Wednesday, October 28, 2009

J Skills in the Media Convergence Era

Thanks, WoodysWorldTV, for tweeting this video, in which Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal discusses finding and building an audience and marketing your work.

These are the same points that many of the panelists made at the Oregon Society of Professional Journalists' Building a Better Journalist conference at U of O last weekend. Many professional journalists today are struggling to make digital media work for them. While tools such as blogs and social media sites can be hugely beneficial to journalists, and are becoming increasingly necessary, they present a substantial challenge.

I feel very fortunate to be starting to get a handle on digital media while I'm in school, rather than trying to learn it all on the job. As an Electronic Media major, I'm learning a lot about broadcast in my classes, but so far, discussion of how to produce media for the web has been peripheral. I spend many hours a week exploring these tools on my own, and while I use many of them regularly, I'm still learning how to use them effectively. It's sometimes difficult to determine what's worth spending time on and what's just a fad or only of real use for socializing with friends.

I first heard about Twitter about a year ago when I attended the OSPJ's 2008 conference here in Eugene. I joined immediately, mostly out of curiosity. It wasn't until recently that I began to use it regularly. When Twitter comes up in conversation, people often scoff, but I'm really impressed with how useful it's becoming for me. In addition to getting news updates from the New York Times, NPR, and various other major outlets, I get a lot of useful information from individuals working in media, which I can't imagine having found elsewhere. It's incredible the breadth of information I can get in a few minutes just by scrolling through recent tweets:links to videos, articles, and blogs; event listings; professional advice; etc.

The downside is that it has taken quite a lot of time for me to get to the point where sites like this are really becoming useful to me, and I still have a lot to learn. Learning to use something like Twitter effectively is akin to learning a new language. In addition to becoming able to communicate very concisely (tweets are limited to 140 characters) there are conventions and tags one must learn to use in order to communicate effectively. For example using "RT" to denote that something is a "retweet" and using "#" to create a "hashtag."

New social media sites crop up all the time, and it can be overwhelming trying to determine in which ones it's worth becoming literate. The newest one I've joined is Cinchcast, which is a lot like Twitter, but allows users to post photos and to record audio directly via their phones. So far users can only post mobile photos using an iPhone application, so people like myself, who don't have iPhones can only upload photos from their computers, but the site's developers are extremely responsive to user feedback, and are working on improving it so that it's more useful. There aren't many people using it yet, and a huge portion of the posts at the moment are "test" posts form new users trying to figure out how the site works. I'm excited about the site's potential, but only time will tell whether it will become as popular and useful as Twitter.

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