Online journalism is more than just Flash

Only Nixon could have gone to China, and only Mindy McAdams could write a post entitled “Flash is not the answer.”

Flash is not a magic elixir. Flash will not make your Web site better if it’s generally bad, and it won’t make your stories better if you’re not already telling stories well with sound and pictures.

Second, let’s look around your Web site. Has anyone been producing any audio slideshows or videos that have … um (trying to be tactful) … substance? Value to the audience? Or are people just throwing random spaghetti at the wall? Because if that’s what your newsroom is doing, maybe you’re not ready to produce packages yet. Maybe you don’t have a strategy for your Web site — and if you don’t, then what are you going to use Flash for?

One ongoing theme of my blogging is “journalists need to learn to think strategically.”

In the olden days, when newspapers were essentially monopolies, competition was scarce and the profits were rolling in unabated, publishers could afford to employ journalists who pontificated in smokey, after-work barrooms about the puriety of their craft. No strategic business discussions allowed.

Those days are buried under a pile of rusting manual typewriters.

Nowadays, especially when you’re working online, you must think about more than the journalistic value of the story, but also ask questions like — where does this fit into our overall online strategy (do we even have a strategy)?, and how will this help grow and retain audience?

Mindy also hits on an important theme: Quality. If you’re going to do Flash, you better make sure it’s good. A lot of people don’t like my approach to video, but video is a much more forgiving medium than Flash multimedia projects. If it isn’t well done, and it isn’t meaningful, it’s a complete waste of time, both for the people who produce it and the audience asked to endure it.

One last thought for journalists: Don’t get too hung up on the idea that you need to learn Flash. There are lots of other things you can learn that will help you and your newsroom. If you’re not a visually oriented person to begin with, then learning Flash may not be your best bet. You and your newsroom might advance much faster if you learn PHP/MySQL, or even how to shoot and edit quick, down-and-dirty video, or how to do a Google map mashup, or hell, just how to blog proficiently, which for many print reporters, isn’t as easy as it looks.

Progress for SignOnSanDiego

Building on the success of AmplifySD radio, launched a new online radio station during the wild fires.

Here’s what Ron James, content manager, told me about it:

SignOn radio has proven to be a powerful new channel to reach a group in a way that newspaper sites couldn’t do. During the first week we had over 60,000 streams from around the world and callers from as far away as Australia, Guam, Sweden, Germany and England. We found callers helping other callers, some who were in other states who had friends and information we couldn’t have gathered as a news organization. The radio also provided a very human and personal way to reach a new audience.

During the biggest regional story in a decade or more, SOSD also launched a home page redesign that follows many of the best practices being established by many other newspaper sites. It’s nothing ground breaking, but a big improvement over the previous page, which I found cluttered, and they’re definitely doing many things right.

SOSD’s fire coverage has been outstanding. The new design has helped there, a lot. If you click through to other sections, however, you’ll see the rest of the site hasn’t been changed. Ron says they started the redesign three weeks before the fire with no plans to launch it so quickly. The rest of the site probably won’t change until a new CMS is in place.