Google’s Richard Gingras’s eight themes for the future of journalism

Posted on April 13, 2012

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When it comes to creating news content that is web-friendly, it doesn’t get much better than picking the mind of Google. The recent TechRanking 2012 featured remarks from Google’s head of news products Richard Gingras, who spoke of how journalists need to rethink how news content is being architected and produced.

His prepared remarks were published by the Nieman Lab, and he mainly focused on eight themes that journalists need to consider as we move into the technology-driven future. Gingras began by saying that “technology, in and of itself, is not the solution,” and that while it may provide the means for the solution, it is still up to us as journalists to make it happen.

Many of his points, I felt, were spot on as far as what I have been considering this semester of how to best create web-friendly content, and his points hit at home with many news organizations – specifically newspapers.

Addressing content architecture

Gingras notes that the architecture of news content has largely stayed the same, and needs to evolve from the “edition-oriented nature of the prior media forms.” He referenced Google’s previous experiments with a “living story” that placed the evolving efforts of a reporter while covering an event all within one consistent URL, as opposed to various, changing editions.

Evolving the narrative form

From what I’ve seen for the most part, reporters are generally trained to write for hard copy, with that mindset transitioning to the web. Gingras mentions how previously, radio reporters would read from newspaper clips before it gave way to the development of a specific radio-style of reporting. This is especially important to consider as news organizations have really just been beginning to get their feet wet with the web and new technologies.

Creating the Reporter’s Notebook 2.0

This can be seen more as reporters are live-tweeting press conferences, posting pictures to social media and uploading videos and audio files. Gingras notes that with unlimited publishing capabilities, that there is significant value in showcasing all the information collected by reporters.

Rethinking Organizational Workflow

I definitely caught a glimpse of this when I worked as an intern in the national newsroom of Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLB.com). Web-based news organizations are structured differently from traditional newspapers – as they should be. For example, I interned in Editorial Production, which was combining copy-editing with web production. We reported to the website manager, not the content editors, as editing copy for style and grammar and managing the design of the site was not under the jurisdiction of those assigning and overseeing coverage and reporting.

Exploring Computational Journalism

Gingras suggests using the powers of computer science to take advantage of computational reporting to not only aid stories, but eventually become its own form of persistent, automatic reporting.

Leveraging search and social media

First, I thought it was interesting that search and social media were grouped together. With social media becoming such a large presence on the Internet, it’s clear that it now is a huge factor in the search results game. Gingras may be a bit biased, being employed by a search engine giant and all, but few would disagree with his comments that “search continues to be a central source of news discovery,” and that by getting better at utilizing it to engage and inform people is an important theme to consider as we move forward.

Rethinking site design

Gingras notes that while the homepage was the dominant source of hits in the past, the growth of traffic from search and social media has lowered homepage traffic to around 25 percent – meaning 75 percent of inbound traffic goes directly to the story pages. The implications could mean that we need to already begin considering how to evolve from traditional forms of news web design.

Shifting to a culture of constant news production

It may not be too crazy to think that the pace of news production willincrease even more in the future. News organizations will need to consider and accommodate this with the proper resources in order to meet the needs of news consumers – all while not having their reporters go crazy.

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