My ‘interesting reads’ roundup (weekly)

  • David Higgerson considers some of the (myriad) ways online comments cause difficulties, including giving those characters who prefer not to be held to account by journalists a way to avoid them….  “Unlike a residents association website, newspapers carry with them a reputation of providing news and information you can trust. They’ve traditionally provided a forum for discussion – the letters page – where the rules were simple: Keep it clean, keep it polite, and tell us who you are. Thanks to legal rulings around who is responsible for comments if a website pre-moderates them, the rules for commenting online are effectively non-existent: No obligation to keep it clean, no obligation to keep it polite, and, often, no presumption that real identities must be revealed.”
  • A robust (justified) dismantling of the ‘we don’t have the staff’ defence.
  • Nice bit of dogged determination to get a story out. The amount of times FOIs run into brick walls is very frustrating. 
    tags: FOI
  • Heather Champ talks about her time with Flickr in its early days, how the company instilled the Web 2.0 ethos in its employees, and what she thinks about the way things have changed. It’s a short Q&A that reveals a lot about the company and online users. ” I’m pretty horrified by the current state of life online when it comes to privacy, community, what we share, our photos, and how our images may be used now, or in the future. I would hope that companies would really take stock of the decisions that they’re making and what the long term implications are.”
  • ““Strategy lives in delivery – not in meetings” – Leisa Reichelt” This is from Martin Belam’s liveblog of Confab 2013. This point, by Leisa Reichelt, is one of the most strikingly memorable – and true – things I’ve come across for a while. For anyone who has ever said they want “a more strategic role” or to “become more involved with strategy making” this, more than anything, sums up what matters.  Crafting strategy is a pretty straightforward thing compared to the implementation of it. Delivering strategy in the Real World is one of the most challenging, difficult things, a manager can face. 
  • I found Erin Caton’s writings on Medium, and I think she’s great. This piece, about how to be a good member of the web community, is spot on “It’s like technology has become a shield that bars emotion from our interactions, allowing a person to passively sit by while the unspeakable happens”
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

An unnecessary parting shot

I had a bit of a think before adding to the Allyson Bird ‘Why I Left News’ discussion. If you haven’t read it, the link will take you to a post that obviously comes from the heart about a decision that has caused her a lot of anguish and consideration. 
Days later, this paragraph is still sitting very badly with me: 

 “I can’t imagine anyone outside of an affluent family pursuing a career with so little room for financial growth. And I wonder: Would that well-to-do reporter shake hands with the homeless person she interviews? Would she walk into a ghetto and knock on a door to speak with the mother of a shooting victim? Or would she just post some really profound tweets with fantastic hash tags?”

Right up until that paragraph it was a sympathetic and poignant post about leaving journalism. But it lost me here.

There are plenty of J-students out there, from both ends of the economic scale, slogging their way through school, creating university newspapers, producing multimedia work for their portfolios, and scrubbing up for work experience.
They know anyone who posted fantastic hashtags but came back without the story would have the career lifespan equivalent of a mayfly. 

If you’re in or contemplating journalism as a career you’ll be aware the job market is dwindling and the pay and hours are far better in other trades.
People leave journalism all the time for all sorts of reasons. The pay, disillusionment, the shift towards multimedia, the backlash of said shift, the cutbacks… that’s typical of the workforce in a disrupted industry. 
People also left when journalism was a very good living indeed, with an expectation that expenses were works of fiction, lunches with contacts lasted all afternoon, and features meetings  included a nice cab sav in the office library. 

Over the weekend, some other assumptions were made about why someone left journalism. You should read the repercussions of that, here.

I’ve worked with graduate trainees from wealthy backgrounds who were just keen to get a byline and do a good job – I’m sure we all have. 
I sent one to a hellhole estate where readers had found drug needles in the local playground to do the story. I expect it was her first experience of major scale poverty and deprivation as a way of life, but she pitched in to clean up while interviewing the mums and came back with a good story. She accrued even better contacts – they thought she was great.

But journalism – in the UK, anyway – isn’t just attracting the Trust Funded (I don’t think  it ever did, to be honest).  
It’s not a pursuit of the middle classes; most of my first year as a full-time journalist was spent wearing my mum’s skirts and blouses – and I didn’t even have college debts to blame because I didn’t go.

Neither did being broke make me a paragon of empathetic reporting. When I got sent to do my first ‘flea infestation in council house’ story – that hardy perennial of early summer newsdesk calls – I was horrified to find myself perched on a couch in a sitting room where the walls were covered in living black wallpaper.

I was quietly happy the occupier did not offer to shake my hand.  I developed my photos, filed my story,  it went in the paper and that was all my employer expected of me. 
Go out, get the story, file it on time; rinse and repeat. 
If you can do that, rich or poor, you’ll be a good journalist.

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My ‘interesting reads’ roundup (weekly)

  • The Financial Brand loves its Google Alerts, and it is Not Happy that they are broken with no fix in sight. In this information packed post, it sets out why we should all be concerned about the latest Google glitch “Google has lost touch with its core business model: search. Searching the internet is what Google is was known for, it is was what Google (once) did better than everyone else. But Google has become distracted with “Shiny New Syndrome,” wasting tremendous amounts of time and energy (yours and ours) on ideas that fall way outside the search model.”
    tags: google
  • Capzles is a user-friendly, free timeline developer. You can enter text and multimedia, and create a flashy timeline in a variety of preset designs. (Caveat – it’s Flash-based. Not friendly for iThings) 
  • Andy Carvin’s insights into how he builds an online network – really useful tips for any journalist. 
  • WaPo imposes a 20 pages a month limit metered paywall. As (just about every) other commenters have pointed out, this is surely more of a saggy picket fence than a paywall.  “The Post has been the most prominent of the anti-paywall US papers, and the last without one, excepting USA Today (all eyes now are on The Guardian). Its resistance spurred unhelpful commentary like Mathew Ingram’s July 2012 “Why the Washington Post will never have a paywall” piece. “Never,” in this case, turned out to be eight months.”
  • “As PR becomes ascendant, private and government interests become more able to generate, filter, distort, and dominate the public debate, and to do so without the public knowing it. “What we are seeing now is the demise of journalism at the same time we have an increasing level of public relations and propaganda,” Robert McChesney said. “We are entering a zone that has never been seen before in this country.””
  • From the Guardian. Does what it says on the tin. 
  • The annual PEW report on American journalism is out – and it makes uncomfortable reading if you work in the industry. 
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

How we’re landscaping flat earth news with social media

I’ve been reading the latest Pew report on American Journalism ‘The State of the News Media 2013’ (overview here).
It’s a piece of work that, for those of us in print or broadcast. won’t inspire a great deal of joy.
But, among the standout points highlighted by Pew was something  that’s being increasingly discussed in my networks: The mainstream content vacuum and the rise of PR and Brand Specialist journalism. 
This is what Pew says: 

“Nearly one-third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to. At the same time, newsmakers and others with information they want to put into the public arena have become more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media.  They are also seeing more success in getting their message into the traditional media narrative.”

Pew’s survey says newspapers aren’t carrying the news they want, and our former customers – readers, advertisers, companies and individuals wanting to promote their stories – are more adept than ever at getting their own message across (I pondered the growth industry of brand journalism in a post last year). 
Pew also notes the 2008 research from Robert McChesney and John Nicholas examining how PR machines have accelerated to fill the spaces vacated by news-producing journalists.

McChesney and Nicholas wrote that in 2008, the year Nick Davies published his expose of churnalism and fact-failure in mainstream media and in particular the national press, Flat Earth News.  

Since then, churnalism has slipped into popular definition as ‘press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material…used to create articles in newspapers and other news media’ and it’s logical to conclude the phenomenon is more rife as a result of the PR and specialist company writers who are filling the breach.
There’s a website created by the Media Standards Trust to compare press releases against press articles, to show how much ‘churn’ has been applied.

I’m not sure that definition is exactly right, however. Also, many good journalists opt for a press office role. They push an agenda and you, as the news outlet recipient, know that. Come to that, the Sun’s Trevor Kavannagh – an award-winning journalist – also pushes an agenda – that of his employer. 

Mouseprice puts out handy quarterly updates using Land Registry Data – it’s checkable, relevant data and it’s useful for readers; if a national title runs that, with some additional content from, say, estate agents and basic cross-checking I guess you have to call it churnalism. Many readers would call it interesting.
PR firms always call media ahead of Budget day, offering 1st person opinion pieces from local experts. Every features desk in national and regional print press knows the national slimming club press offices proffer real life stories of mums who have shed 10 stone and discovered a new passion for kite surfing. 
It’s not lazy journalism; a journalist has done the work of putting together quite a lot of the information required – they just happen to work in a press office. 

Bad journalism leads to churnalism and flat earth news. There are so many examples, but the one that sticks with me is Blue Monday aka the Most Miserable Day of the Year.
Unchecked and incorrect information, widely reported; the worst kind of pr nonsense until Dr Ben Goldacre questioned the data, and everyone in the media shuffled their feet awkwardly.
Journalists from the BBC down were a party to that and there is no way the BBC was short of resources – cash or journalists – in 2005 when Blue Monday first surfaced. 
Maybe no one questioned it because the press release included an equation created by Cardiff University scientists attached to it and boffins, of course, are never wrong. 
On the plus side, as a result of that incident any a press release with an equation is viewed in the same light as green ink letters. So, every cloud and all that…

Flat Earth News also says churnalism exists because

No reporter who spends nearly 95 per cent of the time crouched over a desk can possibly develop enough good leads or build enough good contacts

But that was published back in 2008 (using research from 2006), when social media as a mass communication and collaboration tool had yet to explode.
Five years on, Andy Carvin spends 95% of his time crouched over a desk – look, he says so right here with great detail – and he is considered one of the finest journalists of his generation, curating information, repackaging content, interrogating the data it contains, and publishing with confidence. 
His network is online, his face-to-face chats are via Skype or Google+ Hangouts, he uses Twitter and Facebook to source information, make contacts, and then checks his sources.  

No one is going to accuse Carvin of churnalism – he’s a curator, a writer and (according to his bio a real-time information DJ; I‘m assuming that last part is ironic…) although he has been called a ‘one-man Twitter news bureau’. Not a bad epithet.

So many reporters are now  having multiple conversations on Facebook threads with multiple contacts, all at the same time about potential stories. I guess it’s the most open display of journalist conversation with sources – maybe most evident at a regional, local and hyperlocal independent level – that has ever existed.
Basic fact checking takes hardly any time on social media; the biggest danger is the rush to beat the competition. 
Be right or be first? The answer’s obvious and you can never get an audience’s trust wholly back once it’s gone

Anyway, the whole idea of churnalism and the rise of PR, Brand Journalism, Spin or whatever is Relevant To Mah Interests as I’m attending the Polis Journalism Conference on April 5, where the theme is Trust.
I’m taking part in the ‘Churnalism – How to Avoid It’ panel session.
Keynote speaker is – who else? – Nick Davies, and for all those who sigh at the prospect of yet another hashtag for an expensive conference drops into their Twitter stream this one is completely free (registration is here).  
Maybe I’ll see you there?

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My ‘interesting reads’ roundup (weekly)

  • This Gawker article deals with the Nate Thayer/Atlantic fallout but also poses a number of questions that pertain more towards the ‘free interns’ debate. When does work experience become free labour, and how far should you go to prove yourself in your chosen profession before that profession thinks you’re worth remunerating? “… it’s then incumbent upon all of us to recognize that this is the culture we breed when we offer to pay writers nothing or next to nothing, thereby immediately eliminating anyone who needs a paycheck in order to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Some writers may be able to hustle double-duty for a while, filing short stories during the day while waiting tables at night until their big break hits. But the field will still be overpopulated by people who came into it with money and security behind them”
  • A Branch discussion in which a number of writers debate the pros and cons of writing for free, the value of a piece of work, and how circumstances can influence whether they seek payment or not. Interesting range of views. 
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

My ‘interesting reads’ roundup (weekly)

  • “If the industry has come to learn anything from the Great Recession, it’s that we produce a product, a product that needs to be marketed just as well as — if not better than — any other product. This year’s 10 Newspapers That Do It Right are all prime examples of how newspapers can flex their marketing muscle to take back their place in the community, produce the high-quality products that readers demand, and update their sales tactics to accommodate the needs of modern advertisers. “
  • According to a study, uncivil comments can not only polarize readers views but lead to a change in how they intrepret the story… I think the expectation is that we all twitch our skirts in a panic over the findings – but it’s not that much of a revelation to learn that our own views can be affected by the forcibly expressed views of others, is it?  “In a study published online last month in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, we and three colleagues report on an experiment designed to measure what one might call “the nasty effect.” We asked 1,183 participants to carefully read a news post on a fictitious blog, explaining the potential risks and benefits of a new technology product… Then we had participants read comments on the post, supposedly from other readers, and respond to questions regarding the content of the article itself… “the results were both surprising and disturbing. “
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tweeting and filming council meetings? Oh, go on then….

The Daily Post’s Right to Tweet campaign continues to roll forward (we even made Roy Greenslade‘s blog) but since we’ve launched it there have been a number of other instances of newspaper journalists and councillors falling foul of the ‘can we/can’t we’ ad hoc approach. 

Some of the recent examples can be found here (Hounslow) here (Oldham) here (Rotherham) and a number of Welsh councils, according to the director of the Electoral Reform Society,
Among the councils named by the ERS was Anglesey. However, good news on that front: 

COUNCILLORS on Anglesey are being encouraged to take to Twitter and Facebook to engage with communities – while the press and public will also be free to tweet from meetings.

Anglesey council is drawing up a social media protocol for members which sets out how elected members should interact with people on social media but warns “inappropriate” use could end in a standards hearing.
A draft report for the island authority also states it will permit the use of social media by the public and even allow for people to film proceedings on smartphones [my italics – purely because I’m so delighted to read such a sentence] as long as they do not disrupt the meeting.

You can read the full story here; the vote does have to be cast to set the plan in stone, but it’s a really positive step forward and one that sets a standard for others. Da iawn, Ynys Mon. Hopefully we’ll see others following in your footsteps soon.

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My ‘interesting reads’ roundup (weekly)

  • From The Atlantic’s piece on an article by Emily Bazelon’ – a good glimpse inside the beast that is Facebook “Sullivan cycled through the complaints with striking speed, deciding with very little deliberation which posts and pictures came down, which stayed up, and what other action, if any, to take. I asked him whether he would ever spend, say, 10 minutes on a particularly vexing report, and Willner raised his eyebrows. “We optimize for half a second,” he said. “Your average decision time is a second or two, so 30 seconds would be a really long time.” (A Facebook spokesperson said later that the User Operations teams use a process optimized for accuracy, not speed.) That reminded me of Let’s Start Drama. Six months after Carbonella sent his reports, the page was still up. I asked why. It hadn’t been set up with the user’s real name, so wasn’t it clearly in violation of Facebook’s rules? “
    tags: facebook
    • owboarding society was recorded in 2011 – months before Mr Swain was elected as student union president.
  • Useful round up of case examples detailing where, how and why some Twitter users have fallen foul of the law. From BBC Magazine 
  • Being reactive, rather than planning campaigns, is the way of the advertising future apparently. I watched the Superbowl live, and saw how Oreo turned a power cut into a masterstroke of social advertising – it’s interesting that of all the huge advertising campaigns planned for the event, Oreo is the most memorable for me, and it was done with a simple photo.  “The rigid campaign-based model of advertising, perfected over decades of one-way mass media, is headed for extinction. For messages to be heard in 2020, brands will need to create an enormous amount of useful, appealing, and timely content. To get there, brands will have to leave behind organizations and thinking built solely around the campaign model, and instead adopt the defining characteristics of the real-time, data-driven newsroom — a model that’s prolific, agile and audience-centric. “
  • This is an absolutely brilliant resource – lots of different sites and tools for journalists, which have also been helpfully rated. A real keeper.
    tags: tools
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.