Trends in digital journalism for 2012

Crédit: Flickr/CC/Nathan Wells

Digital journalism is expected to undergo major changes in the coming year.

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  • “There will be blood” on the Net

In France, the number of pure players (i.e. websites with no print counterparts) per person is higher than anywhere else – kind of a “French exception” in the European media landscape. Atlantico, Le Plus, Newsring, were all launched in 2011 and the French version of the Huffington Post is due in the coming weeks. The trend is gaining momentum with the presidential election drawing near (when better to launch a news website than in such an exciting period newswise?).

According to Nicola Bruno, a journalist currently co-writing a research on pure players in France, Germany and Italy to be published next year by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, this French dynamism is visible on three levels: “1. the number of pure players in France (I counted 12 of them, all resulting from independent initiatives), 2. their maturity (France saw the first pure players in Europe, such as Agoravox in 2005, followed by Rue89, Médiapart and 3. their diversity in terms of both editorial orientation (focus on data, investigation, niche markets, community sites) and economic models (subscription-based, free…)”.

So, are there too many actors on too small a market? For Julien Jacob, head of Newsring, “there will be blood”. Nicola Bruno says that “there is no definite answer to that question. At the moment, no European pure player seems able to achieve high profits, as it is happening in the US  with Huffington Post and Politico. The reason is simple: audiences in France and the rest of Europe are much smaller than in the US, and advertising markets are not mature enough to sustain purely web-based projects”.

Is it a lost cause then? “Not quite, Nicola Bruno says. History showed that profitability is not always the main goal of these journalistic projects”. History also showed that small entities are sometimes absorbed by much bigger ones, as were the Huffington Post by AOL, the Daily Beast by Newsweek, and… Rue 89 by Le Nouvel Observateur.

  • Later reading

Which contents do you read at once? Which ones do you post on Twitter? Which ones do you share on Facebook? Which ones do you save for later reading using tools such as Instapaper or Read It Later? Users now act like human algorithms and keep sorting and classifying contents. However, the criteria they use to do so are not clear.

Do we read “later” long contents, as this presentation would suggest? Not necessarily. According to a ranking by Read It Later, which was quoted in Frédéric Filloux’s Monday Note, most saved contents (mainly editorials and new technologies-related contents) are less that 500-word long (about 2,700 signs). “No doubt that people find these tools useful, whatever the length of the article”, the Nieman Lab adds. This approach to news could change the way journalists produce information, because each article can now have two “lives”. It can be all consumed right away – in real time, but also later on when the reader has more time to enjoy it without hurrying.

  • Voice-controlled navigation

“You can now talk TO your phone rather than INTO your phone”, said Nikesh Arora, from Google, at the Monaco Media Forum. And for Pete Cashmore, from Mashable, the use of voice for controlling contents will be a must in 2012.

That is already the case with the Dragon Dictation application, which allows to dictate SMS to your cell-phone or to pronounce a key word for your phone to automatically run a Google search. Siri, on the iPhone 4S, is also a kind of assistant obeying your oral commands. What next? Human voice should soon be used as a remote control, for example with Apple’s television.

  • Texting

In its blog about new technologies, the New York Times posted a story titled Cellphones Are the New Junk Food. In the US, teenagers spend less and less time talking on the phone (685 minutes per month on average last year as opposed to 572 minutes in 2011), but they send more and more text messages (SMS and MMS): 13-to-17-year-old Americans send and receive 3,417 messages a month and around 7 messages an hour in daytime.

Source: Nielsen

The same trend is observed in France, according to a study by Pew Research focused on the behavior of phone users in various countries. With the Internet being extensively used and phones appearing as very promising, news publishers tend to create contents readily usable on mobile phones.

  • Data visualization

The amount of digital data in the world is expected to reach 2.7 zettabits in 2012. For those who feel a bit lost between bits, terabits and zettabits, that is a lot of data (find more about these units here).

France is at the forefront of this massive data production. In early December 2011, the public data website was launched: an incredible amount of numerical data, very difficult to understand (if you can understand them at all) for most people. It is precisely the job of a data journalist to free these figure from their Excel spreadsheets and to make “information immediately understandable”, as stated in a former WIP. Not all journalistic topics are based on figures but that’s an effective approach when dealing with the State’s budget for 2012 or the sharing out of resources according to budget items. Just to give you an idea, the file downloaded from looks like this:


And this is the visualization of this budget created by Elsa Fayner on her blog «Et voilà le travail»:

Crédit: Elsa Fayner

  • Live-addiction

The death of Muammar Gaddhafi, the G-20 meeting in Cannes, soccer games, political debates… Live blogging the news, allowing to report on a event in real time using texts, pictures, videos, contents from social networks and interaction with the public, are irresistibly appealing to readers. Just two facts to prove that point: 1. Live news attract an estimated 30% of the whole traffic on a generalist news website. 2. Live news are an important engagement factor as people spend much more time on this type of contents.

>> Read this WIP about live news (again)>>

  • Real-time fact checking

With the presidential election drawing closer, most French editorial offices are getting ready to fact check in (quasi) real time (a journalistic technique widely used in the Anglo-Saxon media to assess politicians’ credibility). One of the best examples is the American website, which launched a tool called “truth-o-meter” and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the holy grail of the journalistic world.

>> Read this WIP about fact checking (again)>>

  • Journalistic honesty?

In its list of 10 things every journalist should know in 2012, the website predicts that, after the closure of News of the World and the phone-hacking scandal in England, intellectual honesty will prevail. “Journalists need to be sure that the means really do justify the ends for a story and must be crystal clear about the legalities of their actions. And they need to be more transparent about the sources of stories, where the source will not be compromised. If a story originates from a press release, acknowledge it.”

>> Read the WIP about the use of anonymous sources again>>

Other important trends:

  • The use of 2 screens, which Mike Proulx referred to as “social television” in his speech at the conférence sur les nouvelles pratiques du journalisme (conference about new practices in journalism): People now watch the same program both on their TV and their computer, laptop or cell phone so that they can comment and react via Twitter and Facebook.
  • People spend increasingly more time on social networks, especially Facebook (800 million members worldwide and 23 million in France), which accounts for 95% of the time spent on community sites, according to the Comscore institute. Editors now absolutely must know what a “facebookable” content is because, as Vadim Lavrusik, of Facebook, puts it “if content is king, distribution is queen” in 2012.

What trend do you expect to prevail in 2012? Merry Christmas and best wishes to all of you for 2012.

Alice Antheaume

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Il était une fois les journalistes sur Twitter…

W.I.P. demande à des invités de donner leur point de vue. Ici, Aurélien Viers, rédacteur en chef au, explique pourquoi il a envoyé, à ses équipes, un email sur l’utilisation journalistique de Twitter.

Twitter et les journalistes? Une belle histoire. A croire que les fondateurs ont forgé un service de micro-blogging sur mesure pour la profession.

En mode passif, le réseau social sert d’outil de veille, d’alertes, et comme agrégateur de flux d’informations. On suit en temps réel des médias, des hommes politiques, des sites d’infos, des blogs, etc.

En mode actif, ce couteau suisse peut aussi être utilisé comme moyen de diffusion par le reporter, qui délivre des infos, souvent depuis son smartphone, par tranche de 140 caractères.

Enfin, le réseau permet de rechercher des contacts (interlocuteurs, spécialistes, etc.), d’entrer en relation avec eux – comme avec le reste du monde – et d’établir un dialogue en direct entre le journaliste et le public.

En bref, Twitter = veille + information + communication + discussion.

Là où les rédactions permettaient aux journalistes de s’exprimer dans un format défini et limité (une page dans le journal, un reportage dans une émission de radio), Twitter permet aux journalistes de s’exprimer avant, pendant, après le bouclage. Jour et nuit.

Comme ils le veulent? Oui. Les journalistes se sont appropriés le réseau. Chacun à leur manière. Certains ne diffusent que des infos sur leur secteur d’’activité, par exemple, et partagent leur veille. D’autres recherchent des témoins. D’autres encore débattent sans fin de l’actu. Beaucoup en rigolent. Et puis, certains font tout cela à la fois: veille, information, discussion, débat, humour.

Tout dépend de la couleur que vous annoncez dans votre biographie, ces quelques lignes que l’on écrit à côté de la photo de son profil. Et si c’était le contrat de lecture que vous passez avec ceux qui vous suivent – vos followers?

On peut être journaliste Web et ne pas s’empêcher de plaisanter de temps en temps. Ce que fait très bien Alexandre Hervaud, qui se présente sur son profil comme “journaliste en quasi-vacances. CECI N’EST PAS UN COMPTE (trop) SERIEUX”.

Moins abruptement, certains glissent aussi à leur audience qu’ils manient le second degré. Nicolas Filio, par exemple, rédacteur en chef adjoint de Citizenside, affiche son “amour pour la langue française” quand la moitié de ses messages sont écrits en anglais.

L’ironie, le second degré, l’humour transpirent dans les articles à la française. Alors, les bâillonner sur Twitter?

Un journaliste ne peut oublier qu’un tweet, même écrit en une seconde, ne peut colporter des éléments non vérifiés. D’autant que, hormis ceux qui perdent toute retenue, le journaliste sait que cet espace, Twitter, est public, voire grand public, avec plus de 3 millions d’inscrits en France.

Au sein de son média, dans son service, lors des conférences de rédaction, le journaliste discute avec ses collègues. Ceux-ci s’interpellent et s’opposent parfois. C’est plus que normal. C’est nécessaire. Mais s’en prendre à son propre média, ou critiquer sa direction? Cela peut bien sûr arriver, mais ces séquences n’ont pas vocation à se retrouver déballées à l’extérieur de la rédaction. Il en va de même sur Twitter.

C’est pour rappeler ces quelques règles élémentaires et de bon sens (voir à ce sujet le très intéressant billet d’Eric Mettout, le rédacteur en chef de que j’ai adressé un email au service Web du Nouvel Observateur. Un message repris in extenso (sans m’avoir contacté) par Télé, puis évoqué dans un article du Monde.

Avec ou sans charte d’utilisation des réseaux sociaux (le Nouvel Observateur a une charte de déontologie, mais pas de charte relative à ce que les journalistes ont le droit ou pas d’écrire sur Twitter ou Facebook, ndlr), les journalistes laissent transparaître leur personnalité sur les réseaux sociaux – continuons ainsi.

Les surréalistes ont beaucoup cité le vers d’Arthur Rimbaud – il faut absolument être moderne. Sur Twitter, nouvel espace d’expression, où tout reste à expérimenter, journalistes, restez vous-mêmes. Il faut absolument être non terne.

Aurélien Viers

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