I may not be able to travel to Austin this year to attend international conferences about online journalism, but I can always track down the tweets of people who are there blogging. The Nieman Center produced an in-depth online story composed of tweets from the International Symposium on Online Journalism in April.

What’s so fascinating about an online journalism conference? The talks allow visitors to peek into the future of web-based media and see new developments that may be on the horizon. Reading the notes is like watching a TED talk – it’s a way to discover new ideas.

If you’re curious about this topic, I encourage you to read the full story. But here are some highlights which attracted my interest:

  1. Online, finding one’s niche is crucial because people subdivide based on their interests, values and views. (I’ve been working on rebranding this blog partly for that reason.)
  2. Marshall McLuhan said, “Every medium begins as a container for the old.” We can see this in the evolution of newspaper websites as they transition toward a digital model.
  3. It would be useful to create new models for in-depth journalism that are oriented toward online audiences.
  4. In Africa, mobile phone use and community media are catching on, especially with younger audiences.
  5. Newspapers are struggling to develop new business models and cross-pollinate their skills with technology expertise to increase their innovation.
  6. Data journalism is changing how people define journalism as a profession. Some people are moving from computer science into journalism.
  7. The LA Times is automating the production of some simple news stories.
  8. Students in one research study were blocking out environmental news from their lives because they felt powerless to change the situations.

These are just a few ideas which caught my attention. If you want more information, here’s the live video of the event.

In journalism, there’s a relatively new movement called Hacks/Hackers. I call it a movement because it appears to be more than a trend or isolated group. Journalists who are part of Hacks/Hackers seek to mix tech smarts with journalism savvy.

Is Journalism Marrying Technology?

Because I got an engineering degree before studying mass communication, it’s fascinating for me to watch this movement expand. Infographics, multimedia, Web 2.0 and other techniques of the information revolution combine with journalism’s traditional tools of the trade to create hybrid communication styles. For storytellers with graphic design and video experience, the possibilities are endless.

My first encounter with the idea of technologically advanced storytelling came via mashups. Since then, I’ve seen alternatives proliferate online. For example, Beth Kanter’s blog uses infographics and video on nonprofit communication to amplify her message. I am interested in moving this blog in that direction by adding more multimedia content.

Does Social Media Use Move Writers Closer to Gonzo Journalism?

A recent blog post reflecting on a Hacks/Hackers meetup in Boston brings up the question of how personal storytelling affects objectivity in new media journalism. Telling personal stories is a standby for me on this blog; in the world of Web 2.0, having a personality is an advantage. But this makes it difficult for writers to maintain the professional distance from their stories that many journalism organizations have expected.

While I follow rules about balance – which depend on the project I’m doing and its audience – my blog does have a personality. This doesn’t mean every aspect of my life belongs in my Twitter feed. But it does mean that social media has changed the way I write and has moved my blogging style away from traditional newswriting toward a fusion of the personal and the professional.

As a graduate student, I drew on my personal experience of living in urban communities to develop my research and thesis. That certainly colors my perspective on writing about environmental justice. In the interest of balance, I should say I’ve also worked in electronics factories and research labs which contributed to chemical pollution. I became interested in life cycle analysis while I was working in one of these factories.

There is a tradition called gonzo journalism in which writers go out and state their experiences without claiming objectivity. To the extent that social media makes journalists show their personal experiences, blogging may be bringing us closer to that style of writing. The popularity of reality TV shows that being oneself can appeal to audiences. I’m not suggesting that journalists’ lives should be open books, or that social media should make us all write like Hunter S. Thompson, but it’s interesting to watch how writers merge the personal and professional in their social media work.


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A Harvard researcher’s blog says he’s seeing a curious change among Web-savvy college students in his classes. Instead of delving into the Internet for its own sake, these students use the Web to further their offline adventures. They make chapbooks (and probably zines), engage in knitting and other crafts, and use the Web as a route to offline activities.

In 2008, I made a conscious decision to use the Web strategically. As I spent more time on social media, I found I was losing the sense of creativity that physical activity brings me.

Before 2004, I had physically active jobs. Now, my main commitment after work is to a full schedule of dance classes. I believe active jobs and classes can keep one’s ability to innovate alive.

Intriguing studies hint at the positive value of doodling, which implies that writing by hand may activate different parts of the brain than typing does. The written word doesn’t equal the typed word.

When we spend too much time behind a flat screen, we may lose the ability to solve some kinds of problems. A study of three-dimensional problem solving showed that computer-aided drafting classes didn’t improve community college students’ ability to visualize solutions. The authors recommended bringing three-dimensional demonstrations into the classroom.

Environmentally speaking, time online removes us from the ecosystems that surround us; cell phone apps that simulate global warming don’t solve that problem. It also cuts down our time spent learning basic skills like gardening and cooking.

Internet use also affects our communication and may make it easy to avoid – or categorize and dismiss – unwelcome perspectives. It can create an atmosphere where each of our artistic products are automatically in public space. This may inhibit creativity.

On the other hand, browsing on Stumbleupon helps me synthesize ideas for blog posts like this one. Internet use may make it harder for us to focus and tap into our creative sides, but it also makes it easier for us to create mental categories and mashups in which we file others’ ideas.

Ideally, I’d like to see more people understand that life doesn’t have to revolve around the Web. The online world is an adjunct to the offline one. Active learning, conversation, creativity, problem solving and conflict resolution often live offline. To reduce socially polarized conversations, access innovation, and learn and maintain survival and problem solving skills, sometimes it’s best to unplug ourselves from the digital world for a while.