Towards an institutional digital journalism:
challenges and opportunities for the Salesian Bulletin
By:Jesús Armando García Rodríguez SDB
It is more than a decade since digital journalism entered decisively and permanently into editorial processes in communications media and changed the way of working within the information media field (without reducing it only to news). This change is ongoing. It has not yet run its course.
With more or less success, both for the media and those who create it - the journalists - programming experts and designers have been altering their way of working and disseminating information and gradually have become digital journalists.
Journalism is not what it used to be, not only because it is being done through electronic media but especially because it has undergone changes in every possible way, both in its essentials and in its shape. Initially the journalist used his notes to supply the early web sites which presented magazines and periodicals, with the same notes that he used for the printed versions. Then journalists discovered that hypertext was more than certain words underlined in blue, and so began to enrich their texts, more briefly each time, with a depth and series of links much more akin to a human way of thinking than the model: “go to page 11”.
Later it became possible for links to allow access to non-text information and new grammars came into being, digital ones, imposing the concept of hypertext, multimedia, interactivity, usability, amongst others. And all in the blink of an eyelid.
To put it simply, the paradigms of the communication world have radically altered. Along with changes in paradigms in the way journalists work the concept of the journalist or producer and disseminator of information has changed. Today, other types which were not there before: blogger, commentator, Facebook user, twitter user, etc., are synonymous (almost) with digital journalists , so that any citizen today can carry out actions like publishing, posting, tweeting.
We communicators within the Salesian world have noted these aforementioned changes. This has been helped by the fact that we have kept in close contact with the world of the young. However it is important to recognize that, as has generally happened in Church circles, we have been part of this more as spectators, and in most cases, repeating strategies, practices and technologies, not as pioneers or “launching points”, but one step (or more) behind.
The reality is that we have been only gradually integrating ourselves into communicating and generating information but are still far from offering due approval to the new opportunities awaiting us in digital journalism.
The reason perhaps is that amongst us, in our provinces and communications initiatives, we are mainly digital immigrants. The digital natives give us a fair bit of help, but they are not yet at the forefront.
During this rapid development we Salesians have been occupied in reflecting on our presence in the communications world. It is enough just to realize that the Social Communications Delegate still has to “gain recognition as a citizen” in some provinces, while we see that in others they are gradually establishing their role and understanding their function better.
For its part the Salesian Bulletin has been in a relaunching phase and in a process of constant improvement. However the main concern of Salesian Bulletin editors has been focused on reinforcing it as a traditional magazine and not so much as a proposal of digital journalism.
But we cannot continue thinking of the Salesian Bulletin, a communications activity launched by Don Bosco himself, as just a “traditional” medium; it needs to evolve. Its readers have evolved, ways of consuming communications products have evolved, whatever the Slaesian Bulletin makes possible has evolved...With Don Bosco and with his times.
We should not forget the small efforts realized by some countries or provinces to bring the Salesian Bulletin into the digital continent, however we are not as yet dealing with an institutional tendency but with some good intentions and insights.
This is why I would dare to say that although we have continued our efforts towards the digital, these are still on the periphery and not at the heart of the digital continent.
In order to better understand “Digital” but in reference to “Multimedia” understood as a key element in the current activity of communicating we need simply go to its Latin etymology: multi which means understanding ourselves as many, and media, plural of medium, in reference to mediums or intermediaries. According to this, multimedia needs to be seen as a comunication expressed-transmitted-perceived through various media.
Ramón Salaverría, specialist in digital journalism and author of the ideas that shape this part of my presentation, also goes back to definitions of multimedia which he takes from the DiccionariodelaRealAcademiaEspañola (RAE): “Whoever uses different media, such as images, sound and text, together and at the same time, to transmit information”, but also the CambridgeInternationalDictionary: “Use of a combination of static or moving images, sound, music and words, especially in computers or for entertainment”.
In other words, and by way of summary, Salaverría proposes the concept of “Multimedia”, seen from a journalistic perspective: multimedia information is the message from journalistic content that, with digital support, is expressed simultaneously through text, images and sounds. And this ability derives from digital support.
Precisely because we are used to using the term “multimedia” in very different ways it seems appropriate for me to present Salaverría's idea of distinguishing 4 expressions deriving from multimedia and within which we can frame our Salesian communications activity:
Messages expressed simultaneously through various media. This could include other expressions which are becoming more frequent such as 'multimedia news' or 'narrative multimedia'.
Refers to the simple juxtaposition of communications media, businesses whose respective information products do not need to be related amongst themselves.
Refers to the information messages transmitted, presented or perceived as a whole through multiple media.
Multiple intermediaries involved in the transmission of an information product, to the extent that this product is multimedia in the communications sense as if it were not.
To be accepted, media considered to be digital as such needs to conform to certain features or conditions which can be of two kinds: communicative or technological:
refers to the use of a combination of at least three things: text-image-audio, or text-video-audio, possible thanks to digital media. The “multicode” feature requires not only creativity to combine the elements available but to set up a network, a challenge for developing new information languages, new grammars and syntax that can allow us to integrate this triple-code model so as to express not three products but a single information product.
A multimedia message needs a language that integrates text and audiovisual codes, an integration that needs to be unified and not a simple juxtaposition. In most cases digital sites collocate “many media”, meaning more than one media but often presented as unconnected or unintegrated information.
Often the most obvious feature or condition, this refers to the use of digital technologies that make it possible to unite text, sound and image in a single message.
refers to the “virtue” of multimedia elements able to be interconnected with each other, independently of whether they are the source or target, and making up a single communications multimedia. This allows a linking-connecting or text or audiovisual elements thanks to a technological platform made up of different protocols.
The feature that allows linking-connecting text elements to other text elements thanks to a technological platform made up of different protocols. One of the features is that these interconnections do not necessarily follow sequence patterns or an order of the kind we find in “digital reading” habits of users.
So that everything can mean something, it is necessary to have a “place” in a determined space and in a specific manner that allows it to be understood by the “digital readers” and this requires appropriate technological resources that permit interpretation and reproduction of the information offered. This term then refers to the complex of resources which communicate in both directions, to the machine (computer, smartphone, ipad, tablet, refrigerator, television, etc.) and to people.
The term can be used in two ways: the physical interface has to do with what we usually call “hardware”, everything that allows a user to “communicate” with a digital device. However the idea of a graphical interface is made up of each visual element that allows a digital information unit to make sense for the users, often by using “analog” graphical items sufficiently close to daily life.
There are other concepts that refer to digital communication. For example Interactivity and non-linearity. It is not that they are less important but I think they nake up part of our daily life to the extent that we can skip the need to explain them. What is less obvious however is how to use them to advantage and with success in a digital site, especially if it is a Salesian one. Fortunately there are experiences we have already shared or that will be presented over the following days so I shall leave it to them to present these aspects.
Digital convergence is the best scenario for us to consider how we can fully integrate our efforts in digital communication.
Convergence refers precisely to an approach to work and digital communication that requires overcoming the juxtaposition of elements in a platform or platforms for common dissemination for more than one medium and/or communicator (journalist, blogger, etc) and to achieve this it requires that the individual pieces work as a single 'team'.
In communications enterprises that have moved towards digital convergence it has been necessary to change the classic editorial framework (the physical place where one works) cutting out private or single-person spaces where the journalist or reporter used work. Now they work in broad open areas where information can flow without difficulty amongst them: the journalist, graphic designer, audio, video editors, the one responsible for opinion polls, editors, advertising dept etc.
The aim of working this way is to be able to communicate, obviously digitally, in a combined way offering content and information which is “enriched” and overcoming the rich but limjited approach of multimedia communication (text+image+audio).
The convergent model of working requires new habits on the part of the communicators since it means learning to work with others and avoiding the “lone leadership” of the traditional journalist. On the other hand this way of generating information needs greater planning: what we want to communicate, with what digital elements, privileging which kind of media in particular (text, audio, image).
If it seems complicated to organize a convergent working model, we should add that media which are considered to be convergent not only work with multidisciplinary editing teams but I would venture to say that they are "meta-editorial" in nature in which the development of a digital information unit involves not only members of a single medium but several: CNN news, CNN TV, CNN Internet, for instance. Sometimes even forming strategic alliances:
Yahoo!, Reuters, Weather Channel, The Wall Street Journal.
This prevents each medium becoming a media company in its own right through the information that others produce and instead integrating it into their own communication.
Certainly the motivation at the basis of digital convergence efforts is economic interest, not to communicate better for the convenience of mankind, but simply to position oneself as a "convergence initiative" to beat one's competitors. Moreover convergence initiatives try to overcome the influence gained by those who have had some success as citizen journalists, and who carry out digital communication efforts through their own resources, often surpassing the media "giants".
Today there are people who dislike the flippant use of social networks, private and proprietary technologies that allow millions of people to contact relatives, friends, acquaintances and ... people who we do not know but are added to the list in itself seems to grant visibility to friendship:
"I have a buddy list of 2,500 people ... I do not personally know 2,300 of them but I am a very popular person!"
For a Salesian and anyone who shares the passion of the "Da mihi animas", social networks may mean a new way of realizing the Salesian Playground-School-Church-Home idea, as they represent not only a digital space in which these 4 situations typical of the whole Salesian enterprise can be translated but amplifies them exponentially. What would Don Bosco not have done if he could have had access to this precious resource? We know that social networks are often banal kinds of areas but they are also a digital area where young people are not only present, but live.
The so-called "digital continent" is an area that requires new kinds of communicators (those who have the ability to communicate). It is a place where everything is possible and requires the decisive presence of the Salesian charism, as always, serving youth.
But the question of 'how?' continues to be heard strongly and successful experiences are still thin on the ground: how do we do it? Any suggestions?
A starting point towards an answer is to accept the fact that social networks are, although informally, a large converging environment. Facebook combines a number of communication products, more in the style of the "Prosumer" since although much content offered on social networks is consumed and then "copied" or replicated from many different websites, there is plenty of original content, which is then distributed to others. This convergence is due more to the personal interests of each user of this technology and, although not really planned that way, it eventually builds real content distribution platforms of interest to many people.
Our communication in a Salesian style, but by now becoming digital, cannot cease to be human and personal however. That is why we cannot avoid taking advantage of social networks in order to continue offering, for example through the Salesian Bulletin, a Salesian point of view on the world and a look at the Salesian world. We need to make our communication efforts converge rather than continue to separate print, radio, television, video and Internet.
In effect there is more than one way to understand digital journalism and, therefore, the digital journalist. One will emphasize the way digital information is distributed, a digital distribution that has to care about multimedia language, of the relevance not only of sources but of links and content offered “audiences” along with the mechanisms of interaction with the medium and other elements of the “reading” public.
Another emphasis is to point to the digital as an excellent tool for carrying out the task of informing: journalism that is digital in that it “creates” via digital tools: investigation through social networks, analyzing forums, use of video and digital photographs astools of broad information.
In our case we need to combine both views: a digital journalism that gives attention to an appropriate “grammar” and to the tendencies of the consumer of information and digital content, but one that also knows how to profit from the proper techniques of the journalist who understands his role in a digital way.
Current digital media have taken advantage of the development of this new way of saving costs and personal journalism. A distinct 'family' characteristic of our way of doing Salesian journalism is that we do not have too many financial and human resources, so digital journalism is a good opportunity for us all.
Allow me to propose once again the need to give new meaning, without forgetting the original, to home, playground, school, parish, so they can mean something in the digital continent.
Often, in our respective countries, we do our best to have appropriate and significant media or communications products. As has already been indicated, we have also entered the digital world. The problem, I believe, is that we have laid our hands on other models of being present on the Web and forgotten, in a certain sense to “salesianize” the internet by offering it our educative and pastoral approach.
For example, it is not difficult to identify the “word in the ear” with a banner on a web page. Nor is it complicated to accept as a Salesian offering the role of spiritual accompaniment transformed into “counseling on line”. Just to give some examples.
On the other hand, one of our weaknesses is trying to give answers or offer digital services individually, or just at local, provincial or national level. Looking at the digital world around us, in many cases it offers digital services (information, entertainment, consulting, etc..) which are thought of as a whole, even though there are language or cultural barriers. The Salesian Bulletin may also be thought of as a whole in this way, just because the digital world has no borders.
One area of opportunity would certainly be to think in a convergent way of our various efforts in the communication field by bypassing strategies, well-intended though they may be, which result in division or fragmentation in the digital area (SB website, provincial website, website for the Salesian radio station ...). It is not about creating digital monoliths, but communicating more strongly by integrating content that may be useful to our audience.
Some ideas that I believe have to do with the Salesian Bulletin of the future:
- Digital: Although traditional media is still significant in fact the trend toward digital information is irreversible, so it should not rule out the possibility that one day the SB is digital only.
- International: Since the means by which digital information travels -internet- has no real boundaries and its content can be consumed anywhere on the planet, it requires the Salesian Bulletin to be multinational. The number of issues does not necessarily depend only on one common language.
- Convergence space (inclusive) for Salesian media: If you currently have a large amount of content that is Salesian, in the future this will increase exponentially and the SB may well be the place for integrating it, while still retaining its independence.
- A repository for universal Salesian spiritual, educational, pastoral legacy: one that allows access to the wealth available to the Congregation and the Salesian Family. It depends on the ability to translate digital documents, information and experiences.
- Development by a multidisciplinary editorial team: A team of people who together achieve the essential aspect of communication: creating a message and getting an answer.
- Multi-platform, multimedia integration: A SB that can be navigated independently of the tool one has (laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc..) And integration of the various resources of text-image-audio best suited to communicate a message.
- Updated in real time: Overcoming the limitations of the paper edition, the SB can offer new information without obeying criteria of monthly or other publication, but can certainly respect other criteria proper to journalism such as timeliness, relevance and being up-to-date.
- Personal media: The SB can become a medium whose processes may be shaped by the readers who decide how they want to deal with the product and how they want to re-distribute it.
- A place where citizen journalism will have an opportunity to take part so that readers of the SB may, if relevant, be involved in proposing content.