Posts Tagged 'journalism'



My Second Birmingham Post Column

Ok, so this is something I’ve never done before (and it may get me in trouble).

Below is a copy of the (unsubbed) version of my column that will go into The Birmingham Post tomorrow.

I wanted to put it here so that people could add comments to it and I could link to it in Del.icio.us before the article was published.

As was pointed out to me, 600 words is never enough, and there is a lot I’ve missed out. So please help me add to it!

There is something I want to share with you. Something that I don’t think a lot of people know:

Journalists are people too.

They are. Honest!

But I doubt you’ll believe me. I am, after all, a journalist.

As a collective body, we seem to be ranked in the public consciousness as something akin to pond life… except a little less trustworthy.

There are numerous surveys placing journalists amongst the ranks of used-car salesmen, estate agents and, heavens forfend, politicians when it comes to trust.

Yet there are many that joined journalism because they wanted to be the trusted, responsible champion of the people.

So what makes people so convinced that, at the drop of a hat, us reporters are willing to lie, cheat and sell our grandmothers for a story?

A straw poll of contacts and friends on micro-blogging service Twitter (an interesting platform that I will delve into more on in a future column) offered up a few explanations:

  • Because some of them are plain untrustworthy – remember Hillsborough and Viglen?”

  • Most who’ve had an article written about them can see how many mistakes get made.”

  • Because when you have a 600 word limit something always gets left out.”

  • Lack of accountability.”

  • Tabloid digging into private lives.”

These show, collectively, we journalists have a long way to go before we are considered even as trustworthy as the ordinary man on the street.

But it is the man on the street that journalists have to worry about in the shiny new world of digital media.

In March, I was lucky enough to be part of a small team of young, West Midland “media types” sent to the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, by Advantage West Midlands-funded project Digital Central.

The conference, which originally started as a music festival, is fast becoming known as a premier event attracting the top international talent in digital media.

My fellow attendees were all “early adopters”. Whether they be housewives, techies or students, they are the ones surfing the crest of the digital wave, the first to adopt all the new and shiny tools and applications that the web has to offer.

Many of them write blogs or produce their own videos, but what shocked me was the ability of some of them to command audiences in the thousands or tens of thousands.

When I asked them how they did it, the answer was pretty uniform: They were trusted and they were “part of a conversation”.

This conversation may be had through blogs, video or audio podcasts, but the fundamental idea is that their audience has redress and can correct and build upon the original work.

By opening up in this way, and by acknowledging their readers as real people, they show themselves to real too – something journalists have avoided in the pursuit of an ideal of objectivity, or a belief that their opinions and writing should command authority.

But these digital pioneers shaping a future for online media are demonstrating that, above all, trust is where it’s at.

The old model of distance between journalist and reader is going to have to change.

It is something The Birmingham Post has been investigating over recent months with the launch of its blogs, its experimentation with social bookmarking service Del.icio.us and Twitter.

By realising that they are just one – hopefully well-researched, well-written and interesting – part of a bigger conversation, journalists have a chance of raising themselves out of the pond and – hopefully – becoming seen as the trusted champions they really should be.

To see some of the websites that helped to inform this column or to respond, please visit http://del.icio.us/joannageary/column2

Preston Returns: Journalism and the Market

So today we spent the day with Jeanne Hill learning about the art of good marketing and about the need to get editorial and marketing departments in newspapers talking to each other more.

I think it has become a universial stereotype that marketers and journalists are hardly the perfect image of interdepartmental communication bliss. Journalists often mistake marketers for salespeople and take a “holier than thou” attitude to their supposed editorial integrity. Marketers, I think, assume editorial are incapable of grasping much more than a pen and paper, when it comes to the fundementals of running a newspaper.

But, of course, we’re all in the same business and today was a great insight into how marketing can be used to better understand and then target a readership.

We also assessed the way in which readers are referred to in the newsroom. This sparked a conversation on Seesmic where I asked the community how they wanted to be percieved by journalists (wish this would embed).

Some very interesting repsonses are here (Documentally), here (solobasssteve), here (Pete Ashton), here (Cataspanglish) and here (Hache). There were many more that raised very interesting points, but you’ll have to log onto Seesmic to see the full conversation!

What comes out a lot is that if a reader feels even slightly as if a journalist is not respecting the reader then they will simply go elsewhere. There is an acceptance that objectivity is a myth and that social media provides an opportunity to critique journalists and build a relationship with them, which then provides context to their work.

Obviously most of these guys (and they are all guys) are early adopters, but it was certainly an interesting exercise.

Interaction on business news websites

I’m writing an essay at the moment for my Editorial Leaders course I’m doing at UCLAN.

I’m trying to figure out how people get news from websites, what tools they want and what might make them stick around for longer.

Over the past few days I’ve been putting together a spreadsheet looking at the interactive features used by business news websites in the UK.

The study is based on the 2006 study of American newspapers by the Bivings Report. Most of the categories I have kept the same, although I’m adding some that were included in the South African version of the study (undertaken by my tutor at UCLAN, Francois Nel).

I have also added three more categories: the first is the use of interactive tools such as maps to illustrate a story. The seond is that the site provides a clear list of names and contact details of the editorial team to allow for transparency and accountability. The third is a check to see if any are on Twitter – I know it’s not yet a mass communication device but I think it’s a good indicator of those who are thinking about the development of the market.

The first [second] draft graphs I have drawn up are is below – I’m hoping I haven’t missed out too many things (click on the graphs to see them full size):

Use of interactive features by UK national and regional business news websites:

:Interactive features used by UK business news websites

So, what do you think? There’s an indication that regional news is a little behind the nationals when it comes to interactive features – but some regionals, such as The Post and LDP Business are catching up.

I think there are a few limitations with the categories that are provided and naming individual elements of interactivity does not necessarily give you a strong insight into the experience of the user (e.g. there’s no point having video if no one can figure out how to get to it).

So, how is your experience of a news site improved, or indeed made worse, by interactive tools?

Also, there are a lot of new tools that have now emerged since this study was first done in 2006. As news websites are still not adopting all the features listed in the Bivings Report, it is still valid, but I’m interested to know if there are tools that you think this study is missing. One I’m quite impressed with is the article history feature The Guardian now uses on the bottom of its stories.

Also, are there any similar studies out there?

At the end of it I have to make some sort of conclusion about what works, what doesn’t and what tools newspaper sites might use in the future.

[Edit: Further to comments on Paul Bradshaw’s blog, similar studies were conducted in 2006 in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and in the UK.]

Bambuser-ling Brummie bloggers

Bambuser is a service that can stream live video from a webcam or mobile phone onto the Internet. I was shown it for the frist time in Preston by one of my tutors and today got a couple of Brummie bloggers (Pete Ashton and Stef Lewandowski) trying it out too. The result was quite entertaining – three windows with three conversations going on.

I like Bambuser and can see its potential for opening up the newsroom – perhaps streaming news conferences or getting journalists to check in with readers.

As with Qik, the mobile function also allows journalists to stream events live and to allows readers a chance to ask questions.

Why news orgs might “recycle” global stories

Too rough to appear on Qik today, so I brought in my understudy:


Executive summary: Thoughts on the Project for Excellence in Journalism report on the state of the news media. News organisations recycle world stories because of the way that sites are funded. Because they want to generate clicks, they will throw up articles on popular stories just to attract people to their site.

The video on Qik is here (Qik now sends videos direct to Youtube – but I’m surprised that there is no Qik branding on the video…)

Is everyone their own spokesperson?

Ever had a quote that has an impact that doesn’t sink for a long time after you hear it?

Well, there was one not so long ago that had that effect on me. It was part of a voxpop on BBC Radio 4 about the modern-day relevance of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The BBC was interviewing people on the streets of Manchester about what they thought of the head of the Church of England.

One guy said (and this is a paraphrase): “He’s ok and that, but he says he speaks for people, which is wrong. Nowadays everyone speaks for themselves so he is a bit out-of-date.”

I laughed at first, thinking that it was a nice myth to assume that there was equality of voice. Then I realised that actually, that wasn’t the point.

The point is that people no longer identify with large, organised bodies. Whther it be the corporation, the Church of England or even, perhaps, the media group, there is an implicit assumption that they do not represent the individual.

If that is true, then it backs up the idea that the future of media is the personal, the building of networks and relationships between individuals so that everyone can speak for themselves, even if some end up speaking louder than others.

Podcasting Ideas

One of many things that came out of SXSW was that I should consider exploring the world of the podcasting.

It’s not something I’ve done before, mainly because I’m not a big listener of podcasts. I had concluded, as has my colleague Tom Scotney, that there was limited value in listening to an entire podcast on the off-chance that some of the content was worthwhile. Better to have text and scan through it, I thought.

But, since then, I’ve changed my mind somewhat. One reason is because I had forgotten that I am an avid listener to BBC Radio 4. Now, when I switch on Radio 4 I have no idea what I am going to be listening to, but I enjoy it because I know it will be pretty good quality. Why could this not apply to podcasts?

Secondly, I don’t have an iPod (I seriously want one!) – so I don’t download podcasts to listen to later, I have to listen to them pretty much then and there, or play them on my computer when I’m working (and not paying attention).

Thirdly, most of the podcasts I’ve come across don’t provide a detailed summary that would allow me to judge whether I wanted to listen or not. But this may have been resolved by Stef Lewandowski who has suggested using Viddler to annotate different parts of the podcast, as Dave Seah has done with his SXSW video.  This, combined with some form of executive summary, could make it easier to see “at a glance” whether the podcast is for you.

And the final reason I want to podcast is… people have told me to! There was a general consensus at SXSW that it would be a good way to ease myself into other forms of communicating over the web and I’m enthusiastic to give it a go.

For my journo-type work I have me a little Olympus WS-300M and, I have been told, that it would do the job for recording podcasts.  But I think I would need a microphone. The thing is, if I’m interviewing people would I want to have them on a clip mic, or would it be better to have a multidirectional mic so that it’s easier to hear me asking the questions. If so, I’d want something that didn’t pick up too much background noise.

As for my first podcast, well I haven’t asked anyone yet but I think it might be nice to interview some of the journalists at The Birmingham Post about how the move to digital has changed their working practices in recent years and how they think it will develop in the future. This would give me practice at interviewing, would have relevance to the sort of thing I blog about and might work as a slice of mass observational history. Thoughts?


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