New digital media column coming soon, courtesy of yours truly

New digital media column comingFrom typewriters to Twitter, technology has shaped and reshaped journalism. Only now, the technology is coming faster than we can master it.

In the span of a lifetime, hot type gave way to cold type, which in turn sank beneath a wave of websites and blogs and social media apps. Today, we have come to think that two-year-old tech is obsolete, and that new news can become old news before readers reach the last sentence.

Moreover, we’ve entered an age when, thanks to rapidly evolving technology, the practice of journalism is no longer restricted to journalists.

All of this is why the Society of Professional Journalists has tried to evolve as well — it’s casting a wider net for freelance news gatherers and non-affiliated journalists, and revising its Code of Ethics to meet the needs of the new age.

And it’s expanding the Digital Journalism committee into a digital journalism community.

The new community, SPJ Digital, began unofficially last week but already has a Twitter account (@SPJDigital) and a presence on Google+. It debuts officially in September at EIJ in Nashville under the shrewd guidance of student journalist and editor Alex Veeneman.

I have been invited to join the group and provide a weekly column highlighting the interests and issues that factor prominently in all our digital lives.

Incoming SPJ president Dana Neuts says SPJ Digital’s mission is to “examine and raise awareness of current trends in social media, as well as digital innovations and the digital culture and their affect on the culture, craft and practice of journalism.”

In committee form, Digital Journalism has been chiefly a conduit for information on digital culture. Members met at SPJ’s annual convocation to discuss potential topics for Net Worked, as well as the Digital Media Toolbox and occasional features in Quill, and report on hot tech and trends worthy of special consideration by SPJ leadership.

As a community, SPJ Digital will keep the discussion going year round, encourage input and participation from digitally savvy citizens both inside and outside journalism, and help everyone see the blur of onrushing technology a little more clearly.

The mission is to “serve all members interested in the digital future of the industry as well as the profession,” Neuts said.

A new landing site for SPJ Digital on SPJ.org is in the works. Neuts and Veeneman invite those who are interested in joining the community to stay tuned for updates and registration information at @SPJDigitalGoogle+.

And keep an eye open here as well. Once my weekly column launches, I expect some of the discussion to dribble onto these pages.

(A version of this post appears on Net Worked, the digital media blog of the Society of Professional Journalists.)

You won’t believe what this journalist did using clickbait

Clickbait IconSee? I knew you’d click on the headline. Clickbait heads are useful that way.

Sure, clickbait promises more than it delivers. But in an age when mouse clicks can bring profit, clickbait heads are effective hooks for websites to attract business.

Clickbait is deceptive, misleading, and irresistible. That’s why headlines such as “Tricks Car Insurance Agents Don’t Want You to Know,” and “How iPads Are Selling for Under $40,” attract readers who should know better. These headlines promise content that reveals secrets, validates rumors, solves mysteries — and who doesn’t love that?

Well, journalists, for one. They insist clickbait content devalues news sites and demeans the journalism profession. A Google search with just “clickbait” and “journalism” in the search field turns up pages and pages of claims that the former is ruining the latter.

To some degree, this is true. Mislead any audience and you risk losing it.

What many journalists fail to remember however is that clickbait has been around much longer than the Internet — and they were the ones writing it.

Visit any library or newspaper database and scan the print headlines from 10, 20, 30 years ago. Headline writing was an art, a craft. News editors had limited space and time to explain a story no matter how complex, and it was a struggle almost every time. (Go ahead: Try explaining tax increment financing in six words or fewer, without using “tax,” or “increment,” or “financing.)

The goal was to make a big impression with small words.

That goal remains much the same online, but the audience is larger and there are many more news providers fighting for attention and survival. That’s why such sites as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and my former employer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — which is where I found the car insurance and iPad headlines mentioned above — resort to clickbait despite the criticism it brings.

Yes, clickbait is a necessary evil of doing business online. But if journalists believe clickbait is ruining their reputations, then journalists must take greater responsibility for solving a problem they helped create.

(A version of this post appears at KolbeCo.net.)