"Knowledge Management in the Digital Newsroom"
by Stephen Quinn
2002 Focal Press, Oxford
Review by Madanmohan Rao
Journalists, editors and newsroom managers in print, broadcast and online media are facing numerous pressures: widespread diffusion of new technologies, convergence of media channels, information overload in the newsroom, necessity of a 24-hour news cycle, and rising consumer expectations of news on any device and at any time.
"Knowledge Management in the Digital Newsroom" is a practical introduction to KM approaches for meeting the information and collaboration challenges in media organizations of the 21st century. There is a very strong "information management" focus in the book, and classic KM topics like communities of practice, change management and case studies are not dealt with as thoroughly as in other KM texts.
Stephen Quinn is an associate professor in journalism at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates. He was previously at Deakin University, Australia, and is the author of "Digital Sub-editing and Design" and "Newsgathering on the Net."
The material is well referenced, and divided into seven chapters covering topics like newsroom culture, technologies for reporters, wireless access, capacity building, and examples from Australia, US, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia.
Numerous useful resources, Web sites and organizations are listed: IFRA (www.ifra.com), American Society of Newspaper Editors (www.asne.org), World Association of Newspapers, Poynter Institute, World Editors' Forum, www.profnet.com, www.experts.com, www.informationadvisor.com, www.seyboldreport.com, PANPA Bulletin, National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting (www.nicar.org), Innovation International Media Consulting Group, Newspaper Research Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, and Australian Journalism Review.
Journalists must not just survive, but learn quickly and become totally at ease with the new technologies that are sweeping consumer lifestyles and business workplaces. "Productivity and success will come from intangibles such as knowledge management rather than from doing the same things over and over again, such as looking for more ways to cut costs," Quinn begins.
This calls for a wide variety of approaches such as better newsroom design to facilitate easier communication between journalists and editors, learning from the habits of librarians and information scientists, a professional culture of teamwork and collaboration, software tools for sharing and re-packaging of information (such as interview notes, contact information, source documents, news tips), a well maintained Intranet and digital library, use of structuring languages such as XML for multi-purposed content, and familiarity with new devices like digital cameras and pocket PCs.
According to SimVenture CEO Vince Giuliano, news media must transform themselves and see themselves as knowledge companies. It is important for news organizations to formally develop ways of "knowing what they know," according to IFRA analyst Kerry Northrup.
"The network becomes the newsroom," says Northrup in an article titled "The Re-defined Newsroom." Unfortunately, newspapers are generally conservative and have typically not been at the forefront of most technologies or of management approaches like KM. Many journalists tend to work individually rather than collectively. Managers of news companies have often found it difficult to engage in "coopetition" with rivals.
The convergence of media channels and devices is also leading to the emergence of "convergence" or "multiple" journalism. This calls for focused leadership, multi-skilling of journalists, flexible culture, and co-location of journalists from different backgrounds. Good examples of collaboration between different streams (print/TV/Internet) include the Tribune group and the Boston Globe in the US, and Ming Pao in Hong Kong. Cross-media regulatory blocks can hinder such synergistic effects in news media of other markets such as Australia, according to Quinn.
Workflow can be coordinated either via a special multi-media desk (which acts as a go-between for the separate departments), or by proximity-based collaboration between the separate departments.
Intranets can play an important role in archival management and collaborative activities for KM in newsrooms, says Quinn. It can assist in organization of research material, help reporters in the field feel more connected to the newsroom, cut communication costs for distributed workforces, and share useful software tools. Many newspapers already leverage Intranets to access their archives or feeds from partner news organizations, parliamentary transcripts, yellow pages, maps, news backgrounders, editorial guidelines and even contact information for translators.
The usual cultural obstacles to KM can arise in journalism: hoarding mentality, information overload, working environment and unwillingness to change to new systems.
One chapter reviews new tools and techniques like Xybernaut wearable computer gear (which allows reporters to plug into workflows at all times), Newsgear multimedia toolkits for journalists, NewsEngin's SourceTracker (to enable reporters to organize and index interview notes, email messages, documents, reports), computer-assisted reporting, GIS-based analysis (to unearth regional trends via datamining and mapping), and IFRA's Advanced Journalist Technology Project (to research digital multimedia tools). The Newsplex at the University of Southern Carolina is a prototype news centre showcasing the latest news tools and information management platforms.
Journalists need to structure content in such a way that it can be re-purposed easily - by deciding what the headline, blurb, body, related stories, related links and abstracts are; different versions may be needed for SMS delivery or for PDAs. Notable developments in the use of languages like XML for news include Reuters' NewsML and News Industry Text Format (NITF). Wireless devices are becoming important for consumer delivery of news as well as for newsroom workflow (via WLANs and handhelds).
One newspaper infused with the knowledge culture is the Maeil Business Newspaper of South Korea. Its president, Dae-Whan Chang, describes the organization as a "knowledge community." Story ideas are shared regularly by the editors, and the knowledge mission transcends the organization itself. In 1996, Chang initiated the Vision Korea national campaign to transform Korea into a knowledge-based economy, including conferences on topics like the learning revolution, women's education and KM metrics. In 1999, the newspaper started an Internet Korea campaign to organize Internet education for housewives, senior citizens and army personnel. It also has its own KM Academy. Chang is the executive chairman of the World Knowledge Forum that meets in Seoul each October.
Developments on the technology and KM front, of course, throw up complicated issues for news media ranging from speedy fact-checking to retaining a sense of context in the whirlwind of newsflow. The author has several recommendations on this front. Journalists and managers must continuously learn, and learn how to learn. Well-structured continuous training in technology skilling and knowledge-based workflow are key. Special knowledge managers and KM professionals may need to be hired; new roles like digester, sorter and narrative editor should be addressed; some staff with PhD qualifications should also be hired.
Reporters should start thinking of multiple media formats simultaneously. The KM mission needs to be spread via meetings, workshops and newsletters on the Intranet. "Symbols of convergence" should be established and displayed prominently. Collaboration is needed between industry and academia. Over and above all this, the "journalistic soul" (mission, ethics) should be honoured.
"Knowledge management provides a tool for journalists to work smarter in the 21st century," Quinn concludes.
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