The Fifteen Rules Of A Digital Journalist’s Life

How to use all the technical advantages of the XXI century and remain the first and the best? This and many other questions were answered by communication specialists from Google, The Economist, CNN International, BBC News, Wochit, Czech radio, Radio Liberty, and many others during the News Impact Summit, which was held in Prague in mid-October.

Time constraints did not prevent the organizers from preparing a richly informative event. Discussions went far beyond the half-hour presentations of speakers and continued during lunch, and during coffee breaks. Of course, it would be impossible to convey everything that was said in one article. However, in some areas, particularly respecting the basics of journalism – and not only digital and modern – most experts in their presentations appeared to agree. In other words, if you are not familiar with these principles, you will sooner or later find yourself on the sidelines in the information field.

Be mobile

«A newspage that isn’t loaded fast enough is like a newspaper that wasn’t delivered» – Kritsanarat Khunkham, Managing Editor, Die Welt

The century of mobile gadgets dictates its own conditions. Just a few years ago, viewing news on a desktop computer was considered to be the ultimate technological achievement. Now most of us scroll news feeds on our smartphones on our way to work. Accordingly, if an application does not work in a mobile format, its creator remains on the sidelines. But even if everything fits the format, you need to take care of interface issues and make sure that all the relevant information can be viewed on a single mobile screen – the studies confirm that after the second or third screen scrolling, user interest drops significantly.

Identify the target audience

Apart from the fact that it will help not to waste time and effort and «hit the target» square on, understanding your audience will allow you to plan in which way you can expand your «ownership». All the materials that you place in the network must have the function of Share – so you just have to hold onto a reputation for quality content, and audience numbers will increase automatically.

Сhoose your Story

«There are OK stories and there are Great Stories» – Amanda Farnsworth, Head of Visual Journalism, BBC News.

In this regard, the principle of «less, but better» works. In order to distinguish a good topic from a great one, you need to be familiar with what is happening in the region, about which or for which you are creating the material. You will probably agree, it is pointless to paint the advantages of a new shopping center or luxury residential complex if 80% of the inhabitants in the region are unemployed. Conversely, the substantive brass tacks of social programs to support the poor can become the theme of the month. In addition, it is useful to keep in mind the differences between journalism that is intended to throw a bone to the masses (yellow journalism) from journalism which is intended to solve problems (journalism that matters).

Check sources for trustworthiness

«Maintaining trust is everything we do» – Amanda Farnsworth, Head of Visual Journalism, BBC News.

Trustworthiness is one of the golden precepts of any journalist who rises to a new level of importance in connection with the active use of social networks to become a source of information. Verification should cover three aspects: reliability of source; date and time of incident; and location. To do this, there is now a variety of useful resources, such as Google Earth Tools, Wikimapia, Street View, Snapbird, Wolfram Alpha,, and others.

Get permission to use the content

Getting permission to use information is the next step after verification. It shouldn’t be skipped, if you want to keep a good reputation. The permission may be prepared not only in the form of an agreement or contract, but also in a verbal format, and be made in the form of comments on the social network. However, you should remember that you must be able to prove the fact that permission was actually received, whether by paper, screenshot of the web page, or a record of the conversation.

Protect your source or «I‘m not interested»

In pursuit of «the story of the Year» journalists often forget that the participants in this Big Story are just living people who may not be experiencing the best time of their lives at the moment. Therefore, first, it is not necessary to bother a person with requests for information once you have received a clear rejection. Second, it is important to remember that you do not have any right to expose a person to danger, no matter how much you would like to get the desired data. In other words, do not keep calling the “source” on the mobile if you are not sure that at this very moment he is not hiding from criminals under the bed. Finally, do not discuss sensitive issues on Twitter or Facebook – you can make a phone call, write a mail or message, send a letter by regular mail, in the end. Regarding some media «professionals» requests such as «hey, can you send us pictures of the hurricane passing right over your head», no comments there are needed at all.

Make a Video – it will be worth it

«You have to grab people in a highly visual way» – Amanda Farnsworth, Head of Visual Journalism, BBC News

One high-impact video can have a greater effect than a more conventional post to Facebook or an article on the front page of the daily newspaper. However, every tiny detail will play a role in this case: the narration, the sound, the characters in the frame, the appearance and behavior of the reporter if he is in the frame, and so on.

Present Real Life experience or be as courageous as you can

The incredible popularity of shows like «Big Brother» or different survival games can be primarily explained by the fact that the audience is attracted by the opportunity to become, albeit virtually, a party to exciting events, whether it’s someone else’s family conflict or river rafting with crocodiles. The same principle works for users who love Instagram Stories, Snapchat, Live Stream – in general, anything that allows you to be elsewhere in real time. Therefore, if during the preparation of the material it is possible not to use someone else’s video of surfing competitions, but attach the camera to the board of one of the participants (or your own board), the selection should be done only in favor of the second option.

Don’t let people be alone

«At the beginning of Facebook we just let people talk, and that was a big mistake. We collected all the trolls there. Now our team usually speaks with the audience and reads every (!) single comment. We receive around 15 000 comments every day, and all of them are productive. The number of trolls decreased significantly». – Kritsanarat Khunkham, Managing Editor, Die Welt

Man cannot be left alone with his thoughts on the Internet – as experience has shown, nothing good comes out of it. Conversely, if you maintain an active dialogue with your readers, you are honest and open, take into account the constructive criticisms and at the same time are able to put “troublemakers” in their place, the reputation of the publication will always improve.

Make it different

The fact that the article was a success in the print edition does not mean that it will have the same success if you put the same 10 thousand characters on your Facebook page. A
video from Instagram should have a different premise from a video in Snapchat. In short, do not be lazy and form as many teams of experts for as many digital platforms as you are planning to conquer. The result will reward the cost and the effort.



Do ask yourself questions

«There are no bad ideas. There are only good ideas that went horribly wrong» – Denise Law, Community Editor, The Economist.

Why are we doing this?

What problem are we trying to solve?

Why are people interested? Are they really inspired by our content or do they just like to carry on discussions around this particular depressing topic?

What facts should we disseminate in our news-room?

What is IN? What is trendy?

What do I know?

What can I reasonably think?

What kind of information do I have?

What kind of information do I need to make the story complete?

When working with live sources:

Can they make informed choices about their actions?

Are they aware of the danger of the situation?

Can they make a safe choice?

Do I know for certain they are out of danger?

What can I realistically expect in such a situation? At what cost?

Am I acting responsibly enough?

Can it be more effective and ethical?        

Be the best in your field, but…

«Do not try to be the first everywhere» – Denise Law, Community Editor, The Economist

This strategy will only lead to the fact that you’ll be mediocre everywhere.

Before you go and start somewhere, find out what people do there and try to analyze if you fit there or not. Be ready for change and do not be afraid to make mistakes, it is absolutely normal. Pick one project, try it for the platform. If you have no luck with it, you can always just stop it.

Learn how to coordinate

«Find the right topic and the right way to interact with people. It‘s not magic! You just have to talk to your analytics team regularly» – Kritsanarat Khunkham, Managing Editor, Die Welt

It is not enough to have an interesting topic – you still need to be able to present it to your audience. Miscarriages in delivering the material to the public and other errors are often the result of internal communication failures in the organization.

In order for a media company to work smoothly, its members must be able to communicate with each other. So, despite the differences in the perception of reality, the creative department should certainly be able to speak with the technical one, the editor – to accept the ideas of journalists, analysts – and to describe the results of their research to practitioners”. The more often feedback happens, the better will be the results achieved, experts say. For media organizations it is also very important to divide roles and topics, to ensure 24-hour shifts, etc.

Make money by doing your best

«Just put your best stuff out there. And people will say: Oh, that’s a really cool package of content, I’ll subcribe to it!»– from the Summit discussions.

In order to make good money in journalism, you should try to be the best. The audience will be ready to give money to subscribe to the publication only if it is confident in the quality of information received. Conclusion: the more interesting you are, the higher is your market price.

Do not afraid to start with a small amount of money

«Data jourmalism is a tool to try to keep politicians honest, but nobody cares about that»Stephen K. Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Mr. Doig is sure: to become a good journalist, it is enough to be competent in math, to be able to compare and draw conclusions, distinguishing the best from the worst, and the right from the absolutely wrong, using not only your mind but also free technologies that allow it to do as well (Google Trends, Google Tools, for example). In addition, you must be able to work with databases, constantly in search of ideas, inspiration, and you must support like-minded people outside the usual environment. Finally, do not be afraid to start small. «Begin, let’s say, with a project named ‘What was crime this year in my city?’ It will grow into something you will be surprised you are able to do» – says Stephen K. Doig

Let professionals help you

«You can make incredible things without having a TV station» – Dan Williamson, Business Strategist, Wochit

For example, Wochit is the company that has been creating high-quality video content, such as so-called social media-friendly video, combining an attractive image for the user with important information content. Statistics show that these short videos can outdo even the most popular videos that are shown on television. So why waste your own time and effort, if funds allow you to pass off some of the responsibility to other professionals?

The result of keeping all these rules is clear – you will move ever closer to the goal – you will «do journalism that cannot be printed», and, accordingly, become more and more competitive.

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