The 2013 Fellows were the first AJF participants to make use of the brand new Newsplex Asia facility. The centre is designed for innovative training for newsrooms of the future. It is a tie-up between Nanyang Technological University and the global industry group WAN-Ifra. This is one of four WAN-Ifra Newsplex facilities and the only one in Asia. AJF will conduct workshops at Newsplex, as part of the varied Fellowship programme. We speak to Lau Joon-Nie, the faculty member spearheading the Newsplex project, about its role in journalism training. Lau, formerly a news editor, broadcast journalist and interactive producer with Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia station, is now a lecturer at the School.
Q: What is Newsplex all about?
LJN: The Newsplex brings the various media platforms together in one convenient, collaborative space. Through carefully-considered planning and physical layout, it enables and empowers journalists, editors, designers and developers to create and communicate in the most efficient ways possible in order to deliver content speedily and seamlessly.
Q: What would you say to sceptics who argue that journalism is ultimately about traditional skills, not about technology?
LJN: The story sits at the heart of the Newsplex philosophy. To get that story, you need traditional skills – those never grow old – but to get that story out to and noticed by the consumer, you need technology. Audiences now want their news and information in the fastest, most convenient way possible and that is easy to read and understand. These days, this often means in a digital format. If we ignore the technology, we risk ignoring our audience’s needs and losing them altogether. They have many alternatives. What the Newsplex seeks to do is find ways to best tell the story and get it out using the variety of media platforms and formats now available to us.
Q: What kind of skills could newspaper journalists pick up through Newsplex training?
LJN: The training at the Newsplex focuses on areas where skills are in short supply newsrooms. These could range from creating exciting infographics that combine interactivity and movement/video, designing content for mobile and tablet interfaces, to using social media to engage audiences, who do not just want to consume news but also contribute and participate in the process. Newspapers are becoming multimedia houses. They want to take their own traditional expertise in layout and photography to the next level and they now want to go into video in a big way and give broadcasters a run for their money.
Q: What about journalists working in television or radio news? How could Newsplex training help?
LJN: Traditional media like radio and television are uni-directional, but the Internet now offers that much sought-after back channel for audiences to participate in real-time. There is still much for broadcasters to learn in improving the overall user experience and their engagement with their audiences using interactive platforms. They can capitalise on their inherent qualities of being very personal and intimate forms of media and build audience loyalty in an age of fickle and divided attention spans. In a multi-screen environment where audiences are often watching more than one screen concurrently, broadcasters face the challenge of keeping the viewer tuned in and deciding what content to extend to which screens – TV, online, mobile or tablet. In a Newsplex environment, participants often hail from a variety of media organisations, share their own experiences and learn from successful case studies.
Q: The news industry’s operating environment is transforming rapidly – technologies and markets seem to be changing constantly. How will you ensure that a facility like Newsplex remains relevant and adaptable?
LJN: Beyond being an exciting and creative physical space, the Newsplex is also about managing change and evolving mindsets. Technologies will come and go and can be replaced. Mindsets and attitudes need to adapt to the fast-moving marketplace. The open layout of the Newsplex encourages greater collaboration and interaction between news professionals, who increasingly find themselves working in multi-disciplinary teams while being responsive to what audiences want. The Newsplex will always be at the forefront of this change – offering methods to manage this transformation and ways to devise or optimise workflows and ecosystems. At the same time, it serves as a media lab to develop new forms and techniques of storytelling, bringing together conventional and sometimes unconventional partners to the table.