Posts Tagged 'newspapers'



Journalist spleen venting

Got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Coffee machine broken? Swamped with press releases about charity walks and Easter bonnets?

Take some solace from the fact you’re not the only journo out there with problems and share the misery on Angryjournalist.com.

Some of my favourites:

Angry Journalist #246:

I’m angry at myself because I love getting up at 2:30 a.m. every morning to go to my job…a job that I don’t get paid crap for. And when I get there my boss hasn’t written SHIT so I have to write 20 TV stories in 1 1/2 hours and get paid HALF of what he does. I’m angry because at the end of the day I still love my job. I want to get angry at my job so I’ll find the courage to get ANOTHER one!

Angry Journalist #225:

My editor changed my proper use of the verb “comprise” to “is comprised of.”

Angry Journalist #210:

Because my officemate has the social skills of an emotionally stunted 13 year old.

Because my editor can’t decide from one day to the next if I’m any good or not. One day I’m his best writer, the next I’m an enormous piece of shit who needs looking after.

Because my paper insists on turning a blind eye to the enormous staff defection over the last 15 months, and fills open positions, if at all, with part-time college kids who don’t know shit.

Because when I taught the intro newswriting course at my alma mater as an adjunct, I made so little money that I could have been better paid at the nearby grocery store, while the law school adjuncts in the next building over were making 3 times per credit hour what I did for one class.

Oh, and because of fucking photographers who won’t drive more than 20 miles for an assignment, but it’s perfectly OK to send a reporter with no skills beyond a point-and-shoot digital two hours out of town to shoot it, as long as they’re going to be there anyway.

/rant

Thanks for this site!

Blogs on the brain

I have been bad! Twelve whole days without a single post!

Would it surprise you that I can blame my lack of blogging entirely on… well… blogging?

Over the last two weeks I have been immersed in the creation and organisation of http://blogs.birminghampost.net. It has been a fantastic thing to get stuck into – if not a little hair-raising given the time schedule!

The brief has been to create a blog section for The Post that links into the sectors that we hope to cover. But, within that brief, there was quite a bit of flexibility. Would we just have staff writers? Would we ask for volunteers from outside of The Post? Would we have one blogger per sector, or more?

I had one big aim for the blogs – to get a bigger blogging presence in the West Midlands. My attention has been drawn to the BBC Manchester Blogs Project (thanks Craig and Francois), which includes guest bloggers (some who blog already, some who do not).

It’s an interesting and innovative approach and I like the way it draws people in and allows them to test the water. But, when some only post once and do not have their own blog, it seems to limit the conversation that can build up.

I also looked at some of the approaches that other newspapers have taken to blogging.

Many seem to have labelled blogs as online columns, choosing one or two people to be their “voices of authority”and sticking to them. It has always been an approach that has annoyed me, there’s something quite dictatorial about it.

Newspaper blogs that take this approach also often end up covering rather predictable topics which are probably more interesting to journalists than their readers: an editor spouting forth his wisdom in a “I know better than you” kind of way, a grumpy old man talking about how things aren’t as good as the old days… of course, I’m generalising here, but I think it’s a pattern others might recognise.

Another approach newspapers seem to take to blogs is to open them up to all their staff as an ultra-niche publishing platform for their interests. While many hobby blogs can be great, you can often end up with a collection of blogs that have nothing to do with anything else that appears on the newspaper’s website

So, I’ve been spending the last two weeks putting together a plan and doing a spot of recruiting both inside and outside of the paper. I wanted us to have a mix of experienced bloggers and complete beginners and I wanted them to be covering issues that loosely made sense within the context of The Post. Those who are completely new to the platform will be given help and guidance when and where they want it.

The response has been great… actually better than great. We have a mix of young and old from journalism, business, academia and the creative and cultural sectors. We’ve even had to start a waiting list!

I am under no illusions, however, that everyone who launches a blog with us will stick with it. Blogging is not for everyone, but I’d rather people had a go to see what worked for them. Because we want to keep things flexible for our first wave of Post bloggers, we’ve (hopefully) designed the blogs in a way that factors this in. If they post once or twice and never again, so be it, although I will be working very hard to get them as hooked as I am!

I hope too it’s something that can grow and change as it develops. If we have a demand for niche hobby bloggers, then we can cater for that, or if our site gains a substantial following for a particular topic, we can deal with that too.

Obviously I’ll be relying on you all to tell me what you think when we launch!

Birmingham Mail relaunch

So, one of the rather major things that happened last week was that our sister paper, The Birmingham Mail, launched its new website.

Snazzy, eh? A big improvement, certainly. The coverage so far from the Press Gazette, journalism.co.uk and holdthefrontpage seems pretty good too.

Bounder has also provided some fantastic constructive criticism. This made me smile:

One problem that illustrates the peculiarity and the difference about content online is the journalists/subs use of “today”, “tomorrow” etc. in headlines – we don’t have the context online that we have with the physical copies “is that today’s Mail?”. Use of airy times online, where content can stay on a page for longer, means that “FOUR unsigned Midland bands are battling it out in Birmingham tonight” can’t work.

Sometimes it is the most simple of things that can elude us.

Now it is no secret, and in fact is announced in the above articles, that the new Birmingham Post website is due to launch this month. As part of the preparations, I’m going to move off of editorial for a few weeks and help with the website project.

It’s also no secret that the basic template that The Post site will use will be the same as The Mail, although we do have a certain amount of room for manoeuvre.

So, with the Mail doing the hard part and launching first, I’d be interested in what, if anything, we could do better?

Obviously, I can’t promise that it’ll be possible to implement it (we are already working from the suggestions that were given here previously). But, well, in the spirit of friendly rivalry it would be nice if we could do a little better than them!

Trust and UGC

Ever since the coversation about Flickr, there has been an niggle in the back of my mind about some of the arguments out there that newspapers will cut staff to start to rely more heavily on blogs and other user-generated content [edit user-generated content = UGC].

It’s certainly a fear expressed by the NUJ, and by others. I can see their point and have said that, if profit-driven newspapers groups thought they could increase margins by relying more heavily on UGC, then it would probably happen.

But I’ve started to revise those thoughts of late. If the Flickr question taught me one thing it was that while journalists are debating how UGC will be used in the future, we are not at all sure about how the future content generators might feel about it.

Whilst the value of blogs as sources is, I think, beyond doubt, it doesn’t mean that the Internet is an orchard of social networks for newspapers to cherry-pick content at will… even if there is no legal reason why they shouldn’t.

For example, Flickr is designed for photo sharing. From the comments I’ve recieved, there should be nothing legally wrong with a newspaper providing a Flickr feed on its website. BUT just because it can, doesn’t mean it should or that people will like it if it does.

One of the problems is that we live in suspicious times. The media is badly mistrusted and, whilst people are happy to read about others in the newspaper, they are fearful about getting involved with it themselves. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the lines: “Oh you’re a journalist, so what lies are you going to make up today?” or I’ve had to spend considerable time convincing people that I am, in fact, not going to stitch them up. Personally, it’s insulting, but then that’s the regard our industry is held in.

I suppose, once upon a time, with an army of dedicated readers and no Internet, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference to sales if one reader was upset. Now they are a potential content generator, the situation is different. Not only will a lack of trust make it difficult to obtain content, it could also mean that if a paper appears to be doing something else that fits the untrustworthy stereotype, the news and damage will spread.

For example: A paper develops a Flickr feed without building trust in the Flickr community. It has done nothing legally wrong, but it is tapping into a community that will not all be fully paid up subscribers to that newspaper. Therefore, the default position of mistrust is likely to stand and the assumption may be that the newspaper is trying to profit at the expense of unpaid photogrpahers.

The understandable result is that Flickr members get angry and start pulling their photos from the group. They then replace these with offensive photoshopped versions telling that paper exactly were to stuff its feed. Angry blog posts sprout up all over the place and, within days, you’ve alienated a community and, I imagine, the feed would have been taken down.

I don’t have an example of where that has yet happened, but its seems pretty plausible possiblity.

So if newspapers are serious about UCG, then they might have their work cut out. Unless they start getting out into local social netwoks and communities and start building up trust, they may find their UGC dream backfires.

What I’m going to do with the Flickr feedback

As the flow of comments has started to slow on the Flickr post, I thought I’d let you all know what I plan to do next!

Over the next few weeks (after I’ve finished my first assignment), I’ll start collating the comments. I think what has come out from the discussion is going to be applicable to a lot of the other things I wanted to looking at for the website project.

I had just assumed (naively, perhaps) that because people were happy for bloggers to link to their work (as long as they were credited), they would also be happy for a site like The Birmingham Post to link to it too.

This, however, doesn’t seem to be completely the case. Most of the concern seems to come from the belief that – as we are a commercial publishing operation – any and all the material we link to on the web must be paid for.

I can understand that point, but I think the distinction between commercial and non-commercial spaces on the Internet needs to be looked at in more detail. Not that I’m going to do that right here and now – the comments have given me way too much to mull over!

In my head, I saw The Birmingham Post website as a place to go for news and opinion, but also as a (sorry to use this word) gateway to Brum’s professional and creative communities on the web. I still see it that way, but I now realise I need to look at how I’m going to do that in more depth.

But please keep the comments coming in, I really want to get to grips with this.

Tweeting my stories

Well now I have my shiny new laptop sitting next to me all day (review to come), I thought I’d start playing around with the fun stuff.

I’m going to start tweeting about what I’m working on. When I know what the main story is I’m going to work on each day, I’ll tweet about it. That way it might allow folks who can and want to shed light on the topic to do so.

Will it work? No idea! I haven’t got many followers at the moment. But I’ve already started with today’s job: a story on energy.

Trust, blogging and journalism

So here’s another thing I’m trying to get my head around:

After picking up on “Anyone want to help design the Birmingham Post website?“, journalism.co.uk must have felt that I was a credible source. They wrote a story about The Post website and quoted directly from my blog.

It hit me that, actually, that is quite an interesting thing to have done. So much has been said about the danger of blogs being potentially unreliable. Yet something made me quote-able. What was it that gave me credibility in their eyes? Context?

But, whatever it was, it was not enough to give the blog the same credibility in the eyes of holdthefrontpage.co.uk. Yesterday, they phoned me up to verify what I had written on the web and to ask for more details.

Two interesting points here: One is that I probably would have adopted the same approach as holdthefrontpage. I think I’d be happier speaking directly to the author of a blog, rather than just wholesale lifting what they had said in a post.

Second is that when they phoned me, I clammed up. I took the journalist’s name and number and said I would pass it on to Marc to deal with (which I did).

I guess the upshot is that I didn’t feel comfortable being a spokesperson for The Post or for the website project. The daft thing about that though is I already became a spokesperson by having free reign to blog about it!

There’s something illogical going on here…


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