A Newspaper Editor’s Transition to New Media

By: Steve Outing

An increasing number of newspaper journalists are making the transition to new media work, and as I reported on Wednesday in my column about journalists working at Microsoft, many are opting to work for companies outside of “mainstream” journalism. One of those folks is Gil Asakawa, who recently took a job at Digital City Denver as content editor. I caught up with him this week and asked him to describe the transition from traditional to “new” media.

Asakawa was most recently entertainment editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, and spent 11 years as a music editor at Westword, Denver’s dominant alternative newsweekly. In this new position, he is responsible for lining up content — from staff and independent freelancers, and from local media and other partnerships — for Digital City’s Denver unit. (Digital City is a spin-off of America Online that is developing online city guides in communities around the U.S.) Moving into the online medium was part of his career plan. “I quit the dead-tree business specifically to pursue this type of job,” he says.

Recognizing that the online medium would become increasingly important, Asakawa earlier this year became immersed in the field by “learning the jargon” and participating in online discussion forums like the online-news list to learn as much as he could about an emerging profession. Once he landed in the new media world, “it wasn’t that foreign to me.”

His newspaper years — which included the launching of a Friday entertainment supplement for the Gazette-Telegraph — provided the right kind of experience to participate in an online content start-up. It also helped coming from an alternative-newspaper background, he says, in that he was used to a less structured environment and work responsibilities.

Broad responsibilities

The biggest difference between old and new media jobs may be the range of duties in his new position. “My title is pretty nebulous, and the job description is a bit slippery,” Asakawa says. The job is a combination of newspaper, magazine and broadcast work that requires a much broader range of talents and skills than, say, the typical newspaper editing job — and during start-up phase, long hours.

“My brain is very much into multi-tasking mode,” he quips. “I need to find some additional RAM chips for my head.”

Other Digital City Denver staff members have specific areas of responsibility, but they also are asked to get involved in other work activities. The nature of the new media world today is such that it encourages people to do what they do best, Asakawa says, and allows people to develop new skills across a broader range. It’s much easier for a young person to move around in a new media operation — having demonstrated his skills at multiple tasks — than at a newspaper, where opportunities for less experienced employees to try out a new job typically are limited.

The small staff at Asakawa’s office comes from a diverse background: newspapers, new media, marketing, television and advertising. To a journalist used to working only around other journalists in a newsroom, this is quite a switch. But Asakawa likes the change; he thinks too many traditional journalists “have boxed themselves in” to narrowly defined roles. New media work frees journalists to look beyond their pre-conceived notions of career, he says.

This is not your father’s medium

One key difference in online journalism is deadlines, or the lack of them. Running an operation like Digital City Denver is more like broadcasting or the wire services, he says, in that presenting content is a continuous loop.

It’s also a different type of journalism, as Asakawa acknowledges. One of his primary duties is lining up content providers for Digital City Denver, including freelance online columnists covering a variety of topics. One columnist is a magician who will write weekly. Is that journalism?

Asakawa thinks that if a person, even if not trained as a “journalist,” can tell a story well, then that’s good enough to be published. “Newspaper people tend to dump on everyone who’s not from newspapers,” he says, yet newspapers themselves often don’t do a good job of telling a story.

Nevertheless, Asakawa is trying to bring some traditional newsroom values into the new media environment, where managers and much of the staff may not have been exposed to journalistic ethics. The editorial-advertising line is blurred a lot in new media, he says, and this is an area where journalists can benefit an online start-up in helping others understand why traditional publishers have a long history of preventing advertisers from influencing the editorial product.

Overall, Asakawa is thrilled to have made the move to an emerging media. “I love this industry,” he says.

Contact: Gil Asakawa, gillers@aol.com

Here’s a good election-time idea

With U.S. election time nearing, here’s a great idea for a feature to add to your Web site. It was done by The Guardian a while ago, so it’s not new — but is worth resurrecting. The London paper published a list of 20 political positions and Web viewers got to pick the ones they agreed with via Web form check-box system. The Guardian server then tabulated the answers and determined which candidates best matched the viewer.

At a family get-together a while back, my father brought a print clipping of a similar reader questionnaire published in one of the Denver newspapers. Your score was measured by your answers, then matched to a famous politician. In my family, members ranked from “Jesse Jackson” to “Bob Dole.” This was a popular activity, and I’m betting an online version would attract a lot of usage.

What’s in a name? Warm fuzzies

Kudos to California’s Contra Costa Newspapers for its witty choice of a name for its new Web service, Hot CoCo. The site serves the East Bay communities of the Bay Area. In addition to the Web site, CoCo Newspapers also is selling Internet access through its affiliation with InfiNet.

Pantheon’s new release

Seattle Internet publishing software developer Pantheon has released a 2.0 version of its Pantheon Builder application, which is used by newspapers to run their Web sites. Builder is a turnkey newspaper Web site solution that automatically converts articles to HTML format, then helps a newspaper to manage the content and appearance of its Web site. The system is designed as a way to automate many of the previously human-intensive tasks of running a news Web site.

New features in the 2.0 release include the ability for editors to link several multimedia files, such as video and sound clips, graphics and photos, to a story easily, and multi-level archiving.

More than a dozen U.S. newspapers now use the Pantheon software, including the Los Angeles Times, Rocky Mountain News, Detroit Free Press, Newsday, Dallas Morning News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Pricing of the software depends on the size of installation, and starts at $10,000.

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company.

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