Voices came out as one of only four "High Achievers." The report says:
Only a few of the sites studied excelled across more than two of the content areas we studied. They might be called High Achievers, sites that scored in the highest possible tier for at least three of the five content areas.
Only four of the sites qualified, and they had little in common beyond the breadth of what they offered. They were a network TV site (CBS), a newspaper (Washington Post), a British television and radio operation (BBC) and an international citizen media site (Global Voices).
And what did these sites emphasize? All of them scored highly for the originality of their content. All of them also scored highly for the extent to which they allowed users to customize the content, to make the sites their own or make the content mobile. None of them, interestingly, scored particularly well at allowing users to participate. Only two, CBS News and the Washington Post, involved a lot of multimedia components.
I must point out that the main reason why GV shines, in my view, is that there are so many thousands of bloggers out there around the world with things to say and much to teach us - but who have no other way of being found easily by a broader audience. Global Voices is in many ways a no-brainer, just putting a bit of organized energy and some Web2.0 talent towards amplifying the amazing work that is already being done out there.
Here is the report's full analysis of GV (alphabetically, in between Foxnews.com and Google News):
Global Voices (www.globalvoicesonline.org )
Of all the Web sites we examined, Global Voices was in many ways the least conventional. The end result was that it scored high in several of the areas we measured. It was the only citizen media site that would fit our definition of a high achiever, a site that earned top marks in three of five content areas.
The site is non-profit, with an emphasis on relating information that the staff editors find interesting, not on providing the top news of the hour (or minute or day).
But Global Voices takes a unique four-step approach to identifying what is interesting. First, rather than searching stories from mainstream news outlets, editors cull through a vast number of blogs from around the world. The editors, who themselves are located across the globe, then decide which postings are worth passing on. Next, they add their own comments or background information to put the blog entries in context. Finally, when necessary, entries are translated into English, often by a different “language” editor.
Take, for example, January 10. In the afternoon the lead was “Philippine free press under attack.” The entry featured a lead-in by an editor noting that the Philippine press has been “one of the freest in the world” since Ferdinand Marcos was deposed, but reporting that the current first family “is harassing journalists by filing libel cases” against them. The post then ran blurbs from the Pinoy Press and the site Freedom Watch. The next post used the same approach to look at the Iraqi government’s efforts to register bloggers.
In our inventory, the site scored well, in the top tier, on customization. While its home page could not be modified by users, there were many RSS and podcast options available to users.
Global Voices was also one of only three sites studied to score in the top tier for depth. It did well because of the large number of stories it grouped together in packages and the archive it included.
The site also earned top marks for the degree to which it was offering a unique brand in which its own editorial process and judgment was emphasized. With thestories chosen by paid editors and with content that came from wholly staff, even when citing other sources, it exercised significant editorial quality control. The banner across the top of the page pays tribute to its many authors. The page’s logo and name sit next to the headshots of four bloggers, each one linking a short bio and a compilation of that blogger’s work. Each post then has the link to the original blog as well as a tag-line of the Global Voices editor. And running down a side column is the list of blog authors and the number of posts each has contributed to date.
The site also scored well, in the second tier, for user participation. It did not offer live discussion and interactive polls, two of the more controversial elements of web participation. But it contained a good deal of opportunity for users interact. In addition to the editorial choices, user content — through a user-based blog — is a big part of this site. At the end of each piece users are invited to “Start the conversation” by posting comments, which are moderated by site editors.
The one content area where this remarkably well rounded site did not stand out is for multimedia. This site is about words, 95% of the content available from the home page was narrative.
The site’s score for revenue streams placed it in the bottom tier as well – perhaps not surprising since it is a non-profit.
The strongest impression one has when visiting this site, however, is its international feel. The largest box of text is a list of countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Next to that is a thinner blue box with a list of topics ranging from Arts & Culture to Governance to History to Youth. Under that is a slim one-line search box that runs the width of the page.
Global Voices is not a site to visit to get the latest headlines or find out what the media are talking about. But it shines a bright light on issues the big media often pass by.
User participation and multimedia are two things the GV team is working to improve. We are putting the finishing touches on a major site redesign which we hope will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Finally, I cannot end this post without a hats off to Boris Anthony, GV's information architect, whose genius with RSS feeds, blogging software, and Web2.0 in general is the reason we got such high marks for customization and depth. He is assisted by the young and sharp Jeremy Clarke and several others who help them from time to time. All of them could be making a lot more money working on for-profit ventures. But fortunately for everybody, they place high value on the opportunity to innovate and to be part of media history.