The problems with repurposing journalism

Principles of Convergent JournalismAs a journalist turned academic, I often received e-mails from publishers with book suggestions. The other day one dropped into my inbox for a textbook called Principles of Convergent Journalism from Oxford University Press.

At first glance, it sounds like an ideal text for teaching students to work across media.

That is, until it talks about “repurposing both print and broadcast content for the internet”. There are two chapters devoted to discussing how to repurpose print and broadcast content for the internet.

Admittedly, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I find the discourse of repurposing content troubling. And this is not the textbook for tomorrow’s journalists that talks about repurposing. Here is an extract from Convergence Journalism by Janet Kolodzy, published in 2006:

Putting a newspaper story on a website or streaming a video report is another easy way to take advantage of convergence. It is like taking a square peg and sanding off the edges to fit into a round hole. Headlines and text are set up and laid out differently on a web page but they are still headlines and text. A video report does not get reshot or rewritten to fit the computer screen; it airs on a different medium but in the same way.

This is the wrong way to conceive of multimedia, multiplatform journalism. The idea of reusing content for the web is an attractive proposition for accountants, but not for those of us who have spent the last 10 years working online. A TV script makes for a poor online piece, just long-form print is not online journalism.

This fails to recognise that the the Internet is not print, it is not radio, it is not TV. It share some attributes with print and broadcast, but is a medium in its own right, with its own strengths and weaknesses.

This requires a shift in how journalists have approached stories, adopting a multimedia mindset from the get go.

It is time to stop talking about repurposing and instead to start a discussion on how to re-imagine journalism.

This post is part of the March Carnival of Journalism hosted by Journerdism.

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  • Jack Lail says:

    I stole this one from somewhere, but anyhow, they say a cardinal rule in tennis is “never change a winning game” … unless you’re playing basketball.

    What is a winning game in one sport with a ball and a net might not be in another.

    I think you are certainly right that repurposing is not thinking about news is a Web context. I don’t think a reverse pub data dump to print is either.

  • Couldn’t agree with you more Alfred on your last para.

    Part of what amuses me is what might be called the sanctity of journalism.

    That everything we need to know about it, is out in the open. That, there are no new paradigms.

    At least that’s what you could have made of it in the absence of the web and accompanying digital environment.

    But now?

    The repurposing debate mirrors my thoughts around the use of broadband: a new medium or repository for repeats?

    Here’s an exercise. If you scan a raft of broadcast news programmes [trad] media will have reported faults related to progress and the web with the medical profession, business, race, society etc, but very, very, rarely introspectively about itself.

    Everything’s alright in the house.

    The explosiveness of race and culture provides an example of the fault lines of repurposing. Does MM news inherently provide added educational value, rather than exclusively reaction/comments to events?

    Because if it does, that makes repurposing a wee bit difficult and you could argue more work is required for MM reportage compared with linear.

    For instance, the reporting agenda needs to be widened and be more expansive, say, in covering news about the tragic nature of youth stabbings in London.

    We’ll read about it, watch in on the news, but hitherto we’re not seeing much of MM’s ability at big issue coverage on this subject.

    The time, the crime, the preventional schemes, concerted programs, the sharing and pooling of knowledge between groups, what the police are doing down to community level participation and so on.

    Meanwhile, you wanna do multimedia, figure out what you want, then fill in a form, shove it in the hands of the graphics department and say something like: “Yeah I want this to go swish and that chira thing you do..”

    See, repurposing, and it didn’t cost us much.

    It may well be “journalism” – the very word itself – negates the sort of vision you imagine, at least at present.

    The vested sums/ interests wrapped in the word, the politics/business surrounding it, means wholesale changes aren’t possible.

    We might blog, believe we’ve found a tool and fresh semiotic to broaden the news agenda and accompanying discourse, but adopted by many trad media it’s funnelled into something that suggest inclusivity, yet how much impact has it on shaping/driving news? Does it almost amount to merely free content on your doorstep?

    Videojournalism which I’m passionate about is another example of the repurposing debate. Is it merely about one person taking on a story from the idea stage to completition, replicating the model of TV news?

    Or is it about a fresh stanza in story telling and widening the agenda, particularly when produced for the web?

    The “journalism” in video almost makes it restrictive, because TV journalism does not court creativity, big “C”.

    “You wanna do docs or advertising mate if you want to shoot flash stuff”, you almost expect to hear.

    It was Richard Deverell in his former position before he became the BBC children’s controller who said in a
    project we were partnering at my Uni:

    We haven’t figured out anywhere near what to do with the Net with regard to the media… or something like that.

    I still agree with him.

    Maybe, just maybe, a solution to multimedia reportage exists outside the confines of contemporary journalism.

    That perhaps the graphic designer, Flash expert, motion graphics artist, photojournalist, journalist, futurologist, Tech, business major – should all be sitting at one table having a conversation rather than the division of labour that has become so prescriptive.

    But then that wouldn’t be journalism would it?

    Cheers David
    Uni Westminster
    & Smart Lab

  • Peter Horrocks says:

    Alf, I agree that the book seems to have the wrong approach. You yourself used the phrase “multimedia, multiplatform journalism”. I’d argue that is a slightly muddling phrase. In the major changes under way right now at BBC News we are distinguishing between multiplatform and multimedia journalism. In phase one of changes we are improving our multiplatform capability. That does involve converting content that has been largely conceived for one platform to another. So we have appointed a “conversion” producer on our main Ten O’Clock News to help correspondents with broadcast skills) deliver effectively for the web.

    The second phase of the changes will be to move from multiplatform to multimedia journalism – i.e. Content created that blends the needs and attributes of each media. The BBC News embedded video is being created by a new team that is not under the responsibility of the conventional TV bulletins or channels.

    I think the multiplatform/multimedia distinction is a useful one for students and journalists to keep in mind.

    Peter

  • Adrian Monck says:

    Re-purposing has become something of a dirty term, about as appetising in journalism as mechanically-recovered meat in catering.

    But whether we call it conversion or re-purposing, content does need to be shared across platforms, doesn’t it?

    Linear television news is still a primary platform, but it does generate a lot of unused but valuable material.

    The problem is how it is used or “converted”, as RDF’s Crowngate saga demonstrated…

    The other issue is at what point multimedia operations get the editorial commissioning power and newsgathering clout of their broadcast colleagues.

  • Re-purposing is an ugly word which sounds very much like Nick Davies’ ‘churnalism’. But what we are ignoring here is that journalism has always ‘repurposed’ data. Journalists have never spent most of their time doing original fact gathering and dissemination. Mostly we write up speeches, take pictures of events put on for our benefit, cover diary events and then write/talk about what other media is saying. Putting the same stuff on different platforms is useful in itself and will be a basic function of new media journalism. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s hope we get so good at it that we can spend more time on the ‘real’ journalism,
    cheers
    Charlie

  • Rachel Nixon says:

    The idea of repurposing TV and radio content for online speaks volumes about the relative value that news organizations continue to place upon each medium. The assumption is that TV and radio material is suitable for the web – rarely the other way round.

    Sure, there’s (editorial and financial) value in using content across media – but it shouldn’t be about repurposing. It should be about coherent planning at the outset of a piece of journalism as to how to best tell the story and for which audiences. Let this determine the media and methods for telling the story.

    The web isn’t a distribution platform for TV and radio, it’s a valid medium in and of itself, and I really hope that people begin to realise this.

  • Thank you all for your comments. I agree with Peter that the term “multimedia, multiplatform journalism” is a clumsy one. What I mean is a journalism conceived from the start for each of the means of distribution, based on an understanding of the potential of each platform. This is very different to an approach based on taking content created for one medium and converting it for another.

    For example, the BBC News site has been offering TV reports online for years, but they rarely attracted much traffic. But this changed when it started offering bespoke video that enhanced a text story rather than duplicating it. This goes beyond re-using the scraps left over from TV and instead gathering the material with a view to using it for both TV and the web.

    It is also interesting to note that the discourse on this topic is based of the idea of “repurposing” material for print or broadcast for the web, rather than the other way round. Mindy McAdams makes a good point when she says that repurposes takes up precious time and doesn’t add much value. Instead she talks about how some newsrooms are turning the process of its head, putting the web first and then adapting this content for print or broadcast.

  • Jamie Cohen says:

    Repurposing is a cop-out for media creators. The big fallacy is that other mediums will “die” in order for online journalism or media to live. Therefore many companies are repurposing for the online “life.” We do have to reimagine the way journalism and television will work for the online world. @Rachel Nixon: I agree, it seems that content can easily be repurposed from the original broadcast/print forms to the internet, yet is not the other way around. But if the story is strong, as in the case of the web television series We Need Girlfriends that CBS purchased, the story and the content is the strength.

    No matter how we reimagine content, it should be based on quality, not quantity. Quality is translatable to every platform and every medium!

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