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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

Back to basics

The multimedia revolution is an interesting one. But while all newspapers should be embracing the multimedia revolution, I still believe online media should supplement not replace print journalism.

And there is not a better example of this than in The Birmingham Mail this week with their exclusive on Aston Villa footballer Gareth Barry’s farewell letter.

Gareth Barry letter, Birmingham Mail

Gareth Barry letter, Birmingham Mail

HoldtheFrontPage reported that Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson refused to publish the letter online until after it had been published exclusively in their print edition. This was a gamble which paid off. It meant media companies such as BBC Five Live, Setanta and Sky Sports News could only use a copy of the letter from the Birmingham Mail’s print edition giving the newspaper a huge amount of publicity and increasing print sales by more than 4,000 copies that day. Smart if you ask me. So why have newspapers been ignoring these basic principles for so long?

Timing is everything with the web. And I think this is not understood well enough by editors at the moment. By timing I do not mean madly rushing to get something up online as soon as possible. It is about carefully considering the pros and cons of publishing immediately or holding off. Sometimes, particularly in the case of exclusives, there is more benefit in holding off, as demonstrated by The Birmingham Mail.

The public does not care who published the information first. They do not care whose amazing journalism skills brought in the scoop, they simply care about the news and what it means to them and the rest of the world. When we hear that a teenager girl from Cardiff has first degree burns from a sun bed we don’t read it and think, wow… the South Wales Echo sourced that story first. We think about the safety implications coin operated sun beds have on our children.

How many members of the public sit there refreshing news sites to see if their regional paper has got an exclusive? Realistically it is only our fellow multimedia journalists who are obsessively checking their RSS feeds, twitter updates and so forth to see if there is anything they have missed. And if they find something, there is nothing to stop them from simply passing it off as their own without crediting the original source.

What is the point in being a first class journalist with the ability to bring in dozens of off-diary stories and having brilliant networking skills, if a budding churnalist of a rival newspaper comes along and respouts your exclusive as his or her own? Churnalism is a big problem at the moment. It is inexpensive and non-time-consuming meaning it is a great alternative to on-the-ground journalism.

My point is this. Multimedia journalism is the way forward but editors must consider timing as much as the content of their sites. Otherwise without clever timing, churnalism will be allowed to get out of control like a parasitic weed.

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