My next assignment: covering online journalism

I’ve spent 10-plus years working from within to change newspapers in some small way. Now I hope to effect change from the outside. Earlier this month, I left my job as interactive technology editor at the Los Angeles Times to travel and learn and share stories about the great work taking place in online journalism around the world. I love the Times, my work and my colleagues, but I’ve decided it’s time to try something new: reporting.

Beginning in January, my plan is to spend six months or so writing about trends and best practices in the field, both in the U.S. and abroad. Among the questions I’d like to explore:

  • What common themes emerge as news organizations change their workflow, culture, reporting structures and newsroom geography?
  • What are newsrooms in Europe and elsewhere doing that American media can learn from?
  • How are news organizations succeeding in doing more with less? Where are they focusing their resources and what are they walking away from?
  • What lessons can we take from success stories outside traditional media, including solo practitioners and online-only outfits?
  • How are news aggregators and social media affecting coverage choices and marketing of content?
  • What new storytelling and data presentation forms are gaining traction? How are viewers reacting?
  • How are traditional media companies altering (or blowing up) their business models to compete in the new information economy?
  • What role are the people formerly known as the audience playing in the newsgathering process?

Kind of broad, yes, but I’ve always been more of a generalist than a specialist.

A lot of people are blogging their opinions about the state and the future of journalism. I have plenty of my own, and I’ll share them when I think they’re relevant. But mostly I want this to be a fact-finding mission. I am not a reporter, but that is what I’ll try to be for these few months.

I believe that much of the journalism newspapers do is still important and essential, and I want to see that work live on after print dies. So I intend to write with an eye toward helping traditional news organizations negotiate the terrain of online media, but I hope that some of these topics will be of interest to people beyond “old media”.

I’ll be blogging here at, unless some generous benefactor agrees to finance all or part of this endeavor, in which case I’ll write wherever I’m asked to.

I’m looking for guidance on where to go, who to talk to and what topics to investigate. Please leave your advice in the comments here. I plan to base my itinerary in large part on the suggestions I receive.

More soon.

Update 2008.12.05: Thanks for all the great thoughts. A few more details on the itinerary. Also, ran a little e-mail interview on my plans.

Update 2009.01.24: An up-to-date itinerary can be found here.

26 Replies to “My next assignment: covering online journalism”

  1. Cool! Count me in if I can help. Lots of thoughts too numerous to mention here so drop me a line. Hope all is well with you.

  2. […] LA Times online guru Eric Ulken goes solo to figure out where journalism. One to […]

  3. […] My next assignment: covering online journalism · Former LA Times interactive technology editor embarking on six-month, fact-finding quest about the future of journalism. Asking these questions (see below) and more… […]

  4. We’d love to hear how your travels are going on a Knight Pulse conversation ( in a few months–safe travels–

  5. So, in other words, you are going to walk the earth, like Caine from Kung-Fu?

  6. You might consider spending some time in Finland. Seems to me that the folks at Nokia spend a lot of time thinking about the future of media–and that much of it will be delivered to individuals with geo-targeted content.

  7. […] LA Times interactive technology editor Eric Ulken is off to trot the globe, after ten years working in […]

  8. sounds like a GREAT idea. we did something sorta similar, at least something I feel fits into your project.
    I’ve also been an self supported, underground publisher for over 20 years. I’m thinking I have a view off the media/journalism like no other…

    We’re now on the Oregon/Washington coast working on a book and film of our year on the road… you’re welcome to see how we roll, media RV and all… come on up, we’ll feed you and hook you up with a place to lay yer head.

  9. Stopped by the newsroom and it was painfully obvious that you were missing. See you soon!

  10. Glad you could join those of us who already wander the globe – although I must warn you, it feels much more akin to the situation of the angels in Wings of Desire, than to any Jules/Kung-Fu Caine paradigm. That is, you get to wander through and observe the lives of the people hard at work putting the virtual wrenches onto the digital mechanisms … but you’re often left feeling frustrated at the lack of power to jump in and directly influence events. Then again – particularly in light of current media meltdown conditions – how much can us tiny individuals actually control such lumbering macro events anyway?

    Somewhere, Wim Wenders is laughing like Dieter from “Sprockets.”

    You had indicated a desire to get together & pick our brains about the international digital media “scene.” We have much to talk about; make sure to come on by before you blow town.

  11. Have fun! There’s a lot of interesting online journalism work/newsroom restructuring going on in Europe, such as at El Pais in Spain, The Daily Telegraph in the UK and The Nordjyske Medier in Denmark.

    I learned about what El Pais is doing during a study abroad trip in 2006 and I know they’re still doing interesting things:

    The latter two I learned about from Randy Covington at the Next Newsroom conference. He’d be a good person to contact for international (particularly European) suggestions.

  12. Stephen: Finland would be an awesome trip, and I’d love to see what the Nokia folks are up to. Anybody got any contacts there?

    Shane: Interesting project. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and I’ll keep it in mind should my travels bring me out to that part of the country.

    Dave: That film left me scratching my head a bit, but I can totally see what you mean about the angels. 🙂 I’ll check in soon on getting together.

    Greg: El Pais, Telegraph and Nordjyske are definitely on the list.

    Thanks, everyone, for the thoughts. Keep ’em coming.

  13. Awesome plan man. I just e-mailed one of my close friends who currently works for a small newspaper out in Cambodia telling her they should host you out there. Don’t know how interested you’d be in going to Southeast Asia (or if they could for sure have you) but I think you could learn from them and they could learn a lot from you. I’ll ask her to e-mail you and you can follow up if you’d like.

    I too am a member of the LA Times diaspora (I remember sitting in on a few presentations that you either gave or assisted with) — I left a few months ago. I wish you luck on this journey!


  14. Good luck with your new projects, Eric. This all sounds very exciting, and I’ll be keeping track for sure. If you ever want to talk about scholastic online journalism, I’d love to. Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Thanks again for the very helpful Webinar on search Tuesday, Eric. Suggestions for your trip: Gazeta Wyborcza in Warsaw, Danish Journalists Association, various outfits in South Africa (not exactly on your itinerary, I realize, but lots of interesting stuff going on). Will send you names, contact info via e-mail. Very much looking forward to reading your reports.

  16. […] by Adrian Holovaty’s, and has taken some time off to travel the world and write about the evolution of journalism, wrote up some lessons from the Homicide Map project that are well […]

  17. Just added you to my RSS reader, Eric. I’m looking forward to reading your ideas here.

  18. […] After leaving his job as interactive technology editor at the Los Angeles Times, Eric Ulken is set to investigate online journalism by travelling around the globe for six months. Ulken will be posting itineraries and links to all […]

  19. […] My next assignment: covering online journalism. Former LA Times reporter Eric Ulken has given himself a new gig: “Beginning in January, my plan is to spend six months or so writing about trends and best practices in the field, both in the U.S. and abroad.” It will be interesting to watch the results unfold. […]

  20. Come back to your beloved Maastricht and visit us at the European Journalism Centre! You will be able to combine several of the other suggestions in just one trip; we are dealing with a lot of those guys in a variety of projects. See you then:)

  21. […] and presenting data online and in print. (Note: I left the Times earlier this month to work on some independent projects. I am writing this piece with the blessing of my former bosses […]

  22. […] busy packing up my L.A. apartment in preparation for my upcoming adventure. So I haven’t had much time to spend on travel planning, but things are starting to take […]

  23. Hello Eric,
    Thanks so much for your tips – I’ve been loving all the sites you sent me too. Sorry for the tardy response – I just moved back from Mexico City and it’s been a bit of a chaotic period! I did pass through LA, but for only a few days. I’m job-searching down that way, so I’ll be going more frequently now and would love to meet for coffee (my treat of course). However, it looks like you are leaving LA – your trip looks very exciting. I look forward to reading it on the blog.
    I took your course at NewsU about improving usability and gaining web traffic. The tips were very useful for my employer –, which is launching a new multimedia/social networking site for expats.
    I’ve been playing with Soundslides, just need to upload my audio slideshows to my web page:
    Again, thank you for all your tips which were extremely helpful. Hope to meet you in person at some point and I hope everything is going well for you!

    Sierra Jenkins

  24. Can’t wait to read about them, Eric. Remember, you own this place now! (This place, I guess, meaning your blog…? That didn’t make sense.)

  25. […] the travel plans take shape, I’ll be keeping an updated version of my itinerary […]

Comments are closed.