Impressions During a Visit to the Boston Globe

I’ve never visited the Boston Globe in my entire life. In fact, this visit would make it my second visit to a newspaper headquarter in the past week. Last week I interviewed Bill Burt at the Eagle-Tribune, so it interesting to see what newsrooms were like.

Anyways, as a class we toured the entire Globe facility. It was pretty neat to see the printing press area, and even neater to find out that the Globe not only prints their newspaper, but it prints out the Boston Herald and The New York Times as well.

After touring the printing area, we toured the newsroom and learned about some of the interactive media that the Globe is participating in.

My favorite feature they have in the newsroom involves Twitter. Throughout the newsroom, there are TV monitors set up on the walls and posts. On these TVs are tweets from Globe writers. Each tweet has some comical or interesting news related to their beat. Their tweet stays active on the screen until another writer tweets.

I like that feature, because it’s just interesting to see what’s on a Globe writer’s mind and what’s going with their beat. In fact, Bruins writer Kevin Paul Dupont had a funny tweet about the NHL labor strike, and the disagreement between the player’s association and the league.

Another feature at the Globe I found fascinating was a program they have called SNAP. The Globe has a $25,000 interactive display that shows every Instagram picture taken around Boston. The pictures are used as a source for stories. The pictures at the Globe are also shown on a map of Boston, so if a picture was taken at the Old North Church, than a picture will hover over the location of the church on the map. In a way, SNAP is like an interactive version of lifestyle and culture in Boston. You can bet if people visited a bar or tourist attraction and took a picture, then uploaded to Instagram that the Globe media lab will use it.

I like how people can put captions within their picture, which captures the essence of the photograph. For example, if someone goes to Halftime Pizza, takes a picture and writes a small caption saying how good the pizza is; the Globe technically gets a picture along with a small review.

SNAP is such a neat feature for the Globe.

Although confusing, the cascading of tweets was interesting. The Globe keeps track of all the tweets about its articles. Who is tweeting about what and what tweets are gaining a lot of interest are also focal points of cascading.

I found “open captioning” to be interesting. This is a feature where a media outlet can tap into the Globe’s network so that any speech that’s being presented on their channel will appear as text on the Globe’s “open captioning.” I was confused by this, but my impression of this feature is that if Fox News is having Mitt Romney on to speak, and are tapped into the Globe, the speech text will appear. I might be repeaing myself, but I’m trying to clarify what I was told this program is. It’s confusing, but a unique feature.

Finally, I got to see Adam 12 do his radio show for Boston.com radio (RadioBDC) and I was intrigued because I’d love to have my own sports radio show here in Boston. I love talking about sports and I’m pretty knowledgeable. If I had a dream job, this would be one of them.

I liked visiting the Globe. I’ve been reading it since I was able to read newspapers, so it was fun to see how things work. I definitely want to work here one day, that’s for sure. For now, I need to concentrate on the rest of this semester and next semester before I walk in that direction.

Picture is from the author of this blog’s personal media library. Some rights reserved.

Digital Technology is Changing the Way News is Viewed

Listening to Michael Maness speak about the rise of online technology and the demise of newspapers during a presentation at Northeastern University was interesting and painful to hear.

Most of what he said was nothing new. Everyone knows that social media is going to play a major role in breaking news in the future. However, before I give a few thoughts on Maness and social media, I do have an issue with robots getting integrated into the sports writing world.

Over the last several years, Northwestern University has been developing robots that have the ability to write sports stories based on information it’s given. In an age where people are struggling for jobs, Maness seemed excited about the technology and prospects of robots taking over in writing sports news stories.

For me personally, and as a lover of sports, it hurts to see that a field I want to work in could be disappearing right before my eyes. I’m sure the robots will help newspapers as they’ll save editors from hiring a sportswriter to write basic game stories, but there’s more to this development.

The problem is that sports are intimate and emotional.

They require a human element to write a compelling game story. Fans and readers not only like to read about the stats, and what happened over the course of the game, but they want to know how the players felt. How did he or she work towards accomplishing a particular feat such as home run title? Only a writer tied into a team over the course of a season can really understand that. In fact, most sportswriters have an approach or connection to a team that many people don’t have. Fans want to read about their thoughts and analysis of what happened.

Think about it this way. The 2004 postseason run that the Red Sox went on was so emotional and epic that no robot could ever write about the events that transpired. The sportswriters in Boston such as Dan Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan waited since birth to see the Red Sox win the World Series. In the end, the game stories they wrote were among some of the best stories ever written in Boston sports history.

Robots don’t have the knowledge, the full ability, the emotion, the understanding and the love of sports to write stories that’ll intrigue readers. Maybe one day they will, but hopefully not anytime soon.

The robot story examples that Maness showed just seemed like boring recaps that a newspaper would use to fill up blank space. What serious sports fan would want to read that. Robots can do the basics, but it’ll be a matter of time before they can write and do a lot more.

I think newspapers need to tread very carefully when it comes to robots. They may seem like a good idea, but there’s always two sides to a story and more that meets the eye. Let real writers who’ve worked hard and have the knowledge write all sports stories.

As far as other digital technology goes, everything else Maness said isn’t new news to me. Interactive and social media is slowly taking over what the idea of a news story once was. News isn’t going away, it’s just getting told differently.

He said that people today get news in ways that were once seen as impossible. Facebook and Twitter are probably the most widely used websites on the planet. Since they’re used a lot, it’s only fitting that news is broken through them. Stories are broken through platforms such as Twitter because it’ll reach more people. In fact, most news organizations have a presence on both social media giants, and usually break important stories so readers can comment on them.

I also found it fascinating how much people value visual designs. Through his research, Maness discovered that the better the layout, the more credible the news site is. In other words, if the site is a legitimate news organization with an amateur layout, then why should people take it seriously? If that organization doesn’t want to adjust to the times, then they obviously aren’t that serious in reporting news. That’s the feeling people might get, so in order to get eyeballs onto a webpage, the site has to be revamped. It needs to be user-friendly, interactive and not boring.

People crave information minute by minute, and they want to be able to decipher it in the easiest way possible. If it looks boring or is hard to understand, they’ll move on and find another way to get news.

Maness had some interesting facts and takes on digital technology. He is right about news changing, but it’s only changing in the way it’s presented. There’s always going to be story, and always an audience willing to read one. With news easier to access than ever before, news organizations have a chance to embrace digital technology and to stand head and shoulders above their competition. Like the military, media outlets have to adapt to a situation in order to survive. It’s the only way they’re going to remain relevant in this digital age.

That’s unless robots take over and we’re all screwed.