Ten online journalism trends for 2013

‘Tis the season for making predictions and I’m making a few of my own. In no particular order, the digital trends journalists should watch in 2013:

The relationship between social media and photography will grow even stronger.

Using social media to bring traffic to your website — whether it’s a newspaper, blog or small business — isn’t new. In 2012, social media experts preached a photo-centric strategy on Facebook. The rise of Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest in recent years further strengthened the relationship between social media and photography. Alexis Mainland, social media editor at The New York Times spoke with Photo Shelter Blog in April about the relationship, saying “The cliche that a picture is worth 1,000 words rings especially true on social media sites.”

As social media positions at online publications continue to increase, they’ll drag photographers along for the ride. You can’t have a good social media presence without a strong backing in photography, something major newspapers are discovering. The intertwining will begin to filter to smaller newspapers in 2013. At the nation’s leading social media innovators, positions will open for experts in “social photography” — people with backgrounds in social media and photography who can help bridge the gap between the two groups.

As the lines continue to blur on what objectivity means in the digital age, more journalists will take a stand by telling the story.

When Walter Cronkite traveled to Vietnam to bring the horrors of war to American television screens, the story consumed America. We remember the images, the changes in our field. We don’t think about concerns with Cronkite’s own objectivity. In reality, Cronkite was a solider himself and not only knew the experience of war firsthand, but also knew the General commanding all troops in Vietnam from his WWII days. Cronkite took a stand on the war in his writings and by telling the story — showing America the war. This was civic journalism or advocacy journalism.

Propublica and California Watch are practicing this type of civic journalism, and more organizations are following the trend. A new project by CNN, Change the List, examines the bottom of rankings and engages its audience to bring the bottom up. They recently completed a project looking at the state with the lowest voter turnout — Hawaii.

Reporters will be pushed to expand their skill sets into mobile video creation.

I’ve talked a couple of times about my love for Wall Street Journal’s WorldStream, a project that takes advantage of reporters on-scene by having them send short mobile clips for the site. Some are compelling. Some are funny. Some are random. It’s a lot of content to click through, though. In 2013, more publications will train their reporters in on-the-go mobile video and audio, expecting reporters to cover the story but also send live updates for the website.

Online publications will do more with the data available online.

Data journalism is often used with crime data and data journalists can request through the Freedom of Information Act, but what about the data available to anyone? An increase in web scraping and database creation skills will send more journalists online to write stories based on what people are saying on social media and how they are saying it. Here’s an example from Mashable: a travel company found out the top 10 cities for getting engaged by analyzing Facebook statuses.

In 2012, GIF was the Word of the Year. In 2013, GIFs will gain respect as a legitimate news source.

According to Oxford American Dictionaries, GIF is the Word of the Year for 2012. Although GIFs have gained wide popularity on the social network Tumblr, the easy-to-make looping animations are only starting to gain popularity with traditional media outlets. Many people say GIFs aren’t news, partly because of the usual convention for GIFs: comedy. In 2013, news organizations will use GIFs for legitimate news purposes. GIFs are small file formats that can be easily downloaded on mobile devices and consumed in rapid sequence, perfect for the exploding mobile market.

Audience will continue to expect verification from news organizations. 

If news organizations didn’t realize after PolitiFact that audience actually wanted them to verify statements made by political pundits instead of just reporting them, they should after the 2012 election. Despite Nate Silver’s firm prediction on the election and incoming exit polls, some networks went on calling the election mostly even and openly defying math in the process.

Another interesting blog, Is Twitter Wrong?, has made a name for MSN employee Tom Phillips by fact checking information — mostly pictures — sent out on Twitter. The blog was busy during Hurricane Sandy finding the source of weather photos. Side note: all journalists should prepare themselves for fake weather photos by watching the movie The Day After Tomorrow, which seems to be the source of many.

Google + will become the most hated social network that you just have to use. 

Google’s plan to increase its social network, Google +, by whatever means necessary and as another step toward world domination over its rivals — Apple and Facebook, in particular — isn’t really a secret. The Hangout feature of Google + is worth having an account on the social network, but picture this: you’re sitting in a group of your friends and something really hilarious happens. One friend turns to another, laughing, and says “I’m posting that to Google + right now!” #SaidNoOneEver.

Despite the social network’s lack of social popularity, Google + will continue to rise in newsrooms because of Google’s search algorithm. Social media is already integrated into the algorithm. At some newspapers, SEO experts are telling them to have Google + accounts and to post often. Why? It’s page rank, dummy, and that’s not going to go away.

Television companies and news companies with a share in the television market will cater more to dual screening.

Eleven percent of the live viewers of the first presidential debate — myself included — followed the coverage on more than one screen, according to Pew Research Center. Many watched the debate on television and followed the conversation on their social media feeds at the same time. Television has become an incredibly social experience. It’s easy to tell which TV episodes your friends are watching by following Twitter. Television networks have started picking up on this market by including hashtags particular to the television program on the screen alongside the show. In 2013, more products catering to the dual screen market will appear.

An increase in crowdsourcing and citizen journalism will involve the audience in the creation of stories.

Have you freed a file with Propublica? Free The Files is Propublica’s effort to track down political ad spending. Because Propublica couldn’t look through the over 40,000 files with its own employees, the non-profit newsroom turned to its audience. Anyone can free a file by signing in and finding basic information about the ad buy detailed in the file such as who bought the ad and for how much. The project is another example of crowdsourcing, a trend that will continue in 2013. News companies are using crowdsourcing and citizen journalism to better cover communities and involve audience more. Another great example is CNN’s iReport team.

Audience will have greater access to the editors and reporters about how and why they make decisions that affect news coverage.

Reddit has risen as the social network where people go to have open conversations, employing the saying AMA — ask me anything. Editors and reporters at major news organizations have gone to Reddit this year to engage in open dialogue with the audience. Even President Barack Obama has appeared in an AMA chat on Reddit this year.

The most notable editor who answered questions on Reddit in 2012 was Jill Abramson of The New York Times who posted an AMA session in October.

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