Wednesday, 17 December 2008
So I was interested to see in yesterday's paper a comment from another Iraqi. Hamza Mahdi, a Baghdad shop keeper, was quoted saying: "I don't like Bush, but I don't agree with this action, it's not civilised. Journalists should use pen and paper to make their point, not their shoes". Is he right? Did al-Zaidi's action demonstrate the dangers of a journalist being too close to a story?
Obviously this "closeness" was through no fault of his own. Considering he has watched his country fall down around his ears, not to mention the fact he was kidnapped and badly beaten in 2007, one can hardly even begin to imagine, let alone blame him for the strength of his anger against those he feels are responisble. But it raises an important question about when emotion stops you doing your job. Have his actions aided understanding? I would suggest not. Although blogs and editorials have been almost unanimously in support of him, discussion has largely been of his daring action, not the motivation and stories behind it. The only thing I know for certain is that to throw shoes in an Arab country is not a good idea, despite the fact I can now do it for myself.
It reminded me of another example where a journalist's actions took away from the gravity of the situation. John Sweeney's outburst during a BBC Panormama investigation into the Church of Scientology has achieved almost legendary status. But can you remember what you actually learned from the programme about scientology? Thought not.
I am not for one moment taking away from the resentment al-Zaidi feels towards Bush. In my opinion it is understandable and justified. But I think it raises the very real problem journalists face when reporting on any difficult, complex and emotive situation to balance their own emotions with getting a story across, as Hamza Mahdi says, using a pen and paper. Or whatever the digital version of that is now. al-Zaidi's actions have wider inferences that go way beyond his shoe size.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
I have decided to stick with what I know and am most passionate about- journalism and media more generally- but will blog on things I find interesting, outrageous, or just things that catch my eye. I aim to keep a close watch on all things 'online', and hope this will still form the backbone of my posts, but hopefully in a more varied way before.
So there's my mission statement. The first thing which has caught my eye was something I saw in The Sunday Times' Spectrum magazine. I love the Sunday Times, and this recent addition to their magazine showcases photo journalism from around the world each week. So now I love it even more.
I particulalry like Malcolm Hutcheson's series (left) looking at the horrendous waste water situation in Lahore where 90% of the country's sewerage pours untreated into the local water supply, but the other 18 shortlisted entries all tell fascinating stories. The BBC put together a great slide show (in the style of a digital storytelling narritive) of the best of the compeition with commentary by the head of the Prix Pictet jury, so check it out.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
When I thought about this, I started to look at it in two ways. Firstly, as trainee journalists we are working hard to become the multi-skilled, multi-talented reporters of the new age and becoming increasingly self-sufficient. As we know by now, we can write, film, record, edit and publish, all on a rather swanky looking laptop. We don't need colleagues. As far back as 2005, and three years is a long time in the world of online, the industry noticed this move away from the traditional ways of working. Jay Rosen writes in his blog the "stand alone journalist has arrived". He also highlights an issue which I have discussed before, about being in competition not just with other publications but with every blogger out there. Somewhat prophetically he raises the possibility of syndicating UGC, which Cellan-Jones pointed out has now become a reality with sites such as Demotix.
But the second thing was whether this isolation will contribute to the decline of 'out-of-the-office' journalism. In a 2007 article for the Committe of Concerned Journalists, Katherine Noyes's interviews with reporters reveal just such concerns. If we as individual journalists have sources at our finger tips, can interview people via live video stream, we need never brace the British weather or have any human contact ever again.
Of course this is not the case. Journalists will always need, and want, to get out there with real, live people. Even the most hyperbolic Tweet is not the same as witnessing events and emotions in front of your own eyes (India Knight joins critics of social networking, discussing how far is too far when replacing human interaction with its Twitter equivalent). But the isolation from colleagues is concerning. If we are turning ourselves into all-singing, all-dancing, journalistic dream machines, who's to tell us when we're getting it wrong? When to take a step back from a story? Or a fantastic idea or angle we hadn't picked up on? Obviously editors will always have an input, but what about colleagues further down the chain of command who are just as valuable? If their role belongs to UGC now, which is added post-publication, could there be a sense of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted?
To get jobs in this climate we have to be technical chameleons, but I agree 100 per cent with Rory when he says a sense of balance must be kept in mind.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
What was remarkable about this was "Britain...turned toward a journalist to tell us what is going on". But aren't journalists the least trustworthy people on Earth? Apparently not. Despite all the traditional and well respected corporations out there, this individual forged an identity that had people turning to him.
In an increasingly fragmented market place, with huge competition not only from your own profession but anyone capable of setting up a Blogger or Wordpress account, carving out your brand identity is key, even if it is within an organisation like the BBC. It is arguable that considering the anti-BBC backlash of recent months and years, the corporation are relying on people like Peston to fly the flag just as much as people like Peston are relying on them for a flag pole. (Although some would say Sachs-gate is an example of what happens when this relationship gets out of hand.)
The most successful brands haven't got there by doing one thing, getting good at it and then sticking with it. The multiple strands of Richard Branson's Virgin empire are extremely varied; cola, record stores, planes, mobile phones, wine, trains, even space travel for God's sake. And although Murdoch tends to stay within the communications industry, he hasn't become the world's most famous media mogul by refusing to try his hand at something new. The secret isn't to stick to what you know. It's to learn something well, add it to your skill set, and move on to something new.
Friday, 21 November 2008
Shane Richmond, communities editor at the Telegragh, told us this week the internet is causing newspaper readers to become increasingly fragmented. People no longer want to be pigeon-holed as a particular kind of 'reader', be it Guardian, Telegraph, the Sun, whichever. And this is essentially a good thing. On balance stereotypes are always unhelpful and it tackles the notion of straight forward poltical affiliations. People may hold a range of opinions and ideas; left is not simply left, right not only right.
So the fact reader loyalty is on the wane and people are selecting their material not just by topic but down to the individual article is giving them more choice. You might not buy multiple newspapers but you probably will click on a couple of websites to get your politics at the Times or your reviews at the Independent. And it has also made RSS central to many web users' daily routine.
Really simple syndication, or rich site summary depending on what you read, has taken off in a big way. Microsoft acknowledged its arrival in 2005. In the same year a white paper produced by Yahoo predicted the number of RSS users in the US and UK was 72.8 million. And that was three years ago.
Although I am a relative late-comer to RSS, I am a fan. But one thing concerns me. No matter how many different view points you source on a subject using feeds, you still have particular interests. Whether it's British politics, American sport, or Brazilian film, one advantage of RSS is:
"It allows you to easily stay informed by retrieving the latest content from the sites you are interested in".
But this could be limitng. Is there a danger that RSS is the virtual equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "I can't hear you!" to the stuff you're not interested in? Science is not really my thing, but the advantage of reading a newspaper or using a news homepage is whilst heading for the stuff you would normally go for, you might come across an important story that catches your eye. A recent example for me would be CERNs large hadron collider. This would probably never come through on my RSS because its not covered by the sort of feeds I subsribe to, but it's a pretty significant scientific event. And while I understand RSS feeds are probably rarely used in isolation, Amy Gahran points out the effect they are having on websites as well as newspaper sales:
"Web sites are becoming less important for online content distribution as RSS feeds are enjoying increasingly mainsteam usage."
Although Gahran provides a great discussion about how online entities can market and forward traffic from RSS feeds, my point is that there are things people should know which could be missed using RSS. When Shane Richmond speculated about Web 3.0 as a mass of free floating information tailored especially for your needs I was reminded of everyones' favourite Scientologist, Tom Cruise (no offence to Shane). In sci-fi thriller Minority Report, advertisements are specifically tailored for you. Spyware on Amazon and iTunes already use this kind of technology with "others like you bought..." mechanisms. If this happens with the internet at large, where does this leave exploration and discovery?
RSS is an extremely useful tool and there are some really interesting discussions about its advantages regarding privacy and control. Rob Alderson flips my argument on its head looking at what My Telegraph bloggers are talking about- many of their posts centred on topics that weren't making the news. But I think Anthony Mayfield's point from last week can be used here too: utilise the technology, don't be lead by it. The technology is great, but it presents the very human temptation to be lazy. Keep thinking outside the RSS box.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Guardian Media Group CEO Carolyn McCall said recently the internet had "decimated" local media by taking the classifieds market and using it far more effectively. In his now famous speech to the Society of Editors, Paul Dacre declared regional media were in an "inexorable downward spiral". So when iCrossing's Anthony Mayfield said what makes successful online companies is the way they target interest communities, I was slightly confused. Under this remit- target your niche- local media has the potential to thrive. Readers of local paper want news tailored to their lives, their concerns. Local media should be making a killing here.
But it's not. And with circulations falling, the funding to set up online is unlikely to materialise anytime soon. But what about the abundance of free tools available on the internet? Twitter, Flicker, GoogleMaps. So I started thinking about how local media might use these tools to target their niche market.
I went to a town planning meeting at Penarth Town Council on Thursday night. Sounds thrilling doesn't it? But this is exactly the kind of area where local publications can use media tools to give their audience what they want. People care if there is going to be a Tescos built on the local park. They care even more if the next-door-neighbour is going to build a conservatory right next to their patio. Remember the story a few years ago when a man killed his neighbour of 20 years in an argument about a hedge? People want to know who's planning what, and GoogleMaps can show this in a visual manner to let your local audience know what might be affecting them. The map below shows the location of all the applications discussed at the Penarth meeting on Thursday. Click on them and you get details about the plans and what stage in the process the council are at.
View Larger Map
And it could be developed further. Links could be added to the full planning application or architect's drawings. Or an option for lodging objections or signing an online petition. Admittedly this isn't making any money but my counter argument for that is two-fold. Firstly it's free, so at least you're not spending anything. And secondly, despite Carolyn McCall's comments about advertising, a recent survey by OPA showed that readers trust local newspapers and their advertisers much more than national publications. This is something local papers can take advantage of. In many ways they can obey Anthony Mayfield's "rules of engagement" for successful online media ventures much more easily than the national papers. They're already deeply embedded in their "network" and are "live" within it. What is essential is that they use tools like the example here to remain useful to their audience as well. Where local newspapers will fail is if they do not realise that just putting your content online is no longer enough.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that my local newspaper, The Hexham Courant (big picture at the top) has revamped its website and begun to embrace the internet as a multi-media platform. They now have a blog, video news bulletins and access to their supplements on "virtual print" pages. It's still quite basic, but a big step in the right direction.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
A fortunate few of the Cardiff postgrads went to cover the Society of Editors Conference 2008 in Bristol as reporters for the Society's webiste. That in itself was exciting- a fantastic experience to get bylined on an industry body's website (shameless self-promotion perhaps) not to mention getting to listen in on a huge range of opinions about the buzzword ringing in everyones ears: CONVERGENCE.
But what was more thrilling was the 'unofficial' coverage the group did via Twitter under the hash tag #soe08. I think I'm right in saying Cardiff students set this tag up last week, and although I have no doubt the system would have been set up by someone else if we hadn't, it gave me a real buzz to see the number, and calibre, of people who got involved using the same tag and providing practially minute by minute coverage. With over 10 pages of tweets, contributors included Press Gazette, Journalism.co.uk, the Guardian's Jemima Kiss, lecturer Paul Bradshaw, MediaUKPress, online journalist and blogger Martin Stabe as well as pretty much every one of the student contigent.
Another limitation was pointed out to me by Rob Alderson, my partner in crime in this most digital of adventures. Dacre's speech was at 7pm, but its contents was embargoed until 10pm. No matter how instantaneous the internet is in itself, there are still real world restrictions that can limit this immediacy.
On an unrelated point, there is an important demographic observation to be made. The majority of people at the conference were white, old-ish men. Of the handful of women it was disheartening to be told that many of those were the wives or partners of the male professionals and I saw just one black journalist. It struck me as odd that we were talking about massive change when some of the basic demographics at the top end of journalism seem to have a way to go.
In her interview with Cardiff's Hannah Waldram, Jemima Kiss highlights that for this reason, the conference was probably most valuable for people like us because we will be the ones to change things.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
Sunday, 26 October 2008
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Using Delicious, I searched for anything tagged “networkedjournalism” and the first thing I came across (which I managed to “Mento”) was a Buzz Machine article by Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis is something of a pioneer for networked journalism and has been pushing hard to promote its virtues. The article was great for those struggling with networks, giving a really basic definition that I would recommend reading before looking at the likes of Alison Gow. Although I disagree the idea of networked journalism in itself is new (journalism has always been about people) certainly the possibilities the internet provides for its expansion are promising.
Journalists might feel that they’re traditional roles are threatened, but this interview with Jeff Jarvis suggests that while it would be foolish not to move forward with the networked journalism, we do still have a role.
This is perhaps explained more clearly by Charlie Becket (also found on Delicious, also “Mentod”) when he says “The networked journalist changes from being a gatekeeper who delivers to a facilitator who connects.” I like that sound of that.
One criticism of networked journalism is that journalists barely have time to do journalism in the traditional manner let alone use all the options listed by Alison Gow (check out the comments under her blog for a discussion of this). But the Florida example discussed by Becket actually shows networked journalism as time saving. And with tools such as Ping.fm which let you act across multiple forums, there are perhaps less hurdles for journalists to get over than people think. The most difficult part of realising the potential here is getting everyone, but most importantly the public, to look at news in a different way. This is exciting, not frightening. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Dipity is another time saving tool, particularly for research. Acting as a content aggregator it creates a timeline from multiple sources on any topic. Typing in “Jeff Jarvis” brought up a Roy Greenslade article presenting the various sticking points for getting networked journalism up and running in a newsroom when there is little support from owners or proprietors, perhaps something our generation of journalists can hope to change. A few of us created a Cardiff Journalism Dipity channel- I’ve put the Kate Adie lecture on there just to start it off, but people could perhaps link their own blogs or any material they want to share.
I’ve found researching using these tools to be a lot more focussed than simply using a search engine. The material I found was much more likely to be relevant and this demonstrates the advantages of having quick access to active communities with shared histories and causes. For my part I've created a networked journalism channel on Mento if people fancy adding resources to see what people are using.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Saturday, 4 October 2008
I looked up a few stats to get a rough idea. In the UK, 99.6% of households could in theory have internet access. However, 40% of the population do not. Not surprisingly, that 40% is the poorest and already most marginalised members of society. Steps are being taken to bridge this digital divide. At the Labour conference last week, Gordon Brown announced a £300 million plan to give 1.4 million of the countries poorest children free broadband access, and that’s great. But as one article highlighted, people need more than just access; they need motivation and education. I’m a middle-class case in point. I guess I’m saying that I take issue with the idea that “anyone” can do it.
Looking globally, just 21.9% of the world’s entire population have internet access, and the breakdown of this figure produces predictable patterns. Estimates vary depending on the source, but according to Internet World Stats 73.6% of North Americans have internet access, compared to just 5.3% of Africans. To put it another way, the industrialised world makes up 88% of the world’s internet users, but only 15% of the global population.
Without churning out anymore numbers, the thing I wanted to explore is this: the rich end of the developed world already has multiple channels for communication, whereas some of the voices we need to hear are still waiting for just one. I’m not saying that existing online and interactive citizen journalism is obsolete, far from it, but maybe the revolution still has a long way to go.
I looked at some of the ways those countries with limited access are using blogs, and found some really interesting examples. Nasim Furkat’s blog, Afghan Lord, written by an Afghani living in Kabul, is worth having a look at . He won the Freedom of Expression Blog Award from Reporters without Borders in 2005, and still blogs regularly. I think the last post was dated September 20th 2008. But there were loads of other examples from Columbia to Cambodia. Also, whilst looking at the This is Zimbabwe blog I found a link to Blog Action Day 2008’s site. It’s on the 15th October, and is a great example of the global conversation the lecture talked about.
I’m well aware that I could be romanticising the aim or potential of blogs, but for something to be described as a global conversation, access also needs to be global. I have also not done any extensive travelling outside of Europe and these could be very ignorant observations, so I’d be really interested to hear about anyone else’s experiences in other countries.
Just a couple of examples of the work that is going on to improve global internet access.