Jennifer Nycz-Conner on How Technology Is Transforming Journalism

Jennifer Nycz-Conner is an editor at the Washington Business Journal, where she serves as the business anchor on WTOP and she runs the Working the Room column. She has seen how digital media from blogs to today’s newer technologies like Meerkat and Periscope have changed journalism.

The following is an interview conducted with Jen on behalf of xPotomac that focuses on how digital has and continues to change journalism. You can see Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th in Georgetown (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Any typos or errors are mine, not hers.

GL: Where have we come in the past decade with digital?

JNC: It’s light years. I have been at the Business Journal for 10 years, which is strange because that’s a really long time in journalism. It has been interesting, as we have had front row seats for this evolution.

I have seen [the paper] move away from a weekly, where we focused on publishing once a week. We threw that out the door. Stories are no longer held for print. We publish [stories] as soon as we have them. We changed our approach to our weekly print edition so it is more of a wrap-up with a deeper analysis rather than breaking the news. So that for us is one of the big changes.

GL: How do you like being on the radio instead of print?

JNC: Radio offers an immediate reaction so that part is really fun. I’ve always been passionate about radio, but I have come to develop a great respect and appreciation for it that I didn’t have before doing it every day.

Part of that respect is people invite you into their lives; it’s very much a one-to-one medium where print is one to a whole lot of people. You are sitting next to people in traffic. For people to listen to you not only do they have to appreciate what you are saying, but they also have to want to spend time with you and like you.

The writing style is very different. Brevity is very important. You learn that 30 seconds is actually a very long time, and I never thought that before.

You give a lot of thought about what you are putting into that 30 seconds. There is not a lot of fat to work with on that. You really have to cut it down as quickly as you can, and give people what they need to know right now. They have to care about what you are saying. It has to mean something.

Jen Nycz Conner Interview

GL: Do you feel that’s true across media today, particularly the way social media is working?

JNC: Yeah, there is so much noise, and you can find your news anywhere now. When you look at the traditional broadcast news that we grew up with you waited for Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw to tell you what was going on. You don’t have that anymore.

What you still have are trusted voices. If you are still getting news you want to get it from someone you know and trust.

GL: Jennifer Nycz-Conner [laughs].

JNC: Let’s hope so, seriously, I think about that sometimes. That is part of the job and the occupation and the mission of a journalist to be that trusted voice. They are going to tell you the most accurate, insightful truthful version you can find.

The other part is the “what does it mean to me” part? We all have tons of noise, and we can find any fact any time of the day. What you can’t find is meaning. What is the analysis, and how does it affect me and my family, and where I live? For us as business leaders, what does that mean? Part of our job is to translate that.

GL: You are [very involved] in video, and we are seeing big changes including livestreaming taking off. What are you seeing happen with video? What is your perspective as a journalist?

JNC: It is a crazy time. I’ve been working on our video for three or four years. What we have learned, there is an incredible appetite for video now. We all have screens with us at the time.

If you think back 20 years ago, that’s crazy to even think about. I started out in live television production. I used to have to get 53-foot tractor-trailers to do the stuff you can do today on your cell phone. It’s crazy!

People will watch video if it is the right medium for what they want to see. You can’t take what you wrote for the paper and put it in a video. You can’t just recreate the standard news form. They want it short, they want it insightful, and they want the pay-off: “What does it mean to me?” If I am going to invest my eyes and ears and give you two minutes of my time, I need some sort of pay-off for it.

Jen Nycz Conner Interview Laughing

GL: How do you stay relevant with everything and the way the media seems continuously evolve?

JNC: That’s assuming I am relevant. It’s an upward climb. A benefit for journalists and technology is curiosity. Journalists by their very nature are curious, we don’t go into this business if we are not. That curiosity translates to technology.

You want to try out new things. You want to test new things. You want to experiment and find new ways to tell a story. In a way, that makes us pretty good technologists.

It is hard to stay relevant. Time management is challenging. It used to be reporters went out, took a notebook and pen, and wrote a story, and had a deadline, and had deadline at 5 o’clock that night.

Now you are filing a story on your cell phone half the time. You are also shooting video, recording audio, taking pictures, tweeting while you are reporting the story, then writing the story, then writing the wrap-up of that story. Journalists have to do a whole lot more. It’s a constant decision making process about what’s the best use of my time. How will this best serve my audience?

GL: How do you feel about getting pitched through social media, Twitter, Facebook…?

JNC: It is hard. The only benefit of the tweet pitch is that it is short. You know their not going to bother with the 18-paragraph introduction before they get to the point.

What drives me crazy is the more of the ping-pong game that a lot of PR people play. They will send you an email, then they will call you and say, “Hi, I am calling to see if you received my email.”

[And] what does drive me crazy is when people don’t know what we cover. That hasn’t changed with technology. We get really consumer oriented pitches or pitches that don’t have anything to do with anything we cover. You got to know the publication, especially today when you can go online, Google it, spend five minutes and get a pretty good idea of what we are doing.

I don’t mind connecting in different ways. I was on Twitter pretty early, 2009, and that was a great way to connect with people and get some really good stories that way.

See Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th!

The Evolution Revolution

It used to be that every seven years, you would need to adapt a new skillset and your career would evolve. For example, it became necessary to learn team management or email marketing or [fill in the blank]. Now in communications, you need a new skill set every year or at least a major evolution of an existing one.

We are in the evolution revolution, a constant state of change. Adapting to new media dynamics is a must for those that want to prosper. Or we can watch our skills rapidly decay into obselescence.

Technology is impacting many industries, particularly distribution and product types. You could say the same for just about any business that depends on online media to help conduct its business, from bookstores to the travel industry.

When I consider industries impacted the most, I can’t help but think about the music industry. Change has ravaged the music sector, from the death of album sales courtesy of iTunes to the transition of Clear Channel radio to iHeartRadio, a company that is heavily pushing its live music events for social media advertisers.

skills_of_modern_marketer

In the case of communications, advancing media technologies are shaping our very well being. The above chart illustrates that the ability to embrace change is considered the most important skillset for any digital communicator.

This means we have to be ready to constantly innovate and adapt, no easy task.

The Medium Is Everything

16891646901_69b7c57251_k

People debate whether or not Marshall McLuhan’s timeless theory the medium is the message is valid. Old school communicators hate it, but in reality they are being forced to evolve their messages dramatically to meet audience expectations in diverse media. In fact, the medium forces a complete change in approach.

Consider that those who approach social media with the exact same methods they used in traditional methods almost always fail. We could have all sorts of discussions — and unfortunately many social media experts do until the point of pain — about the nuances of engagement. But for the communicator? Social media changes everything, even media relations.

McLuhan would argue that we miss the subtle impacts media make in our existence. That is why we find ourselves having to catch up with change forced upon us.

When McLuhan espoused that theory more than 50 years ago, evolutions were subtler. Kennedy had just been shot, unfolding a national tragedy across television changing society and creating the question, Where were you when you found out.” That same drama unfolded for the Challenger accident and 9/11, too.

Today, we are likely to find out breaking news before it is officially reported across a diverse group of media, from Twitter and Instagram to email and radio. Further, while captivated, our minds will be distracted by something shortly thereafter on our phone or other personal device.

A Personal Evolution

19444143138_373b18de61_k

I like to tell people if I marketed using digital media the way I did in 2006, I would be out of business. Truth. First, I would primarily blog and comment on other blogs.

If you haven’t noticed, today there are more marketing blogs than there are rats in the DC sewer system. Every podunk agency and consultant on earth has a blog these days. What was once a rare and unique read is now pedestrian and boring.

Commenting drove engagement in those old days. Today, blog comments are few and far between with most of the conversation distributed across social networks and private groups.

Digital marketing has evolved to become social networking, and then content marketing, and then marketing automation, and now increasingly user experience-driven marketing. Content has moved from personality opinion blogs to visual media with video, photos and graphics driving engagement. Necessary skillsets have moved from basic HTML coding, SEO skills and writing to data analytics, creative visualization, and niche targeting.

19854472745_61b24c4086_k

With these many dramatic changes impacting communications, the type of changes that would occur over decades (note the plural) in the prior century — I evolved. I had to, or else my career would sputter out.

Some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse. Some made my business sing (two business books come to mind) while others were a bust or just a “me, too” addition (for example, our Google Analytics effort last year).

I moved from top ten PR Blogger to a social good advocate to a content marketer. My skills moved from blogging to book and white paper writing, to hybridized photographer/written content creator.

It would be easy to tell you that this is it, that I am comfortable, but in truth I am not. Just seeing how the agency business has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years is causing me to take an attitude of constant learning and an openness to change in every way.

I am also focusing on specialization. I have enrolled in two trainings that will take a total of eight work days in the next four weeks, all to strengthen my personal communications skill sets. There are more that I will need to take on if I want to stay on the edge.

Welcome to the evolution revolution. The great challenge for us as communicators is maintaining a constant state of learning. Only then can we transform and successfully meet the times over and over again.

Some More Thoughts on Using Periscope/Meerkat

Periscope and Meerkat are all the rage. Like Robert Scoble I still think these services will create many bad videos. But at the same time, I’d be a fool if I denied that some brands like GE are already using these tools to build a narrative, and actively engage audiences.

So this Tuesday Tenacity5 Media will be experiment with it during GiveLocal America. C.C. Chapman came on board for tomorrow, just to help the team here in DC. I’ll be in New Orleans covering GiveNOLA, and Erin Feldman will be in Kimbia’s office here in Austin, TX and Jessica Bates will be working with C.C. in DC.

All three of us will be providing updates from our various locations about what nonprofits are doing to win their communities’ respective giving days. These updates will be short and spaced out with each oof us reporting every hour, and one of us reporting on the @givelocal15 account every 20 minutes.

Getting ready! Just under 32 hours until #givelocal15

A photo posted by Give Local America (@givelocalamerica) on

So I needed to brush up on live streaming best practices. There have been some good pieces on best practices put together already. A quick summary of some smart tips:

1) Get a tripod for the phone so the video is steady.

2) Make sure your battery is charged.

3) Use the top third of the phone for your head (and shoot vertically).

4) Turn off notifications from your other apps so they don’t interrupt the broadcast.

5) Do your best to schedule your broadcasts in advance.

One thing I’d like to see some more of is using live video to offer citizen journalism broadcasts. So I started thinking about how I was going to use live video in combination with photos from the scene. More often than not, I thought of major events and how networks cover them live

live-streaming-meerkat-periscope

GiveNOLA will offer a live event in Lafayette Square with organizations actively fundraising. So it’s a great opportunity to use live video to execute interviews with donors as well as Greater New Orleans Foundation and nonprofit staffers.

There will be many nonprofit parties, too. So the trip offers an opportunity to show live event activities, parades, music, etc. Then there is the behind the scenes management of the giving day from the community foundation’s perspective, the metaphorical war room shots. Finally, there will surely be good stories unfolding on site, and this is an a opportunity to report on them.

One thing I think traditional broadcast media does well is that they keep video material short. I think livestreaming offers the temptation of continuing to show live coverage when in reality, we know social videos do better when they are brief. Five minute livecasts of in-street action or behind the scenes interviews is probably too long for this purpose. I am thinking two minutes give or take is the cap for these efforts.

What do you think of Meerkat and Periscope so far?

Featured photo by Iwan Gabovitch

The Age of Authority Ending?

We have seen an increase in Internet hacks and leaks undermining corporate and personal integrity alike. Sony, Anonymous versus the Ferguson Police Department, the Ray Rice elevator security tape, starlet cell phone pic hacks, and on and on.

As noted in my Cision’s 5 trends for 2015 post, vigilante style attacks will increase and continue to negatively impact individuals and businesses alike. There is little we as a society can do to stop it.

In a recent Pew Internet survey on future media, dozens of experts agreed: Cyberwar, hacks and vigilante attacks are expected to continue. Attacks involve a wide complicated group of parties, ranging from governments, companies (yes, we have to know some corporations engage in hacking), organized vigilante groups like Anonymous, and of course, individual hacks. Below is my contribution to the Pew study.

PI_14.10.29_FutureCyberAttacks_QuoteCards-Livingston

The bottom line: Authorities may act to apprehend and prosecute online offenders, but it has become harder bring vigilantes to justice. The Fifth Estate can go farther than speak their mind, now. They can act — right or wrong — and escape.

Impact

The-Interview-Movie-Poster-HD-Wallpaper-1024x768

We are now living in a Neuromancer-esque world (see William Gibson’s book) where anyone or any entity’s data can be exploited.

Surveillance is everywhere, personal location can be surrendered by our phones, watches and clothes, and our wallets are on our phones, there is no turning it off. The reasons why can be as simple as angering the wrong person with an axe to grind. In some cases, people will be completely innocent, but cannot stop their credit cards, email, photos and more from being used against them.

Inevitably, we will all be touched. Just last month I found my check card cancelled, its number one of many captured by a hacker who had raided one of my online retailers. There as no follow-up, just a new card.

Companies, athletes and stars who have a public stake in their business would be wise to prepare for the worst. No secrets are safe. And on the Internet there is little recourse for exposed wrong doing or naughtiness.

The Wild West is upon us. There is no true security, no safe haven.

In the online world power is determined by security skill, hacking creativity, and resources. Authority, right and wrong, well, these concepts of justice have become weakened. In fact, they may simply be antiquated.

What do you think?

What If No One Pays Attention Anymore?

Attention drives the social web, particularly now that it is maturing and there is an ongoing dogfight for precious seconds from the billions of people on social networks. Algorithms determine what does and doesn’t get people’s attention in feeds on many sites. But what happens when people stop caring?

The loss of attention is why social media marketers are freaking out about Facebook’s algorithm changes. These evolutions promise only 1-2% reach for business page updates. Now marketers can’t earn attention on Facebook brand pages by posting cute puppy pics. Instead, they have to pay for it. Like schemes are falling to the wayside.

Brands are really starting to learn a painful lesson right now. People hate branded social media updates.

The movement towards “dark” or private social media isn’t just about avoiding awkward conversations with family and co-workers. People want to escape the considerably intrusive shilling of chatty products and services trying to be cool in that oh so social way.

User Experience Matters More

13443084594_e82ba936d5_b

In considering today’s media environment, here’s a mission that most traditional publishers would agree with: “User experience matters more than branded approaches to owned and earned social media.” After all, if you chase everyone away in the name of helping corporate partners out, there won’t be anything worth advertising on.

Social media marketers cries of greed or rationalizing Facebook’s moves as profiteering for Wall Street are misguided. Let’s say all of the conjecture about Facebook’s forthcoming decline is true (data shows it’s not, but…) Perhaps Facebook fears that engagement rates will drop and knows it has lost younger audiences. Facebook can’t stop grandparents from joining, but they can control brand interactions while increasing visual and mobile functionality for individuals.

Maybe, just maybe retention and user experience trumps brand use.

Perhaps user experience causes Twitter to consider dropping hashtags as a primary conversation tool. Afterall, which demographic really cares about and tracks hashtag use? Marketers, of course.

Think about it. If there was a better method to track hot topics like The Walking Dead, would people really miss the consistent barrage of brand inspired hashtags?

See, I believe that for the most part people are tuning out brands on social networks anyway. Only the die hard brand loyalists and fans care now. They are the ones who opt in and follow organically.

Pretty Breakfast Waffles

To reach more people, brands and individuals can’t resort to the same old cheap social tricks. Buy a like or follower? No, now they have to advertise. And brands better deliver contextual value in some form or people tune out.

How many Taco Bell ads have you seen across diverse media featuring their breakfast campaign? Don’t get me wrong, I admire Taco Bell’s marketing prowess. The Ronald McDonald TV spot was great, and some of the social media updates have been technically brilliant. But as a consumer I think I am going to puke if I see another sponsored breakfast Taco Bell pic.

There is no contextual value for me. I won’t eat fast food. So I am asking not to see the sponsored ads anymore. I am sure many people have similar brand experiences on social networks every single day.

I think it’s the same for personalities who sustain themselves on social followings. Star power is attention, but if there is no return on time given, most people get bored with petty “selfie” antics and move on.

Attention is an opportunity to give value and meet commitments to customers and community alike. It should not be used as an opportunity to celebrate one’s self. Even when milestones are achieved — from sales to followers — these are things to be grateful for, and that gratitude needs to be expressed.

Brands and entrepreneurs who have this ethos — an experience ethos that values each moment a customer spends with them — stand a better chance of winning the game of marketing. They stand out from the crowd of noisemakers who always want to take the easiest path to ROI.

What do you think?

Big Brother Won and We Loved It

2726485277_515a0958c5
Image by estacey

The deployment of technology and media to successfully capture the Brothers Tsarnaev remains a subplot in the incredible Boston Marathon bombing manhunt.

Closed circuit television, triangulating cell phone signals, rapid identification, calls to the public for help through mass media, and civic reporting (including family members) used to hunt men in the streets is the stuff of dystopian science fiction. Really, it’s the Orwellian nightmare of Big Brother realized.

The public loved it. Fears allayed, justice to be served, lives resumed.
Continue reading