When Chris Forsberg awakes nervously in the middle of the night, it isn’t because of a nightmare, or because his baby is crying, or because of a strange noise.

It’s because he’s gone more than an a few hours without a blog post.

“I wake up and I kind of have the shakes,” he jokes, “I haven’t blogged in an hour, I haven’t blogged in two hours.”

The ESPNBoston.com Celtics reporter’s half-anxiety is the kind of badge of honor commonly found adorning young journalists these days. Reporters like Forsberg, out there in the brave new media world, shaping the much-ballyhooed future of journalism, are expected to be in more places and produce more content than their traditional journalistic forefathers.

And he’s plenty comfortable with that. Whether it’s Twitter, or live chats, or even just good old fashioned blogging, Forsberg knows the only way to succeed in today’s media environment is to become immersed in any of the different platforms an audience may gather around.

“I don’t envision a scenario where you don’t wear multiple hats nowadays,” he says. “We’re all just doing everything. I guess the key is to embrace it all. You may not know what’s next but when it does come, be ready to adapt and use it.”

It’s the only way to stay competitive. For ESPN Boston, Forsberg tweets constantly, conducts live Celtics chats, blogs regularly, and, when the job finally gives him a moment to pause and take a breath, take an amateur photo or two to bolster his Twitter feed with 1,771 followers.

forsberg

Chris Forsberg's Twitter account

Especially in a sports-crazed market like Boston, it’s the kind of lengths any reporter has to go to in order to stay relevant. Between the old guards like the Boston Herald and Forsberg’s former employer the Boston Globe, television stations like NESN, radio stations like WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub, and websites like ESPN Boston and Barstool Sports, there is perhaps no more media-saturated market in the country.

Forsberg came to ESPN Boston from the Globe about a year ago, where he had been serving as an online high school sports editor of sorts after moving up the ranks from when he held a part-time position while studying at Northeastern, posting video, managing blogs, and generally just acting as an internet jack-of-all-trades.

It was something that came to him from the start, said his former boss, Globe high school sports editor Bob Holmes.

“He was very good at utilizing all the tools that existed at the time,” he says. “I always said I loved having him cover things because even if he was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean he would find a way to send his stories in. I think he was the first of the college kids that had the simple attachment of the cell phone connection to the laptop when most of us didn’t know what wireless was.”

Forsberg embodies the modern journalist, plugged in and attuned to whatever new technological advancement will garner an audience next.

He represents where journalism is headed, utilizing social media, like Twitter, and the available technology to become more deeply involved with readers, and viewers, than the media has ever been able to in the past.

“It goes back to having an audience and being able to connect with people in a way that’s more than just writing a story,” he says. “You write a story, you put it out there, and you never really know if people are reading it or not. But with chat and blogging and social media you really get the feel. You see the same names coming back at you, you start seeing the same people in the chat rooms, hitting you up on Twitter, so you know there’s an audience there. I think that’s the biggest thing, having a connection with your reader that you might not have had before.”

The challenges for the old guard of journalism are the same as ever – attracting an audience. It’s just that now, journalists have to master many different forms of communication beyond writing to do that.

Thanks to the internet, the audiences are larger than ever, and the old media types like Holmes realize that to tap into it, they have to roll with the punches of change.

“They’re fond of saying now that more people are reading the Boston Globe now than at any time in the history of the place,” he says. “What they mean is, even though circulation is going down, the blogging, the boston.com, people are reading us there, it’s just in a different format. I think one of the ways you [adapt] is to surround yourself with smart people, usually younger people, who are used to technology and comfortable using it.”

In a way, it’s not journalism that’s changing any, it’s merely the way people find and respond to journalism. People like Forsberg, and his replacement at boston.com, Zuri Berry, will be the ones that politely nudge old journalism toward the new, the bold, the different.

And, in the opinions of young guys like Forsberg and Berry, the old guard isn’t doing all that bad a job of moving forward.

“I think we’re really fortunate at the Globe because I think a lot of guys do get it, and they get the message and they want to help and they want to do what’s necessary in order for us to do well,” says Berry. “That means they’ll get in front of the camera, they’ll blog, they’ll tweet. All these things that were foreign to them one, two years ago. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

For Forsberg, continuing in that direction is the only option possible in order to stay in this business, and he welcomes the challenge. He knows that the industry is through the looking glass, and he likes the idea of being on the cutting edge of what journalism is now, and what it’s becoming.

“Being a reporter 20 years ago was probably a little bit easier than being a reporter now. From a sports aspect we joke al lthe time that before you rode on the team plane, you were kind of buddy buddy with the team and you had to write your story by the end of the day and make sure it was in by 1 o’clock, but that was really about it,” he said. “There are reporters out there that don’t want to do the social media thing and I think they’re almost silly. It just can’t be ignored anymore.”

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Dan Gregory

April 14, 2010

Dan Gregory from our own Northeastern School of Technological Entrepreneurship stopped by to talk with us a little bit and share some ideas with us on how journalism can, and is, being integrated into the world of technological entrepreneurship.

This is an idea that has interested me a little bit, though admittedly only a little bit, because it strikes me as something that I could potentially see myself trying if a more conventional route doesn’t work out right away. The idea of starting your own news website, or blog, and expanding it and running with it.

There’s even a website I’ve taken note of recently that I think does a good job of what an aspiring sports journalist could go out and do on his own – San Fran Preps.

It’s a nice little website, with pretty solid coverage, and if you know how tight-knit the community of native San Franciscans (among which I do not count, boring suburban me) is and how school pride relates to their sense of identity, you know there’s definitely a market for this sort of stuff out there.

I’ve often considered the idea of starting something of my own along those lines in my home community – Solano County – because I think there could be a market for it in the small towns that make up Solano, which extends closer to Sacramento, and has more of those small-towny types of places, than, say, Alameda County (Oakland) or Santa Clara County (San Jose) which tend to be dominated by a real major city. If covering high school sports in Massachusetts has taught me anything, it’s that small-towny type places care way, way more about high school sports than other kinds of communities (there are no shortage of tiny towns around Boston, I assure you).

So yeah, it was interesting to see Gregory promote the idea of entrepreneurial journalism, which really only exists online, because it’s something I’ve given thought to before and it’s something I could see myself maybe giving a go at if I find myself sitting around, jobless, with nothing else to do. And people have done it before, all across the country. Especially with high school sports, where access is generally not difficult to obtain (and usually welcomed, even), and where competition for coverage, especially in suburban areas, is not great.

On the other hand, I could see myself totally screwing up my own enterprise, so I’ll stick to leaving it as an idea of last resort for now.

Comments

April 12, 2010

Today we’re in class discussing the appropriateness – or lack thereof – of comment boards on major news sites. Most news sites allow anonymous commenting, and if anyone has ever looked at an anonymous comment board, they have more or less found themselves looking right into the depths of hell. Hence, the dilemma.

This post by Howard Owens, on the appropriately named howardowens.com, outlines his argument for the real-names-commenting-system he employs on his own site. He argues that since journalism has always prided itself on transparency (which you may or may not credit it with actually espousing in practice – beside the point, we’re in the lovely land of theory here), what with the aversion to anonymous sources, the disallowing of anonymous letters-to-the-editor, the very nature of a byline itself, journalism should have no place enabling anonymous vitriol and bile to flood its hard-bought bandwidth.

And I think he’s absolutely correct. Regardless of what anonymous commenting might in theory encourage, we have seen it produce only its worst in practice. Consistently. Everywhere. And so Owens adopts a real-name policy, whereby he gives it his best effort to ensure that all commenters are doing so under what is, in fact, their real names. As he basically puts it, it is a basic journalistic tenet that “readers have a right to know who is saying what.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean it can be enforced 100%. Maybe someday, but right now a best-effort is about as good as we’re going to get. And I think that’s good enough for now. Per Howard:

I make no promise that every person who comments on The Batavian is using a real name, but I do promise a best effort to enforce that policy and that people who violate the policy will be banned. That’s the best I can do and for the most part, and our users seemed satisfied with this “best effort” approach.

Can major news organizations, already under the duress of tight budgets and disappearing profits, afford to devote resources to putting in this kind of effort? I don’t know for sure. My gut says it’s impractical to think so. I wish they could, however. Or get rid of comments entirely.

I think someday we’ll see a system where everyone is expected to put their real name out there on the internet, and we’ll have the software to enforce it, and I think that will be a glorious day. We’ll get to look back on the early days of the internet and the wild-wild-west nature of commenting and laugh a little, at all those petulant minds out there that once could hind behind a keyboard, a name like “RealAmerican1776,” and spout off whatever hateful opinion they had brewing amidst their blissfully ignorant existence.

NewsTrust

April 12, 2010

Last week we were paid a visit by Mike LaBonte from the website NewsTrust. The site functions as a gathering place for reviewers of journalism to, in theory, weed out the good journalism from the bad, a “wisdom of the masses” kind of rating system. I reviewed three stories concerning Mitt Romney’s stance on health care reform, weather the economy is turning around, and the scandal concerning Father Marcial Maciel with the Catholic Church.

I’ve had a hard time deciding whether I really like the feel of the website or not. On one hand, I quite like the idea behind the website, and I think it provides a pretty thorough way to review a piece of journalism.

On the other hand,one of the problems I come upon with NewsTrust is that I don’t know how it guards against the confirmation-bias you get with people looking to news sources that will simply confirm what they believe for them. If a left-leaning person comes upon a left-leaning story, I don’t see why they aren’t likely to give it a higher rating, and vice-versa with right-leaning people.

Another problem I feel with the site is that, in a way, it feels wonky. Geared to news junkies and people in the business. There’s a gatekeeper mentality to NewsTrust, and if there’s one thing the exodus of news consumers to the web and television has taught us it’s that people do not want a gatekeeper anymore. With NewsTrust, I don’t feel like I’m getting a true collection of opinion from the masses, I feel more like I’m getting the opinion of a collection of concerned individuals who have taken 10-20 minutes of their time to read a story and really consider things like its fairness and quality. In one sense, that’s a positive. In another, it feels a lot like the old way of doing things. In that sense, it’s almost too involved.

I guess it leads me to wonder what NewsTrust wants to be. A true collection of a mass of opinions on a given piece of journalism, or a gathering of what essentially amounts to secondary editors. I don’t think as  currently constructed it appeals to the common folks. I think if it were to do that it’d need to be pared down. But I also understand that keeping it the way it is now will, in all likelihood, deliver much higher quality reviews and much more thoughtful opinions. Because, let’s be honest, as comment boards have shown us, the general masses can be a bit rough around the edges at times.

I think it’s a worthy endeavor. I’m just not sure I can pinpoint where I think it’s headed, or to what purpose it is truly serving.

Steve Garfield

February 10, 2010

We were paid a visit by nationally (perhaps I should say world)-renowned video-news-gatherer Steve Garfield on Monday. Steve’s had his videos posted everywhere, from the BBC to CNN. He’s also a reporter for rocketboom.com.

I thought what he had to say was pretty interesting, and what he had to show us pretty useful overall. What I gathered most from it is how engaging video can be as a news medium, and how in this day and age it can be ridiculously interconnected and widely broadcast to anyone, anywhere.

He took streaming video of our classroom that he was able to post live, at that moment, on the internet, that was able to be followed by any of his twitter followers, which I thought was a pretty nifty little thing to be able to do.

Imagine the possibilities, of, say, an Anderson Cooper broadcasting his live movements out in the field to the thousands upon thousands of people that turn to him for news? I think that’s a pretty wild concept.

He also made us think about the ethics involved with live video, giving an example of a video he made where a woman named Nancy Hogan interrupted an interview he was doing. She was probably not all right in the head, but her questions were surprisingly pointed and I think his overlying philosophy on the situation was spot on:

What I’m doing is I’m just capturing, just sitting back and capturing, letting the camera roll. She had come over the rope and interrupted, so you might turn off your camera. What I think is leave the camera going and capture it all. Some reporters are like ‘whoa that’s not right.’  In a public place like that there’s no expectation of privacy, and beyond that she came across the rope, she saw the cameras, she wanted to participate in the recording. I think it’s fine.

I think one of the best examples of first-person video reporting he gave us was his walkthrough at his Jamaica Plain voting center from election day 2008. He was told he couldn’t videotape anything, but he knew the law and tried to explain to the people there he could, in fact, videotape the surroundings. Ultimately he left, but getting the entire process on video like that provides insight that you can’t really express with words.

Through his dedication and love of the craft, he was also able to spin his work into various paying gigs, which is something most aspiring journalists should look into figuring out, or copying.

I wouldn’t discount doing stuff because it’s free because you have to have experience and do things right now.

Good advice, I’d say. Want to do something? Do it, do it well, and chances are if it’s really worthwhile somebody will be willing to pay for it.

Belated as this may be, we were lucky enough to have Jennifer Lord Paluzzi ofCentralMassNews.com stop by last Wednesday and give a presentation on the burgeoning network of community-based news websites she’s been working on for us.

After getting laid off in October of 2008 from the MetroWest Daily News, Paluzzi started up thedailygrafton.com, which was itself an expansion of her earlier greater Grafton blog.

One of the inspirations for starting it up, she said, was because Grafton’s official town paper was one of those “funny newspapers from the town I went on vacation to,” and she thought the people of Grafton deserved better.

She got together with Jack Schoefield and turned her blog into the internet equivalent of a real, functional, daily newspaper.

Their venture soon expanded to other towns, like Millbury and Northbridge, and now they’ve got nine total, providing some of the most comprehensive local news in Central Massachusetts, if not the most comprehensive.

They’ve got videos, and photos, and real-time news that people who care about the goings-on of these towns can find instantly. It’s a pretty remarkable network for community-based journalism, really, and it’s the kind of network that I think will serve a lot of local communities on the internet in the future.

Said Paluzzi:

When I look at it I say ‘it’s just a small town why is it a big deal?’ But people in a small town want to know just as much about what goes on in their town as they do about Congress. This is what really affects people.

And she’s right, it really is what affects people. It’s what they care about on the most direct basis. She pointed out the difficulties in getting someone to understand what it means to be a journalist from a site like CentralMassNews.com, how they don’t really get the idea of a website with newspaper-like credibility.

But I think down the road, you’ll find that won’t be the case. And I think you’ll find a network like CentralMassNews.com will be more trusted than dinky hometown newspapers ever were.