VG embraces journalism + technology culture needed to reach younger audience

By the way I’m a hacker,” the award-winning video journalist Tim Pool said during a visit to Norway recently.

We who work in legacy media are beginning to get used to it: That young, aspiring media players tell us that old methods no longer work.

This is Tim describing how legacy media is struggling to change:

The 29-year-old from Chicago paints a picture of a generation growing up with YouTube, Netflix, Snapchat, Instragram, and Periscope (dont use Periscope!) as their preferred channels. In that picture, a lot of what you see on TV and in online newspapers today is obsolete: “The next generation [is] not going to watch the evening news with anchors wearing expensive clothes and talking in a strange way.” 

Tim Pool has built his career on knowledge of technology. He has received most attention for his interactive live broadcasts using a smartphone in the United States, Cairo, Istanbul, and Sao Paulo.

He went from Vice News to Fusion TV in 2014, where he currently has two jobs, head of innovation and senior correspondent. He is also co-founder of the app He has received numerous awards and is described as a journalist you want 10 of if you’re building a newsroom today.

From the stage during Nordic Media Days in Bergen he showed videos from the protests in Baltimore. He was close to the drama and elaborated on the fact that the big news channels gathered all at one spot a couple of blocks away and reported in the evening news something way different than what he had seen. 

Before telling everyone that “by the way I’m a hacker,” Pool also addressed the lack of knowledge among journalists when it comes to protecting information they have stored in phones and computers, especially on missions to conflict zones. He made clear how easy it is to hack a phone or computer full of sensitive information. 

I’m using Tim Pool as an example because of his technological approach to journalism — from discovery to production and presentation. For the YouTube-generation this is more natural than the evening news.

Tim stands out as a new, relevant player in the media landscape, both as a producer and innovator. I’m not saying that everybody has to be like him. But there’s a reason why he’s on the stage in front of hundreds of media people in desperate hunt for answers to the new media challenges.

Many will argue that they have adopted new technology and gained a foothold in a digital workflow. But this is much more than producing live video from a smartphone rather than a satellite truck. Or having a mobile-first mindset when the next long read is published. 

I finished my studies at the school of journalism in Oslo in 2002, seven years after the first news Web sites went live in Norway. During my studies we barely touched on Web publishing in one semester. It was when I started in VG (Norways largest newspaper and news site) in 2004 that I understood what it was like to be a journalist in the 2000s. 

It has been 11 years of high-speed development of the media industry and journalism. At the center all the way: Technology.

How has journalism education developed in the same period?

I recently examined the curriculum of a graduate of a journalism school in Norway. There is a long list of ethics, power structures in society, press history, and writing, to name a few. All of this is very relevant, but nowhere on the list did I read the word technology.

That is disastrous. 

Espen Sundve came from the world of tech to VG last year and currently works as product and technology officer. Sundve is the one person I know who says, “Technology and data can radically improve journalism” most often. His background in technology and journalism has resulted in important changes to our media company. 

His article “The Need For Product Management In Media” is a must read for all who find it difficult to look into the media future. 

Why aren’t software engineering, data science, user experience, and product development part of the journalism curriculum? If we gain basic knowledge of these subjects, journalism will be forward-thinking. Journalism must be a part of technology, not apart. 

Let me quote Sundve: “When information was scarce, journalism worked well without help from technology. In a world of content abundance, technology is key to dig up information, create and tell stories, surface content and engage with people.

If we want to gain a competetive advantage over pure-tech players in how content is created and stories are told, we have to unite journalism, user experience, software engineering, data, and analytics as we manage and develop our products. Product management in media needs to cut across all these functions and everyone have to take it serious. 

“Journalists and technologists can unite on the journalistic mission and together take journalism to a new level. It will demand from us that we take down the boarders between technology and traditional journalism. To achieve that we have to be curious on each others knowledge and get under the surface in understanding.”

Let’s fast forward a few years. Who is going to get a job in media? It will no longer be about making as many people as possible good at using digital tools in the workflow. We’re beyond that. The discovery, production, publication, and curation of content is all digital and technology-driven. And you will loose the game if you’re not working within that framework. 

You should understand the language of code. I’m not talking about making everyone senior developers, but you should have a basic knowledge of the code and technology used in our industry.

With this basic understanding, you’ll be able to influence the development of new products and tools that can enrich and give your content life. There will be a requirement that you have an analytical approach to everything you create and have ever created and that you have the overall user experience in focus.

In 2013, VG wrote about a high-ranking politician who broke into young girls iCloud accounts, stole nude pictures of them, and then distributed the images on online forums. It was the hacker Einar Otto Stangvik who was behind the disclosure. Today Stangvik is a security analyst at VG and is working on new projects classified as data journalism.

I asked him about future journalists . He replied:

“For the modern journalist, required technology know-how means being able to digitally do what the journalist has done in the analog world all along: To seek out information that others dont know exist, spot patterns and tendencies others dont recognise, explain the complicated and convey it all to the masses.

The journalist must crave information, maintain a critical eye and clear voice. This all requires insight and understanding, in the digital as well as the analog domain.” 

Journalism has actually never stood stronger and it has never been better positioned to reach and engange with as many people. But we stand at a crossroad.

Shall we continue to run after disruptors and tech players like Google, Facebook, BuzzFeed, Instagram, Vice News, and Fusion? Or should we start on the path towards more knowledge about how technology is crucial for journalism? 

The education system needs to takes action quickly, otherwise they run the risk of producing graduates who are unqualified to work in the modern media landscape. Journalism graduates who do not understand technology will not survive the digital future. Media houses will end up employing different more suitable candidates.


About Ola E. Stenberg

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