Steve Outing, Senior Editor, E-Media Tidbits, Poynter
Institute & Columnist, Editor & Publisher:
24th July 2003
Media Man Australia interviews one of the world's
most respected media editors and writers, Mr Steve
gives his thoughts on the online media business, what
news media websites should contain, Internet regulation
print journalism (editing, writing, graphics) ever
since graduating from Colorado State University in
1978 with a journalism degree. Till the end of 1994,
I worked in the print world; last print-journalism
job was as graphics editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.
I got the Internet bug in '94 and said goodbye to
print. Online is way more fun!
did you get your break in the media business?
a "break," really. Serendipty is probably
a better word. In late '94, the Chronicle, in staff-reduction
mode, offered buyouts to anyone at the company longer
than 5 years. I qualified and jumped off the cliff.
Got enough money to comfortably figure out how to
craft a career on the Internet. First freelance gig
was writing a research report about online efforts
by newspapers for Jupiter Communications. (This was
when lots of papers hadn't even discovered the Web
yet and were using proprietary services like Prodigy.)
That led to an opportunity with Editor & Publisher
to be one of the first journalists covering the fledgling
online news business. Did a bunch of other online-media-related
stuff in between then and joining the Poynter Institute
for Media Studies a couple years ago.
the Internet is the most powerful communications medium
yet invented. I honestly believe it will impact our
world even more so than has television. And we ain't
seen nothin' yet. It's still an immature medium. It's
an exciting business.
are your aims and objectives?
provide guidance, advice and intelligence for media
companies and professionals about what's next on the
media horizon -- to help them adapt to the rapid pace
of change that results from this period of incredible
technological innovation. I tend to think of myself
as a bit of an evangelist for change within the media
industry. I want those who lead the news industry
to understand the forces of change that are reshaping
their businesses, and embrace new technologies instead
of fight them.
works of yours are you most satisfied with?
of my favorite projects is a "group weblog"
that I edit, E-Media Tidbits, which is part of the
Poynter Institute's website: http://www.poynter.org/tidbits
writers from around the world contribute to this 5-days-a-week
blog. Everyone's an expert in online/digital media.
Some are academics; some work in the industry; some
are journalists covering new media. While the majority
of us are from the U.S., several contributors are
from Europe; we have a guy in Chile who reports on
the online media scene in South America. It's a great
daily read if you're into online media.
not finished yet, but I'm very excited about some
"eyetrack" research that we're embarking
on at Poynter. Working with the Estlow Center for
Journalism and New Media (estlowcenter.du.edu)
and Eyetools www.eyetools.com),
we're studying how Web users interact with news websites.
tracking eye patterns and analyzing patterns, we can
learn a lot about user behavior that people can verbalize;
a lot of it is at a subconscious level.
is the third eyetrack study by Poynter (the first
was of print newspapers, the second was of newspaper
websites). This time around, a big part of the focus
is on how people interact with multimedia editorial
content. Results should be out sometime this fall.
are the main pros and cons of news media websites?
Speed of publishing. Especially for the newspaper
industry, their Web operations allow them to compete
on a speed basis with television. If a major headline
story breaks now, the audience is as likely to go
online to find out what's going on as to turn on the
TV. And obviously, the Web can offer so much more
depth as well as the speed.
Speed of publishing. Operating more like a wire service,
news websites are more likely to let mistakes get
published. It's harder for the journalists, who these
days often have to not only produce content for the
Web, but also for print and/or broadcast. There's
more pressure in today's cross-media journalism jobs
-- and more journalists are starting to experience
these work styles.
are the impressive examples of online media, and why?
media have many aspects, of course, but my favorite
has got to be the multimedia editorial content that
some of the best sites are producing. Look at some
of the multimedia work done by NYTimes.com, where
a package can combine text, still photography, audio
narration, user-controlled or self-running slide shows,
interactive graphics, and video. MSNBC.com
has been doing some great, ground-breaking stuff.
See its "The Big Picture" series, which
uses multimedia to do major headline stories and features
a video narrator to guide you through the package.
MSNBC.com has pioneered some "immersive"
content, such as the feature that let you pretend
to be an airport baggage screener and try to catch
weapons on a bag scanner. This is all a new form of
storytelling, and it's fascinating to see the innovation
that people are coming up with.
good examples of multimedia news content, check out
the winners of the SND.ies, the monthly news-multimedia
awards competition of the Society of News Design.
I'm one of the judges.
are the main differences in writing for the web, as
opposed to writing for print?
the Web, write so that you grab the reader's attention
fast. The lead is incredibly important, as is the
headline and deck. Use bulleted items to quickly tell
the main points of a story. Overall, just realize
that your readers are only a mouse-click away from
going somewhere else. Write to grab their attention
and hold it. Be economical; use the fewest words possible
to make your point.
do you get your ideas?
combination of attending industry events; talking
to people in the industry regularly; reading blogs
on topics of interest to me; and e-mail. The latter
is a huge source of ideas. My writing is known widely
enough that I get lots of ideas sent to me by readers.
the internet put newspapers out of business, or are
most newspapers making the cross over to online newspapers
Internet will transform the newspaper industry into
a news industry that's not so platform specific. Print
won't go away in my lifetime, but it will find that
digital/online news is its equal. I have no doubt
that my daughters (ages 5 and 11) will get more of
their news from the Internet (and television) than
from print publications when they become adults. The
Internet for them won't be just the desktop PCs they
currently use, but portable wireless-broadband devices.
Newspaper companies better understand that and deliver
their content to where my daughters live online --
or they will go out of business in the decades to
should an effective (news) website consist of?
content. Multimedia content. Finely targeted advertising.
The means for readers to converse with editors and
reporters, and easily offer feedback. Non-traditional
voices, in addition to traditional "journalists'."
Weblogs. Smartly databased classified advertising
verticals. Journalists' e-mail addresses and contact
information. Simple, easy-to-use navigation. A good
site-search feature. A reasonably priced and easy-to-use
article archive (photos, too).
online news media websites made it too easy for people
to call themselves "journalists"?
always been easy to call yourself a journalist. We're
not licensed, after all. The Internet has just made
it easier to publish in a professional-looking manner
to a potentially global audience. We got part of this
ability years ago with PageMaker, the Macintosh and
the first Laserwriter printers -- when desktop publishing
was born. Now we have great software to create great-looking
websites/journals/blogs AND the ability for anyone
anywhere in the world to read them. So, yeah, I guess
we now have a LOT more "journalists."
much impact did "bloggers" have on numerous
staff departures from the New York Times?
think the story might have died and Howell Raines
kept his job if the story hadn't been kept going on
the Internet, and especially on blogs. Same thing
happened with Trend Lott. I don't think bloggers got
Raines fired, or got Lott to step down, but they definitely
helped things along.
other portals do you see being a threat to Google,
MSN and Yahoo! ?
definitely on a roll. I can't see anyone on the horizon
that's going to stop them being dominant in search.
I love Google News. That's got some interesting potential
as they evolve the service. Frankly, I'm less enamored
with portals than I was earlier in the Internet era.
I can't remember the last time I thought to go to
Google may slip up, get too greedy and make some bad
decision. Or someone else will come along with the
next great Internet mousetrap and out-Google Google.
Google probably won't stay dominant forever.
are your views on online broadcasting and internet
sad, so far. The music industry has pretty much stifled
this new industry with its unrealistic royalty demands.
I'm a strong critic of most commercial FM radio (and
AM is just beyond pathetic), so I love the potential
that Internet radio has of offering alternative music.
I like bluegrass music (among other genres), but I
can't find any decent source of bluegrass on the airwaves
where I live. Internet radio is an obvious solution
to my problem. (Satellite radio, XM and Sirius, is
of course another solution.)
much regulation of the internet should the Government
I think it's reasonable for governments to try to
do something about spam. There's only so much governments
can do, of course, because spammers don't conveniently
stay within any government's jurisdictional borders.
But some laws can at least have a positive impact
on the amount of spam. Other than that, I think it's
reasonable for governments to exercise some common-sense
control -- prohibiting child pornography, etc. Mostly,
I hope they'll leave the Internet alone.
is the ideal solution to the world's "spamming"?
I knew, I'd of course be wealthy and retired by now.
What I do know is that the ultimate solution needs
to be a mix of rational and not-overreaching government
regulation, and technology. The technology must have
a very tiny "false-positive" rate -- that
is, it can't block mail that you want. So far, spam
filters have been notoriously bad -- catching spam,
yes, but also catching wanted bulk e-mail such as
newsletters, personalized news deliveries, advertising
offers that you ask for, discussion-list postings,
positive impact have you had on the online media business?
from my reader feedback over the years, I think I've
introduced lots of ideas that ended up getting implemented
at news and media companies because someone read it
in one of my columns. I'm not suggesting that I concocted
all those ideas, only that I was able to let my readers
know about them fairly early on because I identified
the trends. I was also one of the first people to
create online forums for the online media profession,
and they became fairly effective in being a place
where industry pioneers trade ideas and learn from
each other. I think I contributed and sifted through
a lot of knowledge that helped the online-news industry
grow to become a viable commercial medium.
news sources do you trust, and why?
New York Times, still. I'm old enough that some
of the old media brands still stick out as credible
and trustworthy in my mind. Because of the Internet,
I'm now more inclined to seek out media from outside
the U.S. During the war, I was more trusting of the
BBC's coverage than
U.S. news organizations, which tended to be too rah-rah
for the war (especially CNN,
in my view).
I certainly don't trust every blogger, there are some
that are extremely credible. Indeed, I get much of
my news from the blog world; I don't just rely on
traditional media brands. Bloggers are especially
great for staying on top of niche topics. Example:
Rafat Ali's PaidContent.org
is a wonderful source of news about one narrow segment
of my professional world (new media). He's more credible
than many mainstream news reporters who cover new
advise can you pass on for those looking to make a
strong, positive impact on the media business?
get stuck on the ways of the past. Don't get stuck
on the way things are now. Recognize that technology
in this time of history changes rapidly, and you have
to keep moving with the technological tide. We've
been enamored with the Web and e-mail for some time,
but now wireless is the next big wave. Be prepared
to change your organization quickly. Don't fight new
technology, embrace it. (Don't be like the music industry.)
Enjoy the challenge of constant change. (And if you
can't, find another line of work.)
do you do to relax?
last couple years I've become a fitness nut. I'm training
to run my first-ever marathon in the fall, and I'm
a slightly less avid bicyclist (and I ride a tandem
with my wife or daughter). While recuperating from
a long run or ride, I enjoy my family's TiVo (so I
can watch the handful of shows worth watching and
skip the commercials). 8^) And yes, I do regularly
read printed magazines and books.
for thinking of me for your interviews section!
note: An insightful, interesting and well written
interview. We will be hearing a great deal more from
Institute: E-Media Tidbits
Institute: Steve's profile
Institute: Media Man Australia (Greg Tingle's) profile