Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

NPR editors talks about changing media

Mobile devices, such as tablets and smart phones, are changing the landscape of journalism as National Public Radio digital news managing editor Mark Stencel knows it.

“Mobile is a different place for us to play,” said Stencel during his lecture titled “This Just In: Keeping Up with the News on a Digital Clock” Wednesday evening at the University of Massachusetts.

Once people stopped using radio alarm clocks to wake up in the morning, traffic became one of NPR’s main sources of listeners, according to Stencel who noted that radio journalism is not a prevalent source of news on the internet.

“It’s a little hard to listen to seven minutes of audio when your boss wants to know what you are doing,” he said.

But that hasn’t stopped NPR from working to find ways to improve their digital presence by integrating text, pictures and videos into an interactive format that users can engage with on their mobile devices.

Blogging sites such as Tumblr, which allow users to insert multimedia right into their posts, have a desirable model for news sites, according to Stencel.

“This is the content management system I want for my newsroom,” Stencel said of the interface.

Stencel is trying to break free of the headline and text formula used in print newspapers by making the NPR website an interactive news experience where readers can share and contribute.

“We know people like to share like crazy,” Stencel said. “This is a place where we can have a conversation with our audience.”

This new online environment is fast paced and has created an environment where mistakes seem to be inevitable, as Stencel learned on Jan. 8, 2011 when NPR misreported that now former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot and killed in the  Tucson, Ariz. shooting.

Despite receiving the information of the shooting from two credible sources, the sherriff’s office and a congressman who was close to Gifford, NPR still got the story wrong. Executive Editor Dick Meyer published an apology the following day that said the mistake was “a serious and grave error.”

“You’re not going to get it right all the time,” Stencel said. “It’s about how you deal with it when you do [get it wrong].”

Stencil said that’s why in reporting it’s important to be right, not first.

“Things live differently online,” he said.

He called the mistake a “multimedia screw-up” and that no single individual was responsible or could have prevented it.

When a mistake happens, NPR corrects the information, but does not try to hide is, according to Stencel.

“We do not delete an error on Twitter,” he said. “We correct it, but we do not delete it. Things are retweeted so quickly. We’ll look like we’re trying to hide something. It’s another place where we need to own a mistake.”

Stencel is the UMass Journalism program’s first Howard Ziff Journalist-in-Residence.  Ziff, who died on Apr. 10, founded the journalism program at UMass in 1971 and served as the department’s head for 13 years. Stencel’s lecture, titled “This Just In: Keeping Up With the News on a Digital Clock,” was made possible by funds from the Howard Ziff Lecture Series.

David Barnstone can be reached at [email protected]. Mary Reines contributed to this report.


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