Symbolia: Comic Journalism

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A lot of the new technologies we see now are ones that reduce the amount of reading one has to do for a story, like Circa, which can lose context for the story as a whole. But what about comic journalism?

Symbolia is a new bimonthly comic journalism magazine that is only on the iPad (and hopefully future tablets as well). It will never be in print. Why? well, according to Erin Polgreen, the founding editor and publisher of Symbolia, “comics look great on an iPad” and “the pieces are often accompanied by ambient sounds, spot animations, and other interactive elements.” So, for her vision to be properly fulfilled, the print media is useless, which can sound scary to those print lovers out there.

Polgreen also working on a business model, which, uh, is crucial for a publication like this. For starters, as mentioned before, this is a bimonthly magazine, which is $2.99 an issue and $11.99 for a yearly subscription. Starting out as a bimonthly, Polgreen says, “will give [them] time to respond to feedback.” They hope to be a monthly magazine in the future. Polgreen, in the meantime, is looking to appeal to advertisers and has started a campaign on Kickstarter. So, she has the roots to what can be a start to a trend. Not only the trend of starting publications on digital technology, but also the emergence of comic journalism.

“We’re trying to reach a younger demographic who might be intimidated by 5,000 words of text,” says Polgreen, “if you think about our ideal audience like a Venn diagram, I envision it as a mix of obsessive readers of comic books, technophiles, and journalists.” She says a lot of things in this short quote that point to the future. Capturing the younger readers is key in establishing and maintaining a magazine like Symbolia and the length of stories can be intimidating to younger readers and can also turn off older readers who don’t have the time. So, by presenting news in a format as familiar as a comic, more readers may be drawn into checking out Symbolia’s stories.

“There’s still a hurdle to get over with many editors in explaining that this work is true and accurate,” said Matt Bors, who is the comics journalism editor at Cartoon Movement, a website for both fiction and nonfiction cartoons, so, Polgreen understands that there is a belief that real journalism cannot be told through a comic strip, but she is all for proving them wrong. The comics are fact-checked and run through editors just like real news stories, so they should be given the credibility that a real news story is given.

Polgreen’s task does not seem easy, but it sure is innovative and in a world that rewards the innovators, Polgreen may be on to something.

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Popularity of NFL Hurting Legacy Media Outlets

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Thursday Night Football! It was a little thing the NFL did in its offseason. They signed a contract with the NFL Network to televise 13 regular season games on Thursday night. It is safe to say that the legacy networks did not take notice or care. Why should they? Thursday night is their night and a silly football game on a relatively unknown cable network wouldn’t change it, right? Well, wrong. “Thursday Night Football” may not sound like something special to many people, but it has dominated the ratings on Thursday night throughout this fall season.

Okay, so, your point is? Well, with the outrageous popularity that the NFL has right now, they are taking viewers away from the legacy media outlets, which means less money from advertisers, which means less profit for those legacy media outlets. Follow?

It’s really as simple as that. Those media outlets, which used to bank on big viewers on Thursday night, are no longer getting those audiences. This has to be troubling to those networks, as they most likely counted on that ad revenue for Thursday night.

A huge draw for these NFL games is the fact that they are live, like all sports are. You miss the game, you miss it for good. There are no replays, unless it found its way onto ESPN Classic. On the other hand, an airing of “The Office” can easily be recorded and watched at a later date at a more convenient time. So, these legacy networks are not just battling the NFL for ratings, they are battling new technologies. Both spell bad news for ad revenue.

However, as the football season winds down, there isn’t much more to worry about . . . until next season. This could really hurt the legacy networks as they may lose a decent amount of ad money for their Thursday night programming next fall season. It is definitely something that will be discussed between the networks and ad agencies in the future. It may even lead to these broadcast networks to contemplate changing their best programming to another night, if they feel as if they are going to lose to every NFL game on Thursday night. Something to keep an eye on in the future.

USA Today Not Ready For Paywall . . . Yet.

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The paywall has been an option that many newspapers have implemented for their website, but the USA Today does not have one. Why? They feel they aren’t “unique” enough to use a paywall. I find this stance very admirable by Larry Kramer, USA Today’s publisher. He was named new president and publisher in May of 2012, and turning around the paper’s profit margin is paramount in his plans, which makes this stance all the more respectable.

On Wednesday, at the Business Insider’s Ignition conference in New York City, he said, “I don’t want to charge for USA Today right now, I don’t think it’s the right thing today to do.” Wow, way to be honest Mr. Kramer. Like seriously, way to go. I am considering buying a few USA Today’s, because of these comments. He’s not trying to fool anyone into thinking that his paper is something it isn’t . . . yet, as he says, “There is so much national news out there, I think we would lose more than we would gain.”

Being honest with yourself is always key. He knows what the USA Today, what it is, and where he needs to improve. So, he chose the path of hard work and commitment to turn around the profits at the USA Today over taking an easy way out and implementing a paywall. In his eyes, the “easy way out” would do more harm than good at the moment. I’m not doubting that, but it takes real courage to admit it.

Mr. Kramer wants to make his paper more respectable and increase the level of journalism that makes a paper unique, one worthy of a paywall. It will not be a short fix, but it could be a very worthwhile fix. One that may not help in the short term, like a paywall would, but one that pays off in the end. I will be rooting for the USA Today to turn things around, because good things should come to people who aspire to be the best they can be.

News Corp. Acquires Stake In YES

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49%. That is the percentage that News Corp. owns of the YES Network and that number could be up to 80% in three years. This story struck me in an odd way. I am a huge Yankees fan and hearing this news kind of scared me. I know what News Corp. has done with Fox News, a cable news channel, so I hope they don’t have any ideas like that with YES, but I have my doubts.

If there is a way for them to get more money out of this channel, they will do it, even if it compromises it’s natural bias. Yes, it’s coverage leans pro-Yankees, the station’s main product is the New York Yankees, but there are certainly times when it criticizes them as well and there are no apologies afterwards. But, what if those criticisms went away? Or only came out on a rare occasion? That would not be good for the credibility of the network, but it could drive up ratings, which is all that counts right?

Also to note, News Corp. owns a few New York papers, like the New York Post and the Bronx Times-Reporter, a community newspaper. So, if News Corp. owns 80% of YES in a couple of years and drives this cable channel into the direction they drove Fox News, which leans heavily into a direction to drive ratings, then their newspaper products may be affected. They might not want to publish and bad or negative stories about the Yankees, as they now would have a lot invested in the Yankees’ tv network. Why run a negative story that could affect the bottom line, when there is also a positive story that could be run? Or what if they start telling only one side of the story? They would still sell papers and their tv product, the Yankees, would keep their clean image.

Perhaps I am over-thinking this and getting way ahead of myself and everything will be just fine, but only time will tell. In the meantime, go Yankees!

My Take On NPR

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So, I listened to an hour’s worth of NPR today. It was thirty minutes of Morning Edition and thirty minutes of All Things Considered. To start off, I don’t really listen to the radio. If I do, I just listen to music. However, I do listen to podcasts, so that’s almost like the radio, right? Anyway, listening to NPR was totally new to me and, quite frankly, very interesting.

First, I listened to some of Morning Edition and was surprised at the array of stories they talked about. There were topics ranging from the Petraeus scandal to the Tea Party to Halo 4. Yes, Halo 4. The video game. So, no matter what topic someone was interested in, they probably covered it. There were also stories on sports, books, and Charlie Watts (drummer of The Rolling Stones) that were in the queue. A very diverse and interesting bunch of stories.

Also, the segments of the stories were a manageable length, at least from what I listened to. They were all under five minutes, which allowed NPR to touch on the various types of stories that they did. So, what this does is allow for people who aren’t interested in a topic to listen to the segment. How hard is it to listen to something you are unfamiliar with for three minutes? Not hard. So, that aspect I find appealing.

Later, I listened to All Things Considered. This was more about the hard news, as there were no stories on Halo 4 or things of that nature, but they were all on the short side as well, which, as I said before, is a plus. It keeps things fresh and keeps viewers attentive.

Having these short segments online is such a convenience. It allows for listeners to simply click on the stories that they are most interested in and, as I mentioned before, it also allows listeners to listen to unfamiliar stories. Someone can become fairly informed by listening to three or four minutes of one of their stories. That, to me, was the biggest thing I took away. One could learn a lot by listening to NPR every once and a while.

Obama Uses Reddit As Last Push To Get Voters

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The internet. I have written about how it has changed society in some of my previous posts and I even talked about the impact Twitter had on the Presidential campaign. However, this story, in my opinion, takes social media to the next level.

It’s Election Day and both candidates are pushing hard to get every last voter to the polls and giving their best possible stump speeches. These speeches, which are being heard in person by a large crowd of people, are also being televised by news outlets across the country. However, speaking to public crowds and having that speech broadcasted across the country is not the whole equation anymore. Not in 2012. The internet is equally important and President Obama showed its importance on Election Day when he headed over to Reddit and posted about getting out and voting. I am sure he had similar posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. You name it. If it was a social media site, these candidates made sure they got their message across.

Here is part Obama’s message to the people of Reddit:

“I’m checking in because polls will start closing in this election in just a few hours, and I need you to vote. Millions of Americans have stepped up in support of this campaign over the last 19 months, and today we decide what the next four years look like — but only if we show up. If you’ve voted already, don’t stop there — spread the word to your friends, roommates, and neighbors. Think of it as upvoting.”

This is incredible. Even on Election Day, hours before the polls close across the country to determine who the next President will be, the incumbent President of the United States is aware of social media and not only is he aware of it, he uses it to his best advantage. This post is smart, savvy and even relatable. His analogy of upvoting is brilliant and really displays Obama’s and/or his political team’s ability to capitalize with social media.

And what social media does that is extremely helpful to politicians is that is connects with them directly. It cuts out the middle man. There is not filter between Obama or Romney and the people on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, like there is on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC. There is no worry about how their message is interpreted as they connect with their followers just hours before a winner is decided in the election. That is the beauty of social media, and how it may be scary to some news outlets as these candidates do not need the news platform as much when these social media sites are easily accessible.

There was a time when a Presidential candidate could only get his message out by visiting the people. Then the radio came along and shortly after that the television, which changed everything. It allowed for these candidates to express their views to the public through television and news outlet. However, with TV and radio, there are journalists and analysts waiting to comment on what was just said. On social media sites, it is simply direct connection with the voter. Obama and Romney could not ask for a better platform than that.

Election Day speeches to get out and vote are not new, but Election Day posts on the internet are. One day, though, there will be a new “thing” and we will all look back at these social media sites and say, “I remember when . . . “

Instagram For Journalists

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There has always been a debate for photojournalists surrounding Instagram. Well, Time magazine used it and had great success. This success might open the door for other serious news organizations to use it. Time acquired 12,000 new followers and was responsible for 13% of all Time’s traffic for the week. Those are some pretty impressive numbers and we all know it does not take long for others to copy success. Love it or hate it, Instagram enhanced the view-ability of Time’s site by making it seem trendy and cool. It attracted a younger audience, the kind of audience than any news platform wants to attract, as they are the audience of the future.

Time made this decision consciously, which is important to note. It was not as if some people who worked at Time decided it would be fun to do. As the storm approached, Time’s director of photography, Kira Pollack, appointed five photographers from the region to use Instagram and gave them access to Time’s Instagram feed. This shows me that established news sources are aware of Instagram’s impact, as this was spearheaded as the storm approached. She was already aware of what Instagram could do and knew that a storm was a perfect time to try it. She hit a home-run, for lack of a better term, with that decision.

As far as how I feel, I am always for moving with the times and trying new ideas. If it works, then that’s progress, if it does not, well, move on. Twitter has become seemingly intwined with journalists, so why not Instagram with photojournalists? I believe there will be a day where it is more accepted and not as taboo or groundbreaking as it is now. Instagram is a way into a younger generation’s appeal, and that is a goal amongst all news outlets, so the appeal will most likely only grow.

Digital Circulation Saving The Day?

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Print circulation is struggling, but digital circulation is steadily increasing, which, according to The New York Times, “has helped newspapers combat the pressures on their print issues.” This has to be a good sign for newspapers, as they are gaining readers. Now, they have to find a way to capitalize financially with this steady increase in digital circulation, which remains to be the great mystery in the newspaper industry.

It astounds me that “digital circulation account[s] for 15.3 percent of the total average circulation for newspapers in that period.” “That period” being April 1, 2012 to September 30, 2012. Maybe it should not have shocked me, maybe it did because I never saw digital circulations put into numbers, but still, that seems to be a fairly large percent of circulation and I only see that number growing in the future. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, who came up with the numbers, “those figures include readers using smartphones, tablets, e-readers or metered Web sites.” As the digital revolution continues to rise, more and more people are going to purchase and use those accessories for reading the news. It is just the direction we are heading towards. Again, the question remains, how profitable can this be for newspapers, as they have been declining in profits for a while.

In my novice opinion, I feel like it is only a matter of time before something clicks and fixes a lot of what is going on. Smart people are working at this and they have to be close, right? Maybe I am giving these people too much credit, but I hope not . . .

Youtube’s Live Streaming Power

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I know, I know, I am a little late with this story, but with Sandy and all, this is the best I could do and I wanted to write about this story. In the age of the internet, dying newspapers, and lowered tv ratings, the live-stream has risen. The debates have been a hit on Youtube, drawing large views and it has to worry news organizations a little, right?

Youtube allows for a very accessible site that is convenient for young people who love to use the internet. Yes, Youtube does not have the coverage or analysis that CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News provides, but that doesn’t mean Youtube should be ignored entirely. It still has appeal to an audience that, quite frankly, tv stations have a tough time getting. And imagine if Youtube began providing a little more coverage and devoting some time for analysis of news events in the future? That could be a huge game-changer in the news industry, but I am only speculating there.

In my opinion, I feel like breaking news and news events are only news when I am watching it unfold on the television. That is probably not what most 22 year olds think, but that’s how I feel. It just feels right, but what feels right to some, is alien to others and that is what is happening with the internet. More and more people prefer the internet over television, so it comes as no surprise that live-streaming events on Youtube are so popular.

However, it’s not like news organizations are not thinking about the future. They have started implementing live-streams on their websites, but they are not getting the views that Youtube is getting. If this trend keeps up, it could be something to keep an eye on in this ever-changing landscape of news coverage.

Richard Gingras Pushes For The Personal Brand

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Gingras opens up the lecture quite ominously as he says journalism is in a “period of disruption.” He then clarifies that “period” may not be the right word choice, because “it’s not clear to [him] when, and if, it’ll end.” This is a scary thing to hear right off the bat. He’s speaking to a group of journalism students who are well aware of the problems in the newspaper industry and this is how this speaker decides to open the lecture. I’m sure it grabbed their attention, because it certainly grabbed mine. However, he then said how he is optimistic about the future of journalism. But still, the thought of how long this “disruption” could last is an uncertainty that no one can seem to answer.

Although journalism is struggling, Gingras believes that entrepreneurship is vital to today’s journalist’s and he believes people should use entrepreneurship to help increase your personal brand. Understanding how to do that was something he was very adamant about. Also, I have never heard a guy be this enthusiastic about making mistakes. “Take risks,” he says, “learn new skills,” he adds, and “don’t be afraid from being wrong.” It is this frame of mind that I enjoyed hearing, because I am a firm believer in making mistakes. The best way to learn something is to fail and to build off of those experiences. So, it was nice to hear someone who also felt that way and he said it in a way that reassured his audience that making mistakes was okay.

A point that Gingras made a few times throughout the lecture was “rethink the form.” There is a reason he mentioned this point on numerous occasions; it’s very important, obviously. He brings up talk of the old regime of newspaper men who are hellbent on creating print and indifferent about everything else. This is wrong in today’s media industry, as there has to be a balance between everything that makes up a journalist’s job, which is considerably more complex than it was a few short years ago. In the same vain, Gingras mentions how social media has influenced the news product and in an age of Twitter and powerpoint, “I will get up and cheer the first time I see bullet points in an article.” This is fascinating to his larger point, as he really wants journalists to rethink the form, in any fashion, and, even though bullet points may not be the answer in the end, the worst thing this idea could be is wrong, which would only benefit the big picture, as it is an experience to learn from and build of off.

As Gingras’ lecture was drawing to a close, he talked about how news organizations need to build trust with the public again. Gingras talks about the trust between the public and the news media, which is at an all-time low, and plays into the decline of the newspaper model. It is apparent that some people do not trust the news organizations that deliver the news anymore, which, in my point of view, is unfortunate, but that is simply the way people are nowadays, skeptical of nearly everything. Times have changed and the news organizations that thrived off of being the prestigious source for news are no longer benefitting from that prestige, as other sources for news have come about and have become easier and more convenient for some people to use.

One way Gingras feels this trust can be restored is by not hiding who you are to the reader. He brought up how a journalist does not want to reveal his personal views on something, because it is a poor journalistic approach and is fundamentally wrong. However, in Gingras’ eyes, this is being disingenuous to the reader, since they do not know something about the author. He also believes there should be a link to the personal background of a journalist. This is in order for the reader gets the whole scope of a journalist’s view so the reader knows what he or she is getting when they read a story. I have mixed feelings about this view, as journalists are painted as being objective and if people know that they have some sort of bias and which bias it is, that trust that is looking to be gained back may become lost for good, as news consumers will not be able to take some journalists serious after that.

This view by Gingras of establishing trust by revealing personal information also correlates with the personal brand and how the news industry is becoming more focused on the individual. This is a great observation by Gingras, as he has realized how the media has shifted to a form that is more focused on individuals with the emergence of social media sites. A journalist can get information across without having to write it in a paper anymore. They can simply tweet it and thousands of people will read it instantly. It is this instantaneous news that will drive the new form of news in the future. I will be interested as to what exactly that new form will be though, as nothing is set in stone at the moment.