Posts Tagged 'journalism'

Big changes for The Birmingham Post – reaction round-up

We’re just come back from a big announcement about the future of Trinity Mirror Midlands, part of that was a major announcement about the future of The Birmingham Post.

I think I want some of the dust to settle before blogging my own thought (and don’t want to gazump my Editor!), but I thought I’d provide a bundle of links to other people talking about what is happening.

I will post my thoughts a bit later, so if you want to leave some questions in the comments, I’ll try and answer them. Suffice to say there are some very interesting times ahead.

A “dangerous question”: Why don’t reporters write headlines?

It’s the question I asked on Twitter yesterday.

Some people found it a perfectly comfortable question to debate, others seemed to find it irritating.

If I am being naive then I would dearly love someone to fill me in.

So far, my thinking is that reporters do not write headlines because of the nature of print production i.e. because they are not the ones that lay the story out on a page and therefore do not know what space they have/what other articles are on there.

It surely can’t be because reporters are not expected to grasp spelling, punctuation and grammar?!

The public responses to my question (or the ones that I could find on Twitter Search) are copied and pasted below in reverse chronological order. (Wouldn’t it be lovely to have an app that collated responses to you on Twitter over a specified period of time.)

What every regional journalist needs to hear about their industry…

In this Seesmic post Kevin Anderson, Blog Editor for The Guardian and co-author of Strange Attractor, pretty much covers many of the things I’ve wanted to say, but better:

Kevin Anderson on Seesmic

Kevin Anderson on Seesmic

He is answering a question posed by Birmingham City University’s Paul Bradshaw – with recent job freezes/cuts at UK newspapers, is there any point in universities running journalism degrees training students for the newspaper and broadcasting industries?

“The Collaborator”? Naming Newspapers 2.0

This evening I had that very rare and precious of things: time on my hands. But, unfortunately, it appears that when given space to think I don’t always use it that wisely.

As I was pounding on the cross-trainer in the gym my mind definitely wandered.

Ignoring some of the more fundemental historical reasons for their being, it occurred to me that many newspaper names in this country might be accused of reinforcing the “we shout, you listen” mentality.

The Post, although I hope developing a reputation to the contrary, is a case in point.

Then there’s The Mail, The Mercury (the winged messenger of the Gods no less!), The Standard, The Telegraph… even The Guardian seems a little paternalistic.

So, I mused, in this brave new world of crowd-sourcing, participation and reader inclusion what should a news publicaton be called?

The Consult? The Listener?

The we-try-and-take-your-opinions-into-account-but sometimes-we-run-out-of-time-er?

I plumped for “The Collaborator”.

It did, however, occur to me that this didn’t sound very Web 2.0 in comparison to the many new social media applications springing up across the interwebs.

Perhaps it would be better to design a cute little mascot-cum-logo and give the publication a title such as “Storeez” or “Gnewz” (oddly gnewz.com goes to the campaign website of Douglas Geiss, Democratic candidate for State Representative Committee in Michigan).

Job interview – the presentation

When I decided to post about my impending job interview, I would not have guessed I would get the response that I did. I have received some fantastic feedback. I am lucky indeed.

So, to continue the thread, this is a version of the presentation I’m going to give today (edited to remove commercially sensitive info and stuff that might get me sacked).

Yes, I know it’s a pretty cruddy Powerpoint… perhaps I should have added presentation skills to my training list.

The interview is not until 15:30 GMT, so if I’ve mucked up please let me know – I might still have time to change it! 🙂

From dino to digi in five days!

I have a job interview on Monday.

It is at The Birmingham Post and the job title is “Development Editor”. It would be overseeing innovation and the development of new platforms for the newspaper.

I wasn’t going to say anything about it, as by telling the world I run the risk of potentially having that toe-curling moment when I have to tell everyone that I didn’t get the job.

But, when I saw the presentation I had to make, I thought it was worth sharing. I have already chatted about it to a few friends, so why not go the whole hog and put it up online?!

I have to outline a training course that would convert traditional print journalists into “fully-equipped and knowledgeable multi-media, multi-platform journalists” in just five days.

Not much then.

Despite my initial reaction being “it’s impossible”, trying to devise such a course is actually a great way to get the brain cells into gear. The last few months I have been immersing myself in all that is new and shiny on the web and, as a result, my way of thinking about the future of journalism has changed.

But do I have the ability to take a step back from that and assess where the industry is at the moment and what skills print journalists will need to have a share in that future? If I can, can I describe that transition in logical steps – as you would have to in a training course.

I hope the answer is yes.

What occurs to me is that the biggest battle is not the training in the use of tools such as , but the understanding of why you might want, or need, to use them.

It is a horrid thing when someone is told that the skills they have perfected over many years are no longer enough to survive in their industry and that the market and the competition has changed.

I guess the only way to acceptance is understanding, so my training course would start with at least a day investigating trends in the UK newspaper market and the rise in online competition. Perhaps a bit on insight into the best journalism on blogs too – which might open up the issue of the importance of conversation.

All too often the Internet comes across as the bad guy – the place where people read our stories for free and don’t have the decency to buy a paper. So, I think, there has to be a day dedicated to making sure journalists also know how much the web can benefit them in their jobs – that RSS Feeds, searches, alerts, etc. are all ways to make tracking down stories easier.

Then, and only then, would I get down to the business at looking at producing multi-platform content – experimenting with the best ways of communicating a particular message online.

It would be great to do a breaking news story exercise at the beginning and the end of the course to see if thinking had changed.

As you can see, I haven’t fully formed a training course yet but will be spending my weekend pondering! I’ll let you know how it goes…

The price of going public

A few months ago I shot a video on a borrowed N95 mobile outlining the reasons why I thought newspaper journalists were going to have to be more public and transparent on the web.

Media was becoming increasingly personality driven as users decide which sources to trust and which to reject, I argued. People want to know who is behind the news and what they stand for.

It was the first time I had put myself “out there” and, I have to admit, it wasn’t altogether a comfortable experience. I had always said I was happy being a newspaper journalist because it gave me the luxury of standing behind the photographer’s camera. Not anymore.

But, by becoming more visible, I met a wealth of interesting individuals on platforms such as Seesmic and Bambuser who have talked, debated and helped me learn so much more about what the web can offer. Going public didn’t seem so scary after all.

So when my editor Marc Reeves asked if he could put me forward as a potential panellist for The Big Debate I agreed. Three months ago I wouldn’t have dared but, I reasoned, how much worse could it be than doing a Seesmic post?!

Of course, it was far more nerve-wracking, but I was very glad to be given the opportunity to do it. There were a number of firsts and innovations that took place at The Big Debate that I am very proud of and will post about later.

But it also demonstrated the flipside of going public.

Someone who either watched the debate at the ICC or online decided that they did not like me. Not just that they didn’t like my arguments on the future of regional newspapers, but that they didn’t like me. So much so that they intimated in a comment on my blog that I must have done something rather unsavoury to get myself on the panel. The full comment, which was originally on my ‘about’ page, and the responses to it have been put into a seperate post.

That was pretty upsetting. The odd thing was that, when I read the first line, I was glad to see someone had been critical of what I said. I can learn from criticism.

But, when I realised it was turning into a personal attack, it became something altogether different. It felt threatening and misogynistic. After all, how many men have been accused of sleeping their way onto a panel? It was also a rather unhappy thing to learn that the IP address was local.

Now I know enough about flamers to have expected this to happen at some point. The web allows people to hide behind relative anonymity and, as a recent debate on women and the Internet suggests, it could have been far nastier. But it still knocked me a bit and led me to wonder: how many regional newspaper journalists are prepared for dealing with such comments online?

There are two issues at stake here:

1. The emotional response:

I can easily imagine journalists who are not used to online debate feeling very threatened. How would you prepare someone to deal with this and put it into context? It would be a great shame and loss if such a comment made them withdraw from online conversations altogether.

As an aside, I wonder if the current reluctance shown by some journalists to engage with readers online is, in part, a response to some of the comments that can be found in the old-style, poorly moderated, regional newspaper Internet forums where flamers are rife.

2. The public response.

How easy is it for someone who has been attacked to hit back in a similar way? Very: an individual that is hurt, angry and feels unfairly targeted is going to want to bite back with an equally nasty comment. I’ve seen it happen time and time again on blogs.

But, by hitting back, the conversation is only dragged further down into the depths of ignorance, anger and spite – hardly the qualities that are desirable in a journalist. Whilst it might be a perfectly understandable response to a nasty comment, I’m not sure it would be seen as acceptable.

As commenting is such an easy thing to do and can be done in seconds – without prior moderation by news editors or subs – it would seem necessary to develop some sort of strategy or format for journalists to use in dealing with personal comments.

I stress that there is also need for journalists to be able to distinguish between attacks on their points of view and attacks on their person. We must be able to accept strong, vociferous criticism of our ideas and show that we are capable of responding reasonably and intelligently. I think it’s easy for people to mix the two up.

All of the concerns above suggest to me that, as regional newspaper organisations push their journalists into a more public online arena, a little bit of guidance and support is needed to help them deal with the negative side of transparency.

One thing that has emerged from this is that I am lucky to be part of a strong online community (as can be seen by comments here and on Twitter) that will be very vocal if they see something unacceptable or offensive. I am thankful for that.

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.]


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