Posts Tagged 'journalists'

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.)

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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.

Newspapers suck at SXSWi

GGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!

*Sigh*

Right, well I have just wasted 20 minutes of my last day at SXSW watching what was the most dire representation of the newspaper industry I could have possibly witnessed at a world-leading conference on interactivity.

I will have to come back to who was the speaker and what was the title, because right now the need to rant overtakes the need to Google for that particular information.

The talk was by a 36-year-old US journalist who is trying to help his colleagues embrace new platforms and get to grips with the power of the social Internet.

The executive summary (before I walked out) was:

“Print is dead.”

“Time is running out.”

“It’s real hard to get journalists to blog.”

“Change isn’t happening fast enough.”

“I don’t know what the solution is.”

Well… that’s useful. I can think of at least half a dozen people who could have produced a more insightful assessment of the industry as it currently stands. I might even be so bold as to say I could have done better.

First of all, let’s stop saying that the Internet is the death of print. It is not. The Internet is the death of some print. There will always be a need to place words in places where screens can’t go. Plus text is harder to read on the screen so, for long articles, print is always going to be a more comfortable experience.

But t’s true that a large swathe of news is being repackaged into a sharper, more condensed form making it easier for busy people with busy lives to learn what they need to know quickly. This is the sort of news that needs to be taken out of print and put onto the Internet, rather than print.

The other thing is that “time is running out”. Running out for who, exactly? Running out for newspaper groups? Well, I suspect they are well aware revenues are declining and, if they don’t get their income from newspapers, then they’ll get it from elsewhere and dispose of or wind up anything that makes a loss. Running out for newspapers? Maybe… Running out for some journalists? Yes.

Yes it is really hard to get journalists to blog – mainly becuase they are tied into the busy regime of producing an outdated newspaper and see a blog post as extra work. The hard part is finding the space for them to take time out of that treadmill to realise they need to look at their work in a new way. Once you do that, and once you explain how blogging can connect you directly to readers, most are pretty open to the idea of using the platform.

I simply can’t understand all this negativity associated with the change that is happening to the newspaper industry at the moment. There are lots of things to feel positive about: blogs can help you improve your stories through reader feedback and contribution, video can help you build trust between you and the reader, mashups can help provide readers with richer data and information on the areas and topics that they are most interested in.

Those people that get this stuff right, have a bright future. I wish we’d start looking forward rather than constantly peddling the message of doom and gloom.

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.

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.

NUJ is wrong

I’m still ferverish and grumpy so if this turns into a rant you’ll know why!

The Guardian columnist and former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade is leaving the National Union of Journalists because he disagrees with its stance on Web 2.0*.

His reasons for doing so, outlined in his blog, are interesting and I have to say that, on the whole, I agree with him.

Greenslade basically takes the NUJ to task for trying to protect traditional newspaper jobs in a world that is rapidly moving online.

I cannot, in conscience, go on supporting this crucial plank of NUJ policy when it is so obvious that online media outlets will require fewer staff. We are surely moving towards a situation in which relatively small “core” staffs will process material from freelances and/or citizen journalists, bloggers, whatever (and there are many who think this business of “processing” will itself gradually disappear too in an era of what we might call an unmediated media).

But that’s only part of the problem. It is also clear that media outlets will never generate the kind of income enjoyed by printed newspapers: circulation revenue will vanish and advertising revenue will be much smaller than today. There just won’t be the money to afford a large staff.

The NUJ argues that it sees Web 2.0 as an opportunity, but that it does not want large corporate media groups to use this as a cost-saving opportunity to cut jobs, thereby lowering journalistic standards.

But frankly most large corporations in any industry will seize upon an opportunity to save money.

If you’re a chief executive it’s all about the shareholder value: look at Heinz, Peugeot and Lil-lets moving out of the West Midlands. Protests by unions made little difference to their decisions to close factories in the region and cut jobs.

Until journalistic standards start to directly effect revenue (which comes mainly from advertising), then what economic reason is there to retain journalists? Especially if you are finding it increasingly hard to attract advertising.

So yes, I imagine Web 2.0 will  change the face of journalism within large media organisations. I think small teams aggregating and checking the facts of blog posts and forums may well be something we see in the future.

But does that signal the death of a trade?

I don’t think so. I suspect that journalism will diversify and take on new forms, rather than follow the old structures of the past.

The established brands will remain in this cut down form, but advertising is a devious and capricious bedfellow. Some of it will follow its target audience online to specialist news sites run by smaller, leaner, news teams. Some journalism will probably move into the third-sector and operate not-for-profit.

I think there will be an increase in mercenary journalism, where interested parties pay to have a story written and published. I also imagine we will lose some of our best talent to the comfort and security of PR – but this was already happening prior to Web 2.0.

As for other possible models for journalism of the future, I do not have the foresight nor the intelligence to dream them up. This is where I think the NUJ should really be picking up the mantle.

I have had only one exprience of an NUJ debate on new media, at a breakfast meeting during the annual conference in Birmingham. The general theme was regressive and fearful – a lot of old hacks worried about how it may effect their jobs.

I do sympathise to some extent, but only, I think, as far as any person with no prospect of a final salary pension can. Mostly I found it alienating.

For me Web 2.0 is an exciting prospect for journalists to intermingle with readers in a way never seen before. It’s an opportunity to use our collective knowledge to produce more in-depth and searching articles.

All this blabbing on about current journalism being a skill that must be preserved and pickled in aspic is annoying and a waste of time.

I want to be excited by the future of my industry, not fearful and I want my union to help shape it, not bury its head in the sand and hope it never comes.

*thanks bounder


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