Interview with Mark Briggs: Journalism Next

briggsMark Briggs is a forward-thinking journalist. His first book – Journalism 2.0 – has been a staple in my classes and on my reference shelf since it came out. Now, he’s got a new book out – Journalism Next. He answered the following questions by e-mail. The new book looks like a winner. Be sure to check it out if you can.

Why an update to your previous book?

The first book was written for working journalists, not journalism students. At the time, I was running the website for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. and trying to convince about 120 newspaper journalists to recognize and embrace the opportunities that digital technology presented. I had started a monthly training session at the paper in 2006 and the book was an extension of that. Jan Schaffer at J-Lab is the person who suggested the first book and said she’d get it funded – which she did. So I owe her a debt of thanks for launching this new career as an author.

In 2008, CQPress approached me to write an updated and expanded version that could be used as a college textbook. The first book had been adopted by a seemingly large number of college professors, but it wasn’t really a textbook, just a little handbook. I had never considered college journalists as an audience for the first book; I assumed there was probably already a big, thick textbook that covered all this. Apparently not, so I decided to work with CQPress to develop a text that would serve this need for journalism educators, but still be helpful for working journalists.

Oh, and that first book is really old now. So it badly needed an update just to get current with technology.

What’s the difference between your earlier book (J2.0) and your latest book?

First, the scope of Journalism Next is both broader and deeper. It covers a lot of new ground like microblogging and community management that were absent in Journalism 2.0. It’s about three times as long as the first book, too.

Second, the format is tailored for use in a classroom, but it’s not just a textbook. We’re calling it a guidebook and hope it will be useful as part of a journalism or media course or by an individual looking to master the digital skills necessary to publish and compete in today’s information ecosystem.

I sometimes called the first book “online journalism for dummies.” Not because I thought the audience was dumb, but because working journalists needed a simple, clear and practical introduction to online (like you’d find in the massively successful Dummies series of books). If the first book were as big as the new one, I don’t think as many people would have given it a chance. And there’s no way 200,000 people would have downloaded it as a PDF like they did with Journalism 2.0.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned while researching this book?

That you can learn pretty much anything you need to learn through Google and email. And that people involved in the innovation of news are really generous.

I’m not a genius who has mastered everything the book needed to cover so I had to find other sources of information. Sometimes that was easy and a quick search would answer my question. But most often I needed specialized information or even a practical example of how to apply a concept or technology. So I would reach out to people I knew for assistance. And if I didn’t know the people I needed to contact, I’d figure out a way to connect with them. (Kind of sounds like journalism, huh?)

In a vast majority of cases, these busy professionals were quick to reply to my requests and offered the high-quality information that makes Journalism Next so valuable.

What’s the most *important* thing you learned while researching this book?

The digital transformation for news is already happening and it’s really exciting to see. People often ask me how will news and journalism look once all this disruption – especially to the business models – shakes out. I often say there isn’t a switch that will be flipped. We won’t wake up one day with the new model. it’s a process and the seeds of the future for news are already sprouting all around us. You just have to know where to look.

How can this book help college journalists?

For one thing, it will give them a view into some of the best work being done on the professional level with regard to digital journalism. There are dozens of smart, talented pros talking about their work in the book, so they should be able to get a sense of what’s possible and maybe even get some ideas to apply to their current projects.

But the over-arching goal is to increase the digital literacy and proficiency for anyone who reads it. Maybe you’re skilled at multimedia, but need some help understanding or getting going with social media and community management. And there are a lot of fundamentals of technology that are connected to the practice of journalism. So, while you may know all about blogs, the book will teach you how to best use them for journalism, both in reporting and publishing.

What’s happened since the book went to the printer that you wish you could include?

Surprisingly, not as much as I’d feared. Of course, just this week, Google’s Living Stories was released and that would have been nice to mention. And Twitter Lists were not available yet and there have already been some interesting journalistic uses. I’m sure I could create a long list if I thought really hard about it, but I try not to dwell on things I can’t control.

What’s the biggest takeaway from your book that you hope people don’t miss?

While I think the future is bright for journalism in the digital age, the future is now. You shouldn’t wait to get started. And not only is the future of journalism digital, digital can make journalism better. As I wrote in the introduction, the innovation that is going to occur over the next few years is in the hands of today’s journalists, both young and old. So get going.

Where can people go to keep up with the topics discussed in the book?

There is a list of some 20-30 websites and blogs that I recommend people follow to stay up to date (including Innovation in College Media, of course.) There’s Twitter, too, of course and if you’re looking for people to follow, anyone associated with the Online News Association, Poynter or Wired Journalists is a good place to start.