Don’t Do Digital, just Do.

There is a thing that keeps bugging me, and it’s this: Until we stop thinking about digital as a discrete thing in our news operations, our mindsets, cultures and workflows will never really change.

If we just stop thinking that digital is a special thing with differing needs to print, it would be a massive step forward in newsroom change.
That point in itself is a shift for me: A few years ago I would have said that the way to go was to treat digital as a startup – hothouse a team, give it growing time, be attentive to it.
I changed my mind because things have changed. We don’t need to hothouse digital because we should be over that now.
Doing Digital is so 2008, baby.

Making a special effort to Do Digital is the multimedia equivalent of breathing in and out – it only feels weird when you consciously focus on what you’re doing.
Talk about content, not platform, and think about how that raw content should best be dealt with. It’s three years since I wrote a piece about about throwing away the flatplan/dummy/book/whatever, and I still say it’s the way to go. We need to stop obsessing over physical pages and obsess over content instead.

Personally, I think managers have a responsibility to drag everyone they can with them in this thinking; let the devil take the hindmost. Want career progression? Then be progressive.
The most important act of leadership any manager can do, to protect their team and ensure people have a career ahead of them, is steer them towards things that currently fall by the wayside…
…because people are busy
…because people are writing for the paper and there’s a deadline on a Physical Thing, as opposed to online where no one will notice if a story isn’t up immediately*
…because the interview is happening over the phone and a video is impossible
…because REASONS

There are a million excuses, but no good reasons.

* They notice

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Industry disruption and journalism – an enthusiast’s perspective

Brian Storm, founder of Mediastorm, says to photographers: “Don’t just take someone’s picture – give them a voice…”
But this EJC video interview, hosted on Vimeo in HD, has a message that has relevance far beyond photographers – I think it’s essential viewing for anyone working in a newsroom right now. 
He says: “The tools are so great and the distribution is there for everybody… that’s been disruptive… but it has also created enormous opportunities”.

Opportunities don’t come along that often – I worked as a journalist for around 12 years before email came along, and then the internet – the pace of acceleration since then has been astonishing and exhilerating. 
Mediastorm is amazing; I remember watching a package they created (for the Washington Post, I think?) a few years ago, on US soldiers and their families before and after a tour of duty in Iraq – it was haunting and disturbing and compelling. It was also a piece of digital storytelling that didn’t require any text beyond context-setting captions.
For me the best thing about Storm’s video interview is his enthusiasm – the fact that he loves the innovation sparked by disruption shines through. 
It’s five minutes of inspiration I’d recommend watching


Brian Storm – ‘Discusses Storytelling and Journalism’ from European Journalism Centre on Vimeo.


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Finding the value in media disruption

The ever-popular media game of Media Buzzword Bingo continues apace; most recently, Curation has been shouldered aside in favour of Disruption (used in a ‘go, team!‘ way, rather than the less-upbeat dictionary definition as found here).


The latest person to lament the lack of disruption being carried out by the media is Ross Levinsohn, EVP of Yahoo!’s Americas region. 
Speaking on a panel he complained that “in the traditional media, there aren’t disruptors anymore”, adding that media leaders were “fearful, not fearless. Who’s taking those chances? Google, Apple. Silicon Valley is fearless when it comes to disrupting.” 
Levinsohn made this plea for more disruption (‘innovation’ would be a more appropriate term, I think) on March 26; nine days later, Yahoo announced it was cutting 2,000 jobs (14% of its staff) as part of multi-million cost saving exercise.
Frankly, that’s pretty disruptive from the corporate and individual perspective.

And, speaking from, if not inside the belly of the beast then at least from a nearby vantage point, I would further suggest fighting disruption with disruption isn’t the solution. We’re mostly just trying to hit on something that works. 
There’s the vexed question of free content. The Guardian and The Times are the high-profile names slugging it out in the Battle of the Paywall, but they aren’t alone in such explorations. 
Trinity Mirror (my employer) says ubiquitous content will not be placed behind a paywall, but consumers would be charged to access ‘high-value” unique content of its national titles.
Johnston Press also ruled out a paywall for web and mobile content, although its strategy does include charging for tablet apps. 
Midlands News Association – which placed its content behind a paywall in April 2011- scrapped that strategy after nine months and opted instead for paid-for tablet apps.
Another of the regional press companies, Newsquest, has placed its Scottish titles’ content behind metered paywalls
 The common factor is… well, the common factor is everyone is trying something different. I don’t think this meets the dictionary or Levinsohn definition of Disruption, and I’m not even saying qualifies as innovation – experimentation is probably a better description for what’s being tried out. 

Robert Picard  says the “fundamental problem for media firms” is that of selling 19th and 20th century products in the 21st century, often without altering the value of what is offered, or the relationships with customers 

He’s right; the economic model of the modern Press typically follows this pattern: 
1. Create content with assumed commercial value – news, ads, photos, whatever. Some paying customers (advertisers) have a degree of control over the content they’ve funded; others (readers) do not.
2. Attempt to sell content via one very expensively produced platform
3. Distribute said platform via extremely expensive methods
4. Make the same content freely available on a separate, inexpensive, easily distributed platform, which also allows real-time interaction with users, feedback and sharing
 
Alan Mutter’s excellent post ‘Four ways newspapers are failing at digital‘  looks at similar issues, citing week digital product portfolios (including the shovelware issue), an ageing audience and lack of diversity, limited revenue opportunities, and feeble competitive response. (If that sounds too depressing, he does also have a series of suggestions for what to do next.)

I think there’s another way newspapers are failing at digital, and that harks back to Picard as well. I think we’ve lost track of what’s valuable.
With regards to value and relationships, most news executives would admit the brands are not the essential part of their customer’s world they once were. 
People who say there’s no money in digital (yes, there are still people who actually do say that) overlook the fact there is a Googolplex of cash in digital.
Google and the Apple are making money hand over fist, packaging up other people’s content, distributing it on their platforms, and selling either data, or consumer insights, or advertising around that.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post’s packaging up and distribution of others’ content led to a very profitable outcome for Arianna.
That content is searchable (and findable – two things that are mutually exclusive on many regional news sites), it can be shared easily, consumed quickly, works effectively, can be consumed or discarded without consequence. 
But mostly the content offered by Google and Apple is wanted, because the user has selected it (the app, the link, the social tool etc). 

I was talking to our new(ish) YourCardiff reporter today, Jessica Best, who told me the most popular article she’d written since starting was about local activities for Easter. On WalesOnline, a broader article about things to do nationally for Easter garnered 2,000 hits in a couple of hours. 
No one in the newsroom would have considered Things To Do At Easter great journalism, because it’s not. It is, however, a great, searchable (and findable) resource for families looking to do a mix of free and paid-for things in Wales over the bank holiday. It was also well-shared socially. 

Great journalism has to be supported financially, and if we’re going to do that through building audience, then we have to know what the audience wants – by asking, listening, responding, experimenting, and refining. It’s not disruptive but it is a break from the norm, and it adds value.
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What is journalism? What are journalists? (a post J-leaders ramble)

My poor neglected blog. It’s been weeks since I’ve had the head-space to sit down and write out some thoughts.
But I have been saving items that made me think a lot, for when I did have some time. Things like this tweet…  

which sums up my exact same feelings on the subject of citizen journalism definitions and made me recall there was an interesting set of notes in my Google Docs I should take a look at. 

In February I was at UCLan as part of the Journalism Leaders course residential week, slogging towards my MA (hence not having the headspace to blog) which included a discussion of what is a journalist, during a session led by Megan Knight. 
I made copious notes as it’s a Moibus Strip of a theme in which the multiple definitions are conveniently twisted to fit one’s own view. 
These are some of the jottings I made during and after the session; I kept thinking about it for days afterwards and I’m still intrigued by it, particularly Pierre Borudieu aspect, of which more later

The question of who is a journalist comes back to what is journalism. 
Defining these two aspects needs to examine the fundamental principles of the industry, the skill and the individual. It is far more than platform v platform and is probably the definitive response to Are Bloggers Journalists?
It’s a cyclical question that looks like this:

How do you identify someone who is a Journalist?

* From employment? (what about the freelance/unemployed who worked in media)

* From education? (Journalists who find citizen journalism threatening are focusing on the lack of education. The type of education that people have access to can also be a class issue)

* From outputs? (what are the outputs? Is a film reviewer a journalist? Eg. I believe my blog contains writing about journalism rather than journalism itself. But as my posts contain information I’ve investigated, or data I’ve interrogated others might define that as journalism)

* From self-identification or association with a body Eg. The NUJ? (In China, journalists have to be registered. People writing about their communities and local news are not termed journalists in any way).

So, journalism is not a profession but most journalists would say it is. Journalism also creates journalism in its own image . 

Those are some of my verbatim notes. Questions I also noted down during the session included: Do people become what their industry needs them to be? Do they subsume their own personality traits, inclinations and/or ethics to become what the identity of their employer needs them to be?  
The answer to all of the above is yes, I would suggest. And by ethics I don’t mean phone hacking, I mean things like being sent out on a death knock – an occasion when you know you aren’t exactly adding to anyone’s sum of joy – and doing it anyway.
 
The identity of the journalism product is more important than the identity of the person – such as the editor – associated with it. 
The personalities change all the time, but the product has been a constant (although that is changing now, of course. Consider the Liverpool Daily Post’s shift to a weekly

During the session we discussed the idea that as journalism dis-aggregates and digital disruption becomes more commonplace, editing becomes more about the human function – getting the right people in the right jobs; becoming more responsible for the commercial aspects of the business. (This is probably going to form part of my MA research topic). 

All this led to the introduction of Pierre Bourdieu‘s theories and the idea of Social Capital. 
I’d never heard of Bourdieu before this, but I really connect with his idea that a person has social capital within their Field and their Habitus is designed to increase that social capital. 
Most of us are far more focused on the Field, because it increases the social capital among our peers. We go after stories (we become active and visible on social media too, I would contend) partly to maintain our status in society. 
And as well as the idea of social captial, I think online social networks have allowed journalists to change their Field as well – it’s provided a huge opportunity for people to break out of the ‘journalists writing for journalists’ trap we’ve all fallen into at one time or another.

What do online networks mean for the Tribe of Journalists and peer pressure? Your peers may be sat next to you, but they may also be on the other side of the world, sharing their views with you. 
If people have a different Habitus as a result of no longer being inside their Field as much, where do their loyalties lie?

I think that would mean journalists adept at using social tools are less likely to fall into the trap of writing for other journalists. 
I suspect they are closer to their audience not just because they talk to them online but because their online spaces are now their Habitus, and their Field – the group they are writing for – is significantly larger and more disparate.

A final thought. As we were debating what is a journalist the news broke that Marie Colvin had been killed in Syria. So, perhaps the short answer to What is a Journalist is: She was.

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Disruption isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a lifebuoy

Life Preserver
From a link tweeted by Kevin Anderson this morning I wound up at a new-to-me blog by John L Robinson called Media, Disrupted.
Sometimes it feels like I work in Sesame Street – Journalism today is brought to you by the letters D and C… Disruption, Data, Distribution, and Curation, Collaboration, Content – so a blog with a title like that had appeal before I even started.
Anyway, I read the post and it didn’t so much ring a bell with me as clang one of Poe’s ‘loud alarum bells‘; I mused on it for most of the morning. 
In fact, it made me think so much that I tweeted Kevin to say, well, just that, and he replied with another clanging phrase – that “local journalism isn’t just about speaking to power but also about communities speaking to themselves”.
I can’t say it anywhere near as well as John L Robinson does; he hits the nail right on the head pretty much with this paragraph:

Newspapers hurt themselves. They began charging for obituaries. (The paper wants to make money from a death in my family? Who does that? Not a friend) Newspapers developed attitude. Snark was in; folksy was out…That’s not how you talk to family.

I understand the point he makes as what I had with various communities, at different points in my career, was intimacy with the readership.
When I worked on the Western Telegraph I knew my readers (not their social demography, I mean I literally knew most of them because I saw them. If I didn’t know people to say hello to, I knew them from court, council, from them putting in adverts at the front counter, or because they worked in W. H. Smiths or Woolworths).
When I moved to the Gloucester Citizen, even though I had a news patch and I knew a little more about my paper’s reader demography, I didn’t have that same connection and I suspect that even if I had lived in the heart of my patch it wouldn’t have happened. Because the Telegraph was ‘our paper’ or, just as interestingly, ‘THE paper’ but the Citizen was ‘The Local Rag’.
I genuinely heard it called that on a number of occasions, and bear in mind this was just at the time Fred and Rose West’s horrifying secrets were being revealed; the Citizen’s sales figures were at an all-time high, so it was being bought – it just wasn’t respected or (I suspect) particularly liked.
There was no intimacy between paper and reader. The old Grade II listed St John St offices didn’t even have – and were unable to install – a disabled access, so if you were in a wheelchair or unable to mount steps, an advertising rep or reporter would have to come and talk to you in the street – how’s that for looking after your customer?

Other papers I’ve worked on had the same issues – the Southern Daily Echo didn’t have the same feeling of connectivity with its readers as the The News, Portsmouth – just 15 miles down the M27 – while Liverpool felt connected (there was even a Foning The Echo Facebook group, set up to celebrate that landmark moment in a consumer’s life when, while complaining about shoddy goods/services, the local paper is invoked).

Maybe sometimes the physical barriers contribute to that loss of intimacy too – when you close a district office, move from that expensive city centre address to a more remote industrial site, when you shift to automated switchboards or – as Johnson says – start charging for things people would expect to get for free.

However far we’ve shifted, I think the opportunities for reconnecting (or connecting with new people) are vast, thanks to online tools and social media, and it comes back to those letters D and C.
By disrupting old ways of working – whether it’s the full-on change to digital first, or taking the decision to more transparent, or by – we open up new channels to reach people. By distributing work across 3rd party platforms (from Twitter to Scribd, Flickr to What Do They Know? or collaborating with others (blogging an unfolding story, or simply hashtagging a breaking news story), acknowledging that content does not begin and end with a 400 word story and side panel but is maps, spreadsheets, pdfs, photos, timelines, graphics, adverts puzzles, horoscopes… and then there’s data and curation, which don’t just allow us to do all of the above, they demand we do all of the above (as does Hyperlocal, I guess).

Newspapers have lost their audiences; evening titles managed to balance things somewhat by publishing earlier in the day, and some have shifted to become weekly publications but I wonder how and whether they are reconnecting with people.

As part of my Journalism Leaders Course studies I’ve been reading papers examining at how businesses cope with change. This paragraph…

Some individuals will be able to change and to adapt to even the most difficult circumstances whereas others will not. This is true for organizations as well. Some organizations are slow to react to a challenging environment whereas others are able to do so more easily

… from How Flexibility Facilitates Innovation and Ways To Manage It In Organizations  sums up the challenge anyone bringing disruption to a regional media business faces. Individuals might change, departments might change, but it’s wholesale business change – disruption – that’s key.

Disruption makes for uncertain and occasionally worrying times, but it also clears the way for the new. So I’ll say it again: Disruption isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a lifebuoy.

Sesame Street
Image via Wikipedia

* Flickr photograph by cncphotos

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Shifting to Google Apps from Microsoft – not a trend… yet.

In its article A Microsoft Horror Story: Newspaper Chain Is Switching 8,500 Employees To Google Apps Business Insider says “this isn’t the case of a small business switching from some legacy email system to Gmail while maintaining a huge Microsoft contract for Office and other products. This is a big company that seems anxious to move all its employees away from Microsoft products completely.
“One story doesn’t make a trend — there were cases of businesses moving off Microsoft to Linux and OpenOffice in the last decade, too, but Microsoft continued to grow its sales every year. And Microsoft can point to some case studies where customers chose Microsoft’s cloud services after testing Google’s.… [but] even ONE story like this should be enough to make Steve Ballmer and company sweat.”
Trinity Mirror’s move to Google Apps started with Media Wales two months ago and is still being rolled out across the rest of the group but (even as a hardened Google user) I have to say it makes life much easier than the old IBM suite. Sharing docs, and calendars, using Google Groups and having (almost) unlimited storage space for emails has been great; apparently  Google+ integration is also planned, which could have benefits in terms of using hangouts to boost – for example – in-house training.
It might not be a trend yet but look at what the Journal Register Company has achieved with the Ben Franklin Project publishing using purely free online tools and software.
Moving away from established brands to experiment with light-touch, third party apps is something that most publishers would have struggled to wrap their heads around a decade ago. Now, ownership  can be seen as a tie – look how many media companies are renting press space with rivals – and the ready ability of newsrooms to adapt free social online tools for storytelling is only helping the culture shift.
Personally, I’d imagine Microsoft are looking at the way things are moving with some concern. Be interesting to see what it does to arrest the shift.

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Do newspaper closures mean news deserts? Maybe… not

English: a picture taken in the desert of kuwa...
Image via Wikipedia
I was reading Tom Stites: Layoffs and cutbacks lead to a new world of news deserts this week* and it got me thinking about how (and whether) a newspaper really is intrinsic to the fabric of a community.

It is a thought-provoking piece, exploring the concept of news deserts – although Stites is discussing US newspapers, it could just as easily be applied to the closures of local newspapers in the UK. 
But it does strike me that, just because a newspaper closes, that doesn’t mean news stops being reported – just that it’s being reported differently, and by people who don’t hold down mainstream media jobs.  
Niche sectors, like Thebusinessdesk.com (biz), or How-Do (media/creative), hyperlocal blogs like Pits n Pots, spring to mind. Plus you’ve only got to look at the Talk About Local successes, and the even the emergence of n0tice (ok, it’s in beta at the moment but I see a lot of people sharing things on other networks from there even at this early stage) as a forum for information sharing.
So while I understand the idea of news deserts I’m not sure it’s a case of ‘lose your newspaper, lose your news’. What did shock me though were the examples cited in the article – one US paper cutting back from 130 staff to 12 (that’s 12 reporters – news-gatherers – by the way; it doesn’t actually state how many production or other editorial staff were let go)  – it’s hard to see how the vacuum can be filled swiftly and effectively. Nature may hate a vacuum but that’s dozens of content creators who have just gone from the news machine. They aren’t all going to suddenly decide to start a Patch blog for their area.
Stites writes: “Elites and the affluent are awash in information designed to serve them, but everyday people, who often grapple with significantly different concerns, are hungry for credible information they need to make their best life and citizenship decisions. Sadly, in many communities there’s just no oasis, no sustenance to be found — communities where the “new news ecosystem” is not a cliché but a desert.”
Of course, when you’re hungry you aren’t so picky about what sort of food you get – if MacDonalds is the only place open, chances are that’s where you’ll head. 
The same holds true for information – you learn abot a big breaking story on Twitter Facebook and maybe head to MSM for more information – a news banquet if you like. 
I’m just not sure fast food news is what we should aspire to as a full time diet.

Part One:Tom Stites: Taking stock of the state of web journalism; Part Three:Tom Stites: Might the new web journalism model be neither for-profit nor nonprofit?
 

This post was first blogged on Diigo; other links I save are here
 
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How to (not) kill journalism


I read this a while ago but I had a broken wrist and, while I could have potentially used all sorts of free online tools to get my point across, I really couldn’t face it. I was in pain, and I disagreed with this post so fundamentally, that the best thing to do was simply put it in the bottom drawer for a while. 

It’s been a while. I’m still disagreeing with this post but the beauty of time passing is that more commenters have arrived to give their point of view too. And what a disheartened bunch they are, in the main 

I’m not sure what I should expect from a post that’s titled How To Kill Journalism, but here are a couple of pars that struck me. Let’s start with the patronising: 


First, it needs to be said is that the author, a young widow in her early 40s, is extremely earnest, well-intentioned and one of the hardest-working administrators I know.


Bless! A young widow! Possibly facing the prospect of picking coal with her bare hands if she doesn’t toe the company line!

And then there’s the ‘slave labour’ kicker 

Unfortunately, she now works for a division of the Journal-Register Company, which is to journalism what a Soviet slave labor camp was to the union movement. In the process, she seems to have lost sight completely of what journalism is supposed to be.

JRC = Gulag. That’s not hyperbole in any way, is it? It’s the sort of rational thinking that, after just three paragraphs, tells me I’m going to get a reasonable argued, considered, piece of critical analysis. I guess Jack Lessenberry is deliberately courting controversy and doing what a good columnist should – stirring things up. But he’s got a lot of ‘hear hear’ responses from people, who obviously think slave labour is what digital journalism is about. 

I wrote this three years ago because I wanted to explore the different ways a reporter could tell and share a story using online tools; it’s now as antique as a Stylophone. I got some angry reaction too, mostly from Twitter and discussion boards, from journalists ex and present who thought I’d written a prescription for what they should be doing, rather than what they could do. 
And they were wrong, as well. As a reporter I always found time for the things I wanted to do; it was the boring, complicated or trivial that would slip down the to-do list.

In her memo to staff, the editor asks her JRC staff if they had…

• Crowdsourced so they could ask more relevant questions of local officials
• Uploaded the City Council’s agenda to the paper’s website using Scribd.com before the meeting and share it on social media so that readers would know that city leaders were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit 
• Checked in to the meeting on social media and then Tweet and posted on Facebook some of the discussion points during the meeting?
• Shot video of local residents during the meeting protesting the decision, processed it during the meeting, and posted it on the paper’s website before the meeting ended?
• Posted a paragraph on the website under Breaking News about the vote during the meeting and wrote the full story after, posted it online, and then pushed it out using social media, SMS text, or breaking news alert via e-newsletter subscriber list?
• Followed up on the issue by hosting a live chat the next day with local leaders and residents?

For suggesting the above, she’s condemned as naive and over-demanding, and of failing to understand just how busy her team are. 
This is more bullshit than I’m prepared to accept. 
Let’s consider the evidence…
Did you crowdsource so you can ask more relevant questions? – You did, didn’t you? After all, it only takes a “Off to Oxdown council meeting for #oxdowncuts debate – what do you think?” you crowdsourced the issue. If you were a smart journalist interested in writing relevant copy and asking the questions people care about, that is.



Did you upload the doc to Scribd? – This is one of the most labour-saving sites around; most national and regional titles I know of are using it to upload pdfs, reports and more. And they’re not alone – the Government Docs section of Scribd has everything from the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Accident logs to the a guide to UK Crowdfunding. Uploading the agenda of your local council meeting so people can see it is a no-brainer; it’s your job as a journalist to share information – especially public realm information that others may struggle to access. 

Did yyo use social media to check in and then update during the meeting? – Journalists regularly and accurately live-tweet evidence in court hearings without keeling over exhausted; tweeting “Labour has failed to win over independents on council over library cuts” and posting it via sms to Twitter during a boring stretch of debate is the work of seconds. 

Did you shoot video before the meeting? – Possibly you did, if you got there early enough. Did you edit and upload it during the meeting? – This one depends on your phone and some in-office co-operation really. I could edit and upload to YouTube (not my employer’s cms, but the code could then be copied by a co-worker) from my smartphone in a couple of minutes. It would be rough and ready but it would be a snatched moment-in-time, something the audience could experience only because I shot that video. 

Posted updates on the vote [etc] – Journalists have been filing copy over the phone for years, or in my case handing sheaves of written copy it to the passing bus driver to drop off at head office. Emailing something from your phone or ringing it to newsdesk is not unusual, nor is then tweeting to say it’s online.  I wouldn’t expect that same journalist to write the e-bulletin; I would expect a colleague on the digital team to push it out. 

Hosted a live chat the following day? – Happens all the time. If it’s a big enough issue, why wouldn’t you? One popular web chat we hosted brought the Media Wales sports editor and the Liverpool Daily Post&Echo chief sports writer together on a liveblog for a chat about transfers. A. Chat. But it was one readers could be a part of, by posting questions and comments. Thirty minutes flew by, everyone enjoyed themselves and the audience broadly thought our two sports guys were awesome for doing it. Not bad. 

What I don’t know – and what I suspect the writer of How To Kill Journalism doesn’t know, is whether that memo was sent as a round robin, or to an individual. If it’s an individual, I can see why they would feel concerned – without a manager sitting down and taking you through that sort of list and showing you how easy and fast these tools are – it would be daunting. If it’s a round robin then everyone involved in that article has responsibility: 

  • The news editor sending the reporter out is responsible for ensuring their workload is reasonable
  • The reporter is responsible for covering the meeting in the way specified (and that includes following the company strategy, which in JRC is digital-first, as well as the line manager’s briefing)  
  • The web team is responsible for offering support, curation and unique content to support the reporter
  • The editor, ultimately, is responsible for ensuring people have the adequate tools and training to meet her requirements
On the editor’s blog – I can’t link because Jack Lessenbury doesn’t link or reference her newspaper – one woman apparently posted “Is a reporter going to spend literally days covering one event?” 
To which I hope the Unknown Editor replied “yes, sometimes they do. Sometimes they sit in a court all day without filing anything other than a few pars, and sometimes they spend days on a story for it to collapse because the subject has had a change of heart. And if the event is important enough (and one might suggest a debate involving city leaders who were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit was important enough) then they would spend as much time as necessary covering it.”

Look how long the Middlesbrough Gazette spent on this story outing their local MP as less-than-dedicated – “The Gazette has been making daily calls to Sir Stuart’s Westminster office and Middlesbrough home over the course of several months. Despite making a total of 100 calls, no one ever answered.” Often, playing the long game is what garners the greatest rewards in journalism. 

Anyway, it might not mean much but I wholeheartedly support that Young Widowed Editor, whomever she may be. It’s not memos exhorting staff to engage more and ask the questions that matter to their audiences that will kill journalism – nothing, I suspect, is going to kill journalism; it’s just that some people won’t recognise what it’s becoming. 


Future of Journalism conference plenary speaker Robert W McChesney

The Future of Journalism conference (day 2) Plenary speaker was Robert W McChesney, Gutgsell Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
He had some l issues with the points made by the previous day’s Emily Bell. His talk was lively and authorative but, while he might have considered Emily as one-eyed over the futrue of journalism, I think he was too.
So, these are my notes of his session: 
1. The Guardian operation is not representative
The Guardian is a non profit organisation – take that and the other publicly funded media in this country out of the equation and there is not a whole lot left.
“If you don’t have funding then it is not journalism. I don’t know what it is. The world is filled with young peple who want to do journalism and there is no lack of talent or enthusiasm but there is a lack of support and funding. That is where I disagree with Emily Bell.”
He also warned there was nothing on the horizon to suggest the labour Market in the US was going to improve and the critical situation US media found itself in was not going to get better.

2. The future from the past?

Professional journalism in the US at its best had deep flaws and these have grown more pronounced with commercial pressure. There are great journalists and great work being done but you cannot romanticise the professional system; it is so flawed it made it easy for the system to collapse. 
Professional journalism was mandated in the constitution a hundred years ago to protect media owners’ monopoly powers in their local areas.
This crucial period defined journalism. It replaced sensationalism and lack of commitment to accuracy, but it had flaws.
Reliance on people in power set up the range of legitimate debate in a paper; so if a journalist raised an issue outside that they were seen as ideological. 
He have the example of investigative reporting into wars, saying the more certainty you hear about the reasons for US involvement in a conflict “the more it is likely to be bullshit pushed by people in power”.
James Madison, the fourth ppresident of US, was a believer in free press; his argument rested on the schools he received he had as a classical scholar – that Athens and Rome became military empires and it led to their downfall. “Government cannot survive militarism.”
Madison said the people of a country could only stop leaders from militaristic regimes is if they knew about it through a free press.

3. The economy, stupid, and other problems

There has been a huge increase in business news, he said, with newspapers employing multiple business writers and carrying sometimes two business sectinos. 
“Most of this journalism is utterly pathetic”  [and sucks up spin or extols CEOs] “and lets the top one per cent of society control debate on the economy.”
He said journalism had missed entirely the scandals and housing, economy and other bubbles of the economy in recent years, showing there is a crisis in the Journalism industry. 
He added the lack of coverage of the growth of inequality was shocking, given the scale of the problem.
Thomas Jefferson said unless people without property had access to information democracy would not work.
Voting in the US shows the very wealthiest vote in presidential elections – 75%. About 20% of the poorest sections vote.
“Journalism’s role is not to reinforce that but to reverse it and draw people into public life.
Professional journalism does not have to be this way. Reporting what is said accurately is not Journalism. Great journalists do not have different criteria for political parties. That is where we need to point towards.”

5. Funding

Referring to Emily Bell’s “dismissal of public money to support journalism” he described the concept as preposterous – “if all the philanthropists do eveything they can to make it work it will be a piss in the ocean”. It is not enough, he said, adding a young person working for free trying to coax an ad from a micro company would not replace the existing model. 
ournalism is a public good. If all funding was removed from education what would you have? Good education for the wealthy, altruistic projects run by philanthropists, but it would be insufficient.

When advertising came into newspapers 50 -80% of revenue came from advertising and gave the lie that journalism was a profitable business but it was never going to be a sustainable model.
Advertising has always been a mixed blessing and advertisers have much more leverage than ever if you want their money.
“The pressure to compromise is greater  than ever. If you get something for free online you are not the customer, you are the product. And that shapes journalism and it does not shape it favourably.”

6. Does state funding mean state-controlled press?
In the US, $1bn is spent in total on media in a nation of 310m people. If it spent per captia on public media as other nations it would be vastly more – eg. in the UK £25bn. Other countries spend much more on public media. These countries are not police states, the evidence is overwhelming for supporting media.
The five or six countries which have the largest public subsidies of journalism are the countries that are most democratic according to ratings by the Economist – that means the most free press exist in countries which have the most government support; increasing subsidies can lead to more aggressive press towards the government, not less.

Subsidies can work. America needs subsidies to increase money for public and community outlets and competing newsrooms in communities.
And, as part of the exercise, he said: “Let’s take kids out of college for a year and teach them journalism.”

Massive government subsidies were used to indiretly set up free press in the US in the 1700s. The government spend millions ensuring the establishing of a Post Office – the distribution outlet for a newspaper – and subsidising the cost, especially for local newspapers.

If the US today spent the same on subsidising papers today as it did in the 1840s it would cost $35bn plus.

7. The importance of journalism to a nation
You need institutions to protect journalists; people are beginning to accept this. They see there is no other option but subsidies – the debate should be how you make it work, not whether it is right.
The crisis in newspapers is part of the wider US crisis. We are looking at an ecological crisis too. Our political  system is off the rails – “dollarocracy”. Public opinion in the US has not changed much on core government issue since the 1970.  The two political parties, however, have shifted dramatically and there is a huge gap between what people believe and what people in power believe.
The corporate crowds is happy with a journalism free environment.
He warned public broadcasting was in a precarious position and the news media diet of Americans was appalling. “At a  local level it is mind boggling what has happened.”
Working conditions for paid journalists are much worse. The era of the “digital sweatshop” – working for Huffington Post or Yahoo.

The three biggest political scandals in Washington in recent years all came about through three reporters and all three are now unemployed.
“Volunteer dudes” do not expose corruption, he said, adding: “If I’m not getting paid I’m going to cover the basketball game not spent months investigating corruption.”

The future of journalism?

Pew Centre has been researching Baltimore news for the past 25 years to see how many completely original news stories were being done in Baltimore -including tweets – and it is down 70% since 1991. ” There still seems plenty of news and we will always have news but not much journalism.”
Pew looked at what made something news – 86 per cent came from PR or official sources. It is cheap to do, but it is wrong. Ratio of PR people to journalists in the US IN 1960 was 1-1 in 1980 2-1 and now 4-1
A crucial part of PR is to influence the news. “We will have a lot of news but it will be largely propaganda and spin – much of it extraordinary right wing propaganda.”

He finished by warning we don’t have the luxury to wait twenty years for journalism to be saved we need it now. “We always talk as scholars about how democracy needs journalism but you can’t have journalism without democracy. It thrives at it’s best in a democratic society.”
Pessimism is self fulfilling, he said.
In the US we are in a very different place to what we have previously experienced. Scholars are often said to be fighting ‘last year’s war’ and that doesn’t work any more. We are entering terra incognita.

The BBC
It is an much better resources version of our NPR but the code of journalism it has adopted allows people in power far too much power in what is being discussed.
The solution in the US is that you have to have more than one form of publicly funded media outlet.
His suggestion to fund digital journalism: Give everyone a vouchers to give go any news medium of their choice, and those outlets must put everything in the public domain. Nothing is protected by copyright.
If everyone had a $200 voucher and banded together with others you could hire a reporter to work for you. “Of course a handful would dominate and it would crystallise over the years.”
Digital makes a mockery of the current model. We can’t set up barbed wire and charge people to get in. Let them pay in advance through a system that gives them choice.

And he finished by warning: “Investigative journalism in US now boils down to someone leaking something to a journalist. The people who own our media aren’t keen on pissing off people in power by investigating what they are doing.”

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Future of Journalism conf: notes from plenary speaker Emily Bell #foj11

I spent a couple of hours this morning at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff, where the plenary speaker was Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia’s
Graduate School of Journalism and former director of digital content for the Guardian.
Her talk was titled The (Many) Future(s) of Journalism, and my notes are below, if you missed the live stream of the event…

1. The ‘stop talking start doing’ complaint about conferences

“I’m glad to be here talking about the future of journalism because in 1987 the only discussion we had about. Future of journalism was to do with printing strikes, it was nothing to do with the newsroom.”
She said that at one stage academia existed to put people into jobs that were heavily templated.
It was accepted that the best way to do journalism was the way it had always been done, and answers were not easy: “There are no silver bullets because journalism is less defined by the business that
supports it. We are left with a shapeshifting proposition that dodges definition.”

The whole ‘citizen journalist’ and pro/am debate is a cul de sac:
“Arguing over who may or may not be a journalist is futile. I [cannot be arrested] for pretending to be a journalist.
“We can stretch the metaphor and say in the future everyone will be a journalist for 15 mins. The pro and the am are increasingly indistinguishable able so go pick one future is hard because it has a future as a process, business and profession.”

2. Future of ‘good’ journalism and future of ‘bad’ journalism

The argument of five years ago was that the future would be good for bad journalism because there would be fewer journalists doing good journalism.
It would open the opportunity of journalism to anyone who wanted to pretend to be a journalist and ‘peddle lies’.
“It would strap us to a hamster wheel of live reporting, sacrificing analysis in-depth complex journalism for a torrent of live stream information. It would be dominated by technologists. We saw this as a bad thing.”
But actually, she continued, these elements favour good journalism and will help render bad journalism all but irrelevant.

The idea that journalism would be picked apart by others – such as search engines, aggregators etc – is actually a benefit to journalism.
It allows journalism to learn from other fields and bring it back to improve itself. It has been in defence mode for a long time and is starting to break out of it’s boundaries.
The future of journalism lies beyond its borders.
It is about having to understand tech and platforms that deliver it. Columbia University has journalism courses that run in tandem alongside computer sciences.
“These students are asking if there are better ways to do things, and to innovate how to deliver journalism well. You see lots and lots of solutions coming out of technology minded people in newsrooms and that
is no longer the preserve of technology companies.”
She outlined using Storify to liveblog an event, and how exciting they found it. Soundcloud Document Cloud, Twitter etc are the students’ new toolkit.

The inclusion of non journalists has been beneficial, contrary to what may have been though. Eg wikileaks cables collaboration with mainstream media, also the Japan earthquake saw a pop up blog set up
and run by students who explained what the data and metrics from the quake monitoring site meant, and it was part of the system of journalism aggregated and pointed to by other news organisations,
Core skills will be how to make the best of collaboration. Eg NYT  linking up with a local radio station.

Guardian coverage of the England riots was a social activity – relying on crowdsourcing.
There is almost no evidence to show whether David Camereon was right to say social media was behind the riots. The Guardian collected and analysed tweets and is now using its’ Twitter analysis to work with Rowntree Foundation and LSE to see if that is the case.

3. “Instant journalism is bad journalism”
The most galvanising thing to happen to journalism is social web and mobile devices.
Journalists felt challenged by this. [quick observation from me: I don’t think we all did!]
She used Andy Carvin as an example of working beyond platforms. Also the Watershed Post, set up by two people in the Catskills who felt they had toolittle media representation.
The livestream of journalism, the involvement people who are not journalists In the traditional sense and the technological tools we use benefit good journalism.

4. “The lack of money is good for journalism”… “Or it’s the reality we live in.”

There is not going to be the same level of revenue coming in to digital journalism as there was in legacy media and we will be working in reduced means.
Journalism as a working business model is fetishised. The most profitable journalism can be the worst journalism – so bad it closes a newspaper. It shows the problem when the primary focus becomes
profit. Now it is sustainability and profit is not the defining factor of why journalist go into the business.

She used the Journal Register as an example of how sustainability and a rethink has caused such a dramatic change. “We don’t know how this will work or if it will, but we know that if we don’t try it how the
story ends”.
Propublica model has Pulitzer prizes, is one of the most advanced in data use in the world.
“Data, mobile, cms, all of these and the benefits they bring to good journalism could be discussed at length. There is a huge amount of this that is not properly understood.”

5. There is no clear answer to what journalism will look like in five years time but there are clues

The future is there to be defined. We have a collective capacity to make this work but it can only be done by looking out and upwards.
Digital costs a lot less to do. It doesn’t have the legacy costs. The Guardian has money to spend because it gets money from Autotrader, a purely digital product. If you understand the cost of what you are doing it helps – a lot of good journalism comes out of things that don’t make money.

Updated: Robert Andrews’ Paid Content article on Emily Bell’s presentation is here

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