Tag Archives: Journalism

The golden age of journalism is now

When I tell people I’m training to be a journalist, most tell me I must be mad. They say newspapers are dying and there’s no future left in journalism.

Well I think they’re wrong.

Our recent lecture by BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones gave me a different perspective on the ongoing and occasionally overblown debate about the decline of newspapers (see @themediaisdying on Twitter for a flavour of the argument).
He argued that the whole notion of a golden age of journalism is pretty badly exaggerated. We might have grown up with images of a cynical hack turning up at the scene armed only with a notebook, a Trilby and his razor-sharp wits, but we all know that’s a bit of a myth. You only have to read Michael Frayn’s satire of Fleet Street, Towards the End of the Morning, to see how ridiculous these stereotypes can be.

Some aspects of news production probably are worse than they were 20 years ago, with fewer staff under pressure to produce news for multiple platforms. But the positive developments more than outweigh this.

Improvements in technology mean that we, as print journalists, have far more creative ways to tell a story than just the old black-on-white newsprint. We can use audio, video, interactive tools or maps. We can cover events as they unfold with live blogging, as in this minute-by-minute live coverage of the recent Labour leadership challenge. And we can engage with our readers on a whole new level by linking out to sources, and using blogs and Twitter.

Rory Cellan-Jones, photo courtesy of matlock on Flickr

Mr Cellan-Jones also pointed out that his blog allows him to cover many more stories than he would be able to on traditional TV news bulletin, with its strict time limits and demand for an immediate news hook. His blog allows him to show readers and viewers that he is on top of the little stories as well as the big ones, and gives dedicated technophiles a place they can go for regularly updated content.

The same is true of newspapers: there are no limits to publishing online, so journalists can follow up many different aspects of a story, whereas there might only be room for the main points in the print edition. This just shows how the web version can complement the print story. The content on the web will probably only get a tiny proportion of the readers of the print version, but it adds so much value for those who are really interested and want to know more.

Kicking it old school

So far, so good for new media. But do we have anything in common with that Trilby-hatted hack?

The answer is a resounding yes. As much as I love social media and am really excited by its potential uses in journalism, I’m a firm believer in the traditional journalistic techniques. Nothing can replace knowing your patch, cultivating sources, and being able to conduct a good interview and take it down in shorthand.

So I think Mr Cellan-Jones’ advice to us holds true. He said:

“Have a good grip of the old basics of journalism. I think those career skills are still valid. I think a lot of the essentials that have been around for 20 or 25 years still apply.”

But it’s perfectly possible to draw these different sets of skills together, to combine traditional methods with the new opportunities offered by the web. This coverage of Tony Blair at the Chilcot inquiry just shows how much more can be offered on the web for those who want more than just the print story. Mr Cellan-Jones concluded with some upbeat thoughts for us too:

“It is a lot more fun… It is a lot easier to do stuff than when I started. You have an instant playground out there where you can try it out and make mistakes.”

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get out there and do it.

Digital storytelling

I had a vague idea of what digital storytelling was before this week, but I hadn’t really taken the time to think about the possibilities it held for enriching the way we, as journalists, can communicate. But after an enthusiastic lecture from Daniel Meadows, I now just want to get out there and get on with it!

Daniel told us about his adventures back in 1973 aboard the Great Photographic Omnibus, a project he set up to travel the length and breadth of the UK taking pictures of people. A simple concept you might think, but the results were fascinating. They are little slices of people’s lives: the clothes they wore, the people they were with, what they had been doing that day. Perhaps at the time, these would have seemed trivial, but looking back, that collection of photos is a fantastic snapshot (excuse the pun) of what those people were doing in 1973.

So if a picture can say so much, what about a video?

Digital storytelling projects have sprung up around the country, giving ordinary people a chance to write, shoot and edit video about any subject they want. BBC Capture Wales is one of the best collections, with some fantastic little insights into what people are passionate about. Some of the examples that appealed to me were Que Sera Sera, Sparring Partners and Jellicoe Gardens, but there are plenty on there to choose from. Breaking Barriers is a similar project based in Caerphilly. Check out A Winter Tale to start with.

For journalists, this kind of resource is like gold dust. Not only does it give us the chance to get to know what people in our area are interested in, but it gives them the opportunity to tell their story, to engage with the community in a totally different way. If media organisations can harness that, it could strengthen and enrich our journalism.

But more than that, these videos show the possibilities of finding new ways to tell stories, which, after all, is what we’re all about. They can be funny, poignant, hard-hitting or nostalgic, and if we can use these new techniques, it could help our stories come alive for readers. It can take time, and it’s not always right for every story, but used appropriately, it has the potential to be very effective.

One of the examples given in the lecture was Rape of a Nation on MediaStorm. Watch it. It explains far better than I can why this kind of innovative storytelling is so important.

Images have power. So do words. Put them together and you could have a piece of reporting or feature writing that packs much more punch than it could in print. That’s not to say that traditional newspaper reporting does not have power, but this shows that we can go beyond the printed page to tell stories in ways that will engage our readers on a whole different level. It doesn’t replace print, but it could enhance it.

We have these tools at our fingertips and we should really make the most of them. My overriding thought throughout the lecture was ‘why am I not doing this already?’ It just seemed such an exciting way to tell a story. I’ll be experimenting with it over the next few weeks and hopefully the results should be going up on this blog, so watch this space…

Blogging for your audience

Our recent lecture on blogging from Adam Tinworth, Head of Blogging, Communities and Social Media at Reed Business Information, gave me some interesting perspectives on how to approach blogging.

We covered the ways in which blogging is different (and, some would argue, better) than traditional print publishing: it’s all about what’s interesting, without the boundaries or word limits of a newspaper or magazine, and it’s a conversation with many participants, not just one-way.

But the comment that really stuck out for me was this:

“We do not create communities. We merely provide services for communities that already exist”

The potential to tap into communities that exist on the net is phenomenal, and this is surely one of the biggest possible benefits of the web. It gives us a chance to get to know our readers, whether through forums, blogs, or direct communication via Twitter.

This can only help improve journalism, because we can better understand what our readers want to know and also get ideas from them on what stories they want covered.

We also talked about setting up niche blogs, especially of a local patch, which finally gave me the impetus to get going on setting up a new blog about my local beat, Cathays in Cardiff.

It’s a bit of a work in progress at the moment, but it should be a really exciting project to try and stay on top of what’s going on in the area, and hopefully tap into some of those local communities we talked about. I’ll let you know how I get on…

UPDATE: I’ve just come across this really useful list of tips for newspaper reporters who blog by American journalist Ian Hill, which is well worth taking a look at to avoid some of the pitfalls.

Work smart, not hard – how to get the best from the net

I’ve been playing around with online journalism tools like Addict-o-matic and Twittergrader this evening and it’s reminded me of just how much fun (and useful) multimedia tools can be, as long as you know how to use them.

I’ve followed pretty much the same arc as most people when it comes to using social media for journalism. I got really interested in all this about a year ago, and would religiously read blogs and updates from people like Paul Bradshaw and Jeff Jarvis. I signed up to Twitter before the mainstream buzz really started, and got myself a blog as well. I hadn’t started my journalism course yet but I knew it was what I wanted to do, so these were a great way of keeping in touch with what was happening in journalism.

But then it was the usual story: I got busy at work and suddenly I didn’t seem to have the time to keep up with the online world, so I neglected all those tools I had really enjoyed using. Now, I’m trying to get back into it and really make the most of all the possibilities for engagement that exist on the web. This has been helped along by a really engaging lecture from Dr Claire Wardle, former Cardiff University lecturer and now a trainer at the BBC College of Journalism.

I’ve just used TweepML to follow a whole stream of interesting journalists on Twitter and one in Australia has already sent me a link to an article. This just shows the value of Twitter – how else would I have seen this different perspective on the issues we’re facing here?

And I’m also using BBC reporter Nick Bourne’s blog for advice on setting up RSS feeds for search terms. I’ve set some up for Cathays, the patch in Cardiff that I’ll be reporting and blogging on over the next year, so I can keep track of what people are saying online.

And then there are the ones, like Twitterfall and Twitscoop, that are just plain fun. Ok, so they have their proper journalistic uses if you want to track the progress of a story or find out what everyone’s talking about. But I most enjoyed them when I was watching Question Time with Nick Griffin last Thursday. I was tweeting what I thought of the show but best of all, I could see what others thought of it too, and so engage with the programme on a whole different level.

Much of the debate surrounding the future of journalism seems to assume that using tools like these is going to replace the need for traditional journalistic methods. It won’t. But what it will do is help us stay on top of the many conversations that are taking place on our patch. Keeping track of what’s being said on Twitter is just as valid journalistically as going to a town hall meeting – it’s a way of finding out what issues matter to your readers, what their views are, and engaging with them to make sure you’re addressing their concerns.

So as long as we know how to get the best out of social media tools, use them efficiently and combine them with traditional reporting skills, surely they can only make journalism better?

Web 2.0 (a.k.a. the way forward)

I wanted to share this video from my Online Journalism lecture today, because it’s a great demonstration of how to get thinking about different ways of using the web. It’s by Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University and this is his blog.

Until fairly recently, most newspapers saw the web as somewhere to upload articles that had already appeared in print… and not much else. So what we got was essentially the print product on a screen.

Now, that’s all changing. There is a much greater realisation (though it’s by no means universal) of the additional possibilities offered by the web. This ranges from multimedia journalism – using video, audio, interactive and any other tools that are simply not available on paper – to mashups, user-generated content, collaboration and anything else you can think of.

This video sets out potential uses for the web, and some traditional concepts that we’ll need to rethink. Those are some of the main issues discussed on this blog, but for now, sit back, watch, and be inspired.

The Internet Manifesto

I’ve been reading this internet manifesto published by a group of German journalists on 7 September 2009, as part of my postgraduate diploma in journalism. It makes a number of good points, though as you’ll see, I’m not completely convinced.

First of all, the good stuff:

“The media must adapt their work methods to today’s technological reality instead of ignoring or challenging it.”

Spot on. There is a lot of soul-searching going on in the media industry at the moment and an awful lot of talk about the decline of traditional sources of news. But navel-gazing doesn’t save newspapers. Waking up to reality – that the internet is here to stay so make the most of it – just might.

“Links are connections. We know each other through links. Those who do not use them exclude themselves from social discourse.”

This gets to the very essence of networked journalism. Online news doesn’t stop at the end of the article. In theory, you could go from one news source to the next and explore many more sides of an issue than would be possible in print, and every article is richer for the fact that it links to the next.

Links also mean people. One of the very best things about the internet is the ability to converse with people you’d never normally meet in day-to-day life. Journalism works best when it’s open and honest with its readers, and inviting them to have their say is the best way of fostering that spirit.

Not so convincing

“Web-based platforms like social networks, Wikipedia or YouTube have become a part of everyday life for the majority of people in the western world. They are as accessible as the telephone or television.”

Really? For the majority of people? My last post was about social media growing among women and over-35s, but they’re still a definite minority. There is a significant proportion of the population which either doesn’t own a computer, or doesn’t use it as their main source of news. The whole point of online journalism is finding new ways to communicate, but that’s no good if you leave the rest of your readership behind.

“The Internet debunks homogenous bulk goods. Only those who are outstanding, credible and exceptional will gain a steady following in the long run.”

In many ways, this is true. It’s easy to go to another page if you’re not convinced by what you’re reading. But I think this also highlights the value of established news organisations. It takes time to establish someone’s credibility, especially if they are blogging under a pseudonym or aren’t up front about their own vested interests.

How does this work in reality?

Alison Gow, executive editor, digital, of the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post, has a slightly more realistic perspective on how this affects real journalists in a working newsroom.

Many journalists don’t take full advantage of the web, for a whole multitude of reasons. Gow outlines some of them: lack of time, lack of technical knowledge, lack of commitment to the website. But journalists who fail to embrace the opportunities offered by the web fail themselves and their readers. They miss out on the chance to be truly creative – to invent new ways of telling stories. Readers lose out too, because they are given the story in isolation without essential links and context, and without the many dimensions that multimedia can offer.

Gow sums it up:

“Online journalism shouldn’t be a chore, it should be exciting, different, interesting, and fun. If you’re working as a multimedia journalist you have the opportunity to be a real pioneer in the art of online storytelling, audience engagement, and new ways of sourcing, sharing and developing information. That has to be worth being a part of.”

The industry is undergoing such radical change that there has never been a better time to adapt and improve our story-telling techniques, to engage in conversation, and take advantage of the myriad opportunities of multimedia and the net. These tools can help us do our job better – we should and we must make the most of them.