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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Digital Media Toolbox

In search of the 'Digital First' epiphany

By Gil Asakawa

Steve Buttry — who has the impressive if murky title of “digital transformation editor” for Digital First Media, which operates the combined properties of the Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group — spends a lot of his time speaking to full-time journalists and students. He preaches the gospel of digital media as not only the future, but the present reality of the news business.

I was glad to meet him at a Digital Media Workshop at the University of Colorado, sponsored by the Digital News Test Kitchen, a media think tank. Buttry (Twitter: @stevebuttry), who’s based in northern Virginia, spent the workshop sharing his views on the importance of embracing the evolving tools and technologies of news, and also giving hands-on tips that journalists can employ to tell stories for the new age.

He had lots of examples of newspapers doing innovative work and trying new ideas, like using a board on the paper’s Pinterest page to show the local police’s Most Wanted mugshots, which lead to an increase in arrests. He also offered do’s and don’ts for other social media and digital tools.

In true digital-first fashion, there was a flurry of tweets during the workshop posted by attendees — who knows when Buttry found the time to re-tweet some of them while he was still presenting — and Buttry blogged about the workshop within a few hours. The post includes helpful links to all the examples of great multimedia and cutting edge work that he used during his talk, and they’re worth checking out for anyone interested in the best that digital journalism has to offer.

His blog post includes a link to a Storify timeline, a collection of tweets and photos compiled by journalism student Rob Denton uploaded live as the workshop progressed. Denton signed up for Storify when Buttry mentioned it and created the timeline during the workshop. That’s how easy it can be to try out and learn some of the cool new tools that are available for journalists to use.

On his blog, Buttry also uses a service called Slideshare to upload all the slides from his presentation. Slideshare is a social network to distribute PowerPoint presentations, and a perfect way to share expertise (assuming your PowerPoint presentation isn’t a snoozer, and Buttry’s aren’t).

During the Q-and-A session, I asked if he had an epiphany during his career, which began in traditional newspapers, that led him to embrace digital media.

“It’s really more a process than an epiphany,” he said.

He noted that he went into journalism in part because he knew he’d learn something new every day, and embracing new tools and platforms hasn’t been so different. He did remember that in 1984, he was in charge of a Des Moines Register initiative to raise community engagement by “crowdsourcing” news into a “Hometown” section. The idea didn’t fly with traditional journalists, but he was impressed with the power of the people who contributed.

He also remembered an early introduction to the Web as a research tool through a “Computer Assisted Reporting” project — what online, database-driven journalism was called back in the day — for the Omaha World Herald as the closest thing he had to an epiphany.

My epiphany was when I was entertainment editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1994. I got an email from a reader thanking me for the paper’s arts coverage because he was a local scientist stuck in Antarctica for the winter. Our site allowed him to keep up with the rich local arts scene. The knowledge that someone halfway around the globe could instantly read what I was publishing online changed my whole concept of news media.

If you had an epiphany about online media, send it to gil.asakawa@colorado.edu or tweet at me (@gilasakawa). I’d love to hear your stories.

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