Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I Only Have Two Hands

"I only have two hands" was an expression my mother used often when I was a child and it seems to come back to me quite a bit these days while I'm on the job. The problem is, we have become amazing multi-taskers, but I'm beginning to wonder how well you can do any one thing when you're doing eight different things at once at any given moment.

That's how many browser windows I usually have minimized on my desktop, at least. Today, I was on a conference call when an video tape editor came in and asked if I was ready to capture a video. I dropped the phone (on hold) as I got a Digital Rapids stream going, which was fine, but I had also been sending an instant message, checking my emails, trying to post and pop stories, all at the same time.

At the end of the day, then, I am sometimes a bit exasperated because I don't feel there is any one thing I can point to and say, "Ah. That was a job well done."

Actually, last week there was a four-hour hearing on Capitol Hill where the National Transportation Safety Board released its report on a fatal accident in a Big Dig tunnel which occurred last summer. I was freed up enough to "cover" that particular story for our site and it was nothing short of delicious to be able to focus completely on one story and really give it the attention it deserved. Naturally, it was the story that garnered the most page views that day and all of last week. picked it up as well. I was able to give it thoughtful attention and it reflected a better quality than most of the crash & burn stories that are often all we can muster in a day crammed with a million other responsibilities. We spend countless hours digitizing videos that no one watches. It just doesn't make sense.

What it all says to me is that news web sites need dedicated news staffers whose sole mission is to cover the news of the day and (ideally) to enterprise the kinds of stories that TV and other mediums might not touch. I hope that is the way this business is evolving, but it's a long slog as we try to get there.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Times They Are A Changin' ...

Interesting week at work in that one of the long-time anchors at the television station at which we're based announced that she is retiring from her regular on-air gig after 35 years on the news desk. She was one of the most well-known local TV news anchors in the country and the first female anchor in Boston when she landed the job in the early 1970s.

She's had a good long run and it seems to be what she genuinely wants to do and, frankly, I can't blame her for wanting to hang up the spurs. But it's a bit symbolic in that 50 years in, television is already something of an "old" medium and anchors like her really don't exist anymore. During the heyday of these anchors, TV stations were getting huge ratings, in the double-digits, and these folks were known as local "stars" who could command exorbitant salaries. The station at I worked at in Florida had something like a 57 share at one point and had the strongest ratings of any local station in the country. No more.

That was all before cable and broadband and, now, digital. What's peculiar is that the media landscape has shifted so dramatically, and yet many of the people working on the "factory floor" are basically pretty unaware of the change, although they call themselves news people. You can keep up with some of the changes by tracking sites devoted to Internet news such as, or the online news association web site, but it seems the only people reading these are the people who are already working as online journalists.

If they were reading them, here's some of what they would run across. This recently published on

"Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates laid out his vision of the future of media last week, and painted a grim picture of the transition for traditional media.

"We're saying newspapers will go online, and there will be massive innovation that comes out of that," Gates said. "We're saying that TV, the biggest ad market in the world, will completely go online and have the kind of targeting interaction that you only get out on the Web today.

"As dramatic as things happening on the Web are, that's actually what all advertising ... will be in the future....

"I have a lot of friends in the newspaper industry and, of course, this is a tough, wrenching change for them, because the number of people who actually buy, subscribe to the newspaper and read it has started an inexorable decline," he said.

Gates is right, of course, but it doesn't have to be a wrenching change because, if anything, the media beast is just expanding. Because online news changes constantly, it's like news radio on the Internet - it can never be satiated. That's ultimately good news for journalists.