Networks and Journalism

It’s six months this week since I started spreading myself over the internet’s social sites in an attempt to shift my analogue brain up a gear.
I came home from a TM Leaders course last January shocked by my ignorance of Web 2.0 opportunities, and determined to do something about it. It started as a mild Twitter habit and has become an all pervading part of my life; one that has had an incredibly positive effect on my ability to do my job.

Contacts on my networks point me – either intentionally or as part of wider community sharing – at blog posts, sites, information streams and applications I would never have found out about on my own. I made a powerpoint recently and e-Grommet suggested I try it out on Slideshare, which I’d heard of but never used. As a result of joining that, and sharing information about myself and my interests, I found a real wealth of knowledge, including this great presentation about how how to understand the post Web 2.0 world which states, very neatly, the importance of networks.

Online networks, for me, offer a glimmer of hope for the survival of mainstream journalists – if we are just prepared to get out, get involved and share. These sites are the best way of reaching a worldwide network of experts and commentators (blogs, vlogs, podcasts, homepages), disgrunted whistle-blowers (forums, blogs) and potential readers. They let us market ourselves, our surveys and our stories, crowdsource, make eye-contact with people and ask them a question (I love Seesmic for this).

I was reading Adam Tinsworth’s One Man and His Blog this week for his take on how the media gets the whole ‘community’ thing wrong. It’s a great post and I’ve bookmarked it because I know I’ll want to re-read it – and share it.

I find our little locked-off world deeply frustrating. Mainstream journalism is like a hunter-gatherer hugging all the food to itself and dispensing it grudgingly, then expecting everyone else to share during the lean times.
And the sad thing is, it’s not deliberate. There aren’t many journalists who make a concientous decision to closet themselves away and be spoon-fed stories; they just wind up in this situation because there is no time. There’s no time to experiment, learn or even explore things online.

I’m always checking my networks at work; it isn’t a question of not having that enough to do – I’m always juggling myriad deadline-orientated tasks. What I do is snatch moments to visit networks and see what experts are discussing, what links they have found that might help me, and what is going on in the world beyond the enclosing walls of my office – and my own head.

So, six months in and I’m still learning, still getting things wrong, still loving this whole social media thing. I’ve made good friends, new contacts, had amazing, interesting conversations with people on the other side of the world whom I will never meet face-to-face, and whose support and feedback I value.

Journalism is a huge part of my life and it pains me to fall out with it but right now so many people in journalism are nodding at the right places while secretly wishing the interet would just go away. I don’t know where our industry is heading but I know that ultimately it will have to be a vastly different beast – leaner, wiser and (whisper it) a bit more respectful to social networks.

Internet star

I work with a film star. This is not something I’ve had to brag about in previous jobs but now I can I intend to drop into the conversation at every opportunity.
The star in question is Ruth Maher, the editor’s PA at the Liverpool Daily Post who has her own internet show Spinning Jenny, in which she plays PR dolly Jenny.
The show launches properly next month and viewers vote on how the plot develops – and which characters stay. It’s like Echo Beach but with more viewers already and, thank God, no Martine McCutcheon.
This would be impressive enough in its own right… but Ruth recently turned the Post office into a film set, complete with reporters playing characters – speaking roles went to deputy business editor Tony McDonough and reporter Ben Schofield who had lots of lines to learn for his part interviewing a WAG.
There are also plenty of cameos from various Post and Echo staff who probably thought the cameras belonged to our own TV unit. They may be a little surprised to find themselves appearing on the show’s YouTube channel.
Anyway, here’s the episode from Daily Post Towers:

So Ruth, when you’re collecting your Oscar in a couple of years time do me a favour… mention the blog?

Should readers have more control over newspaper websites?

A few days ago I asked Aren’t We All Journalists? and had a response I thought was very interesting.
Essentially, Captain Mac asked if I thought there should be a place on newspaper websites that people could fill themselves? He suggested a “whole section – that people could write stories on, reviews, opinion pieces, list events, drag in links from other sites etc”.

So I started wondering: Why would people use our sites when they could easily set up a blog (or a website) themselves and share their views, reviews, events or whatever? Also, how many regional newspapers in the UK already have relinquished some control to readers?

Personally I can’t think of a good reason why regional newspaper websites couldn’t host, for example, wikis for people to use for sharing information, links, advice or events? While alternative sites will certainly exist on the web we’d have nothing to lose in offering similar. And given the trust that most newspaper brand names still retain (despite dwindling print sales) they should have a good chance of succeeding, if nurtured and promoted well.
And even if such sites didn’t capture the public imagination, we would at least have tried out a new idea and given online users the choice, instead of simply ‘managing’ the information ourselves.

Why shouldn’t we hand over more control to users? The LFC and EFC Banter sites on the Liverpool Daily Post website do that now to a certain extent and, despite being launched only a few weeks ago, are hugely popular. Of course, you could argue that football fan sites are a special case – but look at the Evening Gazette on Teeside with its award-winning hyperlocal sites where content is directly uploaded by more than 150 community bloggers.

The beauty of online newspaper sites is that most ideas go from conception to reality in a short space of time – sometimes just hours. How long does it take to add a new section to the printed paper? It can take months – and occasionally a good idea suffers a lingering death-by-committee.
So I’d have to say the redoubtable Captain Mac makes an excellent point with his response and my answer would have to be yes, I reckon there is. But that’s just me… I’d love to know what others thought.

Aren’t we all journalists?

I’m intrigued by this – I think it’s a phenomenon which is going to become increasingly prevalent as citizen journalism flourishes.
It’s interesting Clinton and Obama are bleating they didn’t know they were being filmed – ie they were ‘on the record’ – because surely politicians this far up the greasy poll must know that nothing, ultimately, is private.
I know there are real concerns in the industry about the veracity of citizen journalism – I say, bring it on, and the sooner the better.

I didn’t get into news because I wanted to file an elegantly-turned phrase (if I did I would have become a magazine feature writer); I became a journalist because a) my mum told me to, and b) because I wanted to tell people things. I wanted to be the one that everyone listened to in the pub because I knew stuff.
That’s what citizen journalism is, for me. It’s silencing the rest of the crowd because you have interesting things to tell that no one else knows.
We are driven to communicate with others and impart information; that’s why Twitter is so compelling – it’s 140 characters of information, no matter how banal some tweets may seem, they will be devoured by readers who want to know.

Citizen journalism is something we need at a fundamental level – it is Everyman, Everywhere, ready to tell the story. I think this blog post from Media Idea Lab offers some very good insights into the concept.
On the whole I believe citizen journalism is a very fine thing for the newspaper industry – we just need to know how to embrace it rather than sneer at it.


Churnalism is the phrase applied to the endless regurgitating of press releases as news. But today, not for the first time, I’ve been infuriated by a different kind of syndrome; let’s call it Yawnalism.
The definition of Yawnalism is journalism so damn lazy the writer may as well have dictated it from their bed.
Take a look at this . It’s a Sunday Times report of how Liverpool is faring as European Capital of Culture 2008 – and it is the most lazy, trite, hackneyed piece of blather you’ll come across in a while.
Indulge me while I tick off the sterotyped themes Christopher Hart manages to shoehorn into his piece:
Once-proud city check
Twin religions of music and football check
Capital of Culture is failing to spread to the suburbs check
Toxteth looking a bit shambolic check
Cheeky Scouse barman bon mot check
I could go on but to be honest you could probably join in on the chorus. The still-beating musical heart of Liverpool chorus of course.
I was at Liverpool Sound. Some people may have queued for an hour if they turned up an hour before it opened; I certainly didn’t.
But I’m not an apologist for the concert organisers. What I am is a journalist. And I know I could have written some similar rubbish to this without having to set foot on the streets of Liverpool. A quick flick through the online archives of the Post & Echo will chart deprivation statistics, the demise of the Florrie and the efforts being made to fill the Albert Dock. All you need to add is a dash of sneer and a sardonically-raised eyebrow and you’re good to go.
Whether it’s the Sunday Times being glib in their Culture magazine or the Daily Mail being just plain wrong (Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture title being dismissed as the city’s ‘Culture Festival’) it’s sloppy reporting.
And that is what offends me. I don’t care if Christopher Hart thinks Liverpool’s stab at Culture Year is a bit lame; I am, however, deeply offended by the idea that a journalist can con his readers by filing a piece that, frankly, has the depth and insight of a flatfish.