Wednesday, April 1, 2009

This Week: Two Major Innovations in the Evolution of Online Journalism

Online journalism is advancing at breakneck speed, and this week brought news of two new ventures with huge potential.

The Huffington Post announced its new investigative journalism division, which is particularly good news since the one area of reporting that has been roundly dethroned since media went digital is deep investigation. Find me an online publication that would support a long, slow investigation like Watergate, and I’ll buy you the best fried shrimp po-boy to be had in the entire city of New Orleans. So, hearing that the digital queen of innovative reportage, Arianna Huffington, had clicked her heels together and raised almost $2 million to fund the new venture, is truly exciting. The ten reporters who will staff the new unit have a golden opportunity to take online reporting to the next level. In its claw and scratch climb toward full credibility, online journalism needs to skillfully cross the investigative hurdle and break something big wide open. Not only that, but the Huffington Post pledges to make the work these reporters produce available to any other site at the same time it is published on their site. You can take it to the bank that Greenberg Rants will be posting some of this work on the site at the first opportunity. I can’t wait.

The same day the new investigative unit was unveiled, Fox News debuted its new opinion and commentary site, Fox Nation. All of you committed liberals out there who were breathless just one paragraph ago should stop turning up your noses right now at Fox’s new venture. This is good news, all of it. This is the way to pump up the volume on the public discourse about issues that matter. Let’s hear all voices – liberals, conservatives, libertarians, evangelists, fringe extremists – it shows the media consumers are fully engaged for the first time in a long time. Fox Nation will necessarily lean right. That doesn’t faze me. But there are two elements of the new site that do concern me: First, will the communicators allow their message to get lost inside of their volatile expression? Really, does anyone truly listen to what Glen Beck has to say, as much as they hang on the novelty of his tearful, histrionic delivery? I want Fox Nation to make its point journalistically, not theatrically. Second, the aesthetics of the site are pedestrian and unimaginative. That I do not get. With the stunning graphics available now, it baffles me that they would opt for such a milk toast fa├žade.

Further, it will be incumbent upon the site to truly understand the importance of immediacy. On April 1, one of its front page 10 top “Justice” stories was “Police Detain NFL Player While Mother-in-law Dies.” That was a March 26 story. In online journalism time, that story was a senior citizen by April 1. In fact, by the 1st, the player and his wife had already appeared on GMA and forgiven the offending cop, who had, incidentally, quit on April 1. None of this was mentioned on Fox Nation. To truly garner the ongoing, loyal audience they will need, a greater sense of urgency and a better journalistic follow up will have to develop – fast.

Fasten your media consumer seat belt – you’re in for the ride of your lifetime if you just pay attention to what’s happening online right now. Has there really ever been a more dynamic moment in the history of the fifth estate?

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