Facebook and the blue pill of news

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe” *

I read a Roy Greenslade blog post today about Facebook, and it made me thoughtful about our attitudes towards the ownership of news and information in the way the phrase “Google’s tanks are on our lawns” used to in 2008.

His take (which was expanding on this article) is that “Facebook’s increasing dominance…[will cause] not only the destruction of old media… but the end of journalism as we know it” and adds “The Facebookisation of news has the potential to destabilise democracy by, first, controlling what we read and second, by destroying the outlets that provide that material”.

Big themes, and yet, if platforms skew information then for over two hundred years we’ve had the newspaperisation of news.
There hasn’t been, and never will be for as long as humans are involved, a time when information isn’t fitted to a structured narrative – often one which is created in response to a need. Whether breaking news or investigation, journalists are taught to look for a Who, What, Where, When, Why, How framework, and that doesn’t make the resulting story incomplete, or wrong or bad journalism.

Digital journalism and social media hasn’t changed this particularly, but it has made it easier for scrutiny, questioning and rebuttal. Algorithms aren’t the solution, and I know someone far more clever than I will have an idea of what degree of separation you need from human intervention before code can create a pure filter, but even then it might not be a filter you enjoy or want, because – ultimately – we chose our versions of truth and have Views about those who hold different truths to us.

The changes in platform are never going away, just as newspapers have opened and closed, websites come and gone, apps failed, or been bought up and integrated in others, only for their unique gifts to be lost.
The big difference brought by the internet is that while 1980s Britain might have overwhelmingly learned of its news from print tabloids and TV, the weltanschauung is literally now a world (wide web) view.
The gobbling up of revenue and audience that comes with Facebook’s dominance is a challenge but only the latest in a long line of them. The mainstream media may not meet that in its current iteration but we have no monopoly on the future of journalism. New media businesses emerge, and even msm is constantly changing, no matter how much it may not appear that way. I work in a different world to that of a 1990s newsroom.

Every readers will have a view of what is and isn’t journalism and you can see their often scathing opinions in any search on Twitter. Exhibit A:

Panic about deadly kittens, by all means, but don’t panic about them being the most read story on yesterday’s Telegraph website – why shouldn’t they be? The story is interesting, sharable and meets at least one dictionary definition of the term Journalism- gathering, assessing, presenting information.
Having said that, so does the act of retweeting a police appeal for a missing child. Is a report of local mini Olympics, complete photo of kids wearing flower medals, journalism? Or is relaying a couple’s airplane bust up via live tweets?
What I think of as journalism may differ even from another journalist’s view of journalism, let alone a broad sweep of opinion. Our narratives are distinct and based on how we see our own realities.

One person’s diverting read is another’s click bait; the  star ratings your local news outlet curated for local restaurants and that you read (probably via Facebook) may be useful and inform your decisions of where to eat, but there will be 20 other people posting in the comments “It’s nothing to do with hygiene; they get one star for not filling out the paperwork correctly”.
A handful voices expressing outrage at the lack of local grassroots sports coverage are drowned out by the deafening silence of (perhaps tens of) thousands of people  not caring about it at all.

What I ultimately believe is we can’t insist journalism has a right to survive just because it always has been a thing and we think people are more shady now than ever.
If the industry wants journalism to survive then we’ve got to be smarter about delivering quality and reaching and engaging audiences with content that matters to them. And I think when it comes to audiences, invested, niche ones – geographic or interest – are the future.
Social media platforms like Facebook are only going to become more sophisticated; we’ve got to be equally committed to bettering what we do, to be able to use their systems to deliver our content, and talk, and listen, to the audience more than ever.
Maybe we need to be more concerned and focused on what is happening, quietly, on messenger apps – away from analytics and data that tell us what our audience values and wants.

*The Matrix, 1999  


Newsrooms: Not what they were, but that’s no bad thing

Been catching up on some thinking around “what future for newspapers?” this week; this one by Michael Wolff was part-anguish and part-nostalgia and of the “on the one hand, [opinion], nevertheless, having said that [counter-opinion]…” school of writing.

This one is a pretty unsentimental look at the issue from David Carr, of the NYT, which warns against the cosy sentiment that  has dogged publishers for too long (and there is a spirited riposte to Carr’s print obituary here):

Just because the product being manufactured is news in print does not make it sacrosanct or immune to the natural order.

And this one, by Steve Outing, which considered and suggested outcomes, and promoted quite a few replies and retweets when I tweeted the link, including one voicing a view I’m sure strikes a chord in the hearts of those who think newsrooms aren’t what they used to be and journalists are stuck at their desks, unable to interact with the communities they cover because they are too busy writing listicles.

Lots of people have been lost from the industry as a result of title closures or redundancies in their titles; editorial teams are much smaller these days ( side note: I once worked for a newspaper where the Opinion Editor did only that daily duty. Now, if I had a job where all I did was write a 350 word Voice of the Tribune column every day – which was probably read by about five people including the revise editor – I would look elsewhere for my salary and job satisfaction.)

Personally, I don’t think the editorial size (and geographic location) of a newsroom matters.  It is true that newsrooms are not what they used to be but that isn’t a wholly bad thing – they had to evolve because the news gathering and distribution operation had ceased to be all about newsprint. The old models – the news desk gets a flat plan of the next day’s paper, the newsroom spends the day filling the pages relating to said flat plan – simply did not translate.

So the newsroom operation is a vastly different thing now to what it was ten years ago. Today’s newsrooms are:

  • Noisy:  Not in the clattering-of-typewriters way. Look at the Tweetdeck columns of the average reporter and they will be humming with conversation, feedback and chat.  This social conversation and hubbub is, as far as I’m concerned, a more productive,  energising backdrop to work in that any amount of clacking keys (here’s another thing newsrooms were when I started out – a haze of cigarette smoke. Can I get nostalgic for that? Nope. I do get a bit misty for spikes and blacks though, those old-skool filling systems that were pretty foolproof… until you had a desk clean-up)
  • Accountable: Any link to a piece of journalism posted on a title’s social media can be challenged and discussed in the real world; if a title doesn’t respond it no longer means the conversation is confined to ignored Letters to the Editor. In fact the silence might spur on more comment on Facebook or Twitter, or bloggers might take the issue to their own platform to explore it in more depth.  It’s a more open and transparent world now – as a journalist you can get called out on an error, or add context to a discussion, or stamp on a misreading of facts quickly. You can also get some lovely thank yous and expressions of gratitude for the work you’ve undertaken. Sometimes, anyway
  • Moveable: Newsrooms can be virtual and still operate in the real world, via social media cafes and reporter surgeries. Online, they operate via Facebook, Twitter, Google Apps, Trello and a host of other sites. I was involved in the Crewe Chronicle’s shift to become an office-less title; with the right tech and training the team there has done an amazing job of proving a newsroom is not about a postcode
  • Informed: When I was a local reporter – in an office based right in the middle of the town I covered for a weekly paper – I knew a lot of people, some of whom told me things. Now I’m no longer a reporter, I still know a lot – more, in fact – about what is going on in any particularly locale ( potentially, anywhere) I choose to search, thanks to social media. An example – say I know Phil who owns the local grocery and he sees me passing daily on my way to the local police station to write up the log book (let’s pretend this quaint old custom still happens); he might remember to tell me the interesting thing his customers were talking about the previous day. Or he might tell me in a few days time when he drops by the office to pay his ad fees.  However, with online networks and decent geo searches set up around the town, the need to rely on sources is vastly reduced.
  • Attuned: Thanks to analytics we know what our readers want and like. Even if a post has several snarky “Slow news day?” comments on it amid the 90-odd other comments, it’s a fair bet that it has proved one of the more popular stories of the day. Analytics tell us more about our audience than we could ever know before. If you read a news website the information, direct and extrapolated, that might be known about users includes the broad geography of where you live, when you get up and go to bed, what tech you like to use, when and how you commute, what TV shows you like, what football teams you support, what you plan to do this weekend. Potentially we know where your children go to school and how you plan to vote in the next election. Some of this information readers provide voluntarily, some of it is data derived from how they use and interact with a brand’s website or social platforms. None of it is particularly difficult to access, and decisions around digital and print content are made on the basis of these analytics every day.  So today’s newsprint products are built from the ground up by newsrooms who have real insights into how readers consume information and react to it. Theres very little guesswork about it these days.  What do I know about someone who buys a newspaper every day, without going through the circulation department’s files and spreadsheets? I know that they buy a newspaper every day
  • Diverse: I guess newsrooms have more people in them who aren’t doing traditional journalism jobs than ever. I head a team with job titles that didn’t exist 12 months ago. Social media editors are viewed as integral to most regional newsrooms, but five years ago, they were exotic creatures. There are audience editors, data analysts, online content planners… all bringing different perspectives on the agendas and content audiences are looking for. Also, an empty reporters bench doesn’t mean there are no reporters. They might be working remotely from a surgery in town, or sat live tweeting a case from the crown court, or videoing a debate in the council chamber,  or they might be hosting a live blog debate with readers – when it comes to ways of creating online information, the list is extensive and exciting






The hook on which we are caught

These are some of my reflections on the Revival of Local Journalism conference, organised by the BBC and Society of Editors at MediaCity UK, and held on June 25. There are links to others’ posts and articles from the day throughout this piece. 

The Revival of Local Journalism conference (hashtag #localjournalism) on June 25 was a fascinating day, with stimulating conversation, proffered olive branches and some snappy presentations.

For me, it was thought-provoking and occasionally frustrating in terms of complacency and inertia . Perhaps if the day ended with some agreed outcomes and action points from others apart from James Harding (of which more here) it would have felt like a satisfying conclusion (maybe I’ve just sat in too many meetings?) because this needs to be a springboard and catalyst for wider discussion and momentum, not a cul de sac.

So, as to my reflections on the day’s theme and tone, here’s the thing: the media industry is either disrupted and the mainstream within it is either resisting or attempting to disrupt right back. The entrepreneurs and startups are more able to say “yep – so deal with it” and grasping what the next steps need to be more effectively.

Finding things out, writing them down and publishing them has fundamentally not changed; the hook on which too many of us are getting caught is platform.

So when the established regional media bends its thoughts to the revival of local journalism, there is a real danger that we end up talking in circles about our own platforms – whether that be print or broadcast or digital.

The revival of local journalism is a theme that spans staffing, tools, training, best practice, collaboration, competition and innovation – it isn’t whether newspapers are going to disappear at some point in the future, or whether Google is a publishing aid or a publisher in its own right.

I suspect that the best people to lead objective discussions on the revival of local journalism are not those enmeshed in the industry as realities intrude, defences laid, and the trouser of reinvention get snagged on the barbed wire fence of practicality.

We also have to set aside nostalgia – as flagged by Clay Shirky here.So, for a moment, I’m going to think about platforms, deal with it and then dismiss it for the rest of this post.

I was asked at RoLJ  if newspapers were going to disappear, and I replied along the lines of “if you had a better delivery method for news, why wouldn’t you use it?”

Me and my mouth. That prompted the more direct question “Do you think newspapers will die?”. To which I answered “yes”, and then there was an audible intake of breath from the room.

It was a fairly bald statement in a room full of press people (and my boss) but, yes, I think newspapers will cease to be required.  Which is a far different thing to journalism being required, although platform obsession seems to blur that distinction.

I plucked a number out of the air, and said within 30 years, Jasper Westaway , of borde.rs, said it would be more like 15, and followed it up with a lot more unpalatable truths about where things were headed.


I can’t say what platform we will be publishing on in five years time because predicting the technological, creative and cultural shifts likely to happen over that period of time is like, well, asking to be reminded of your naivety in five years time…

I’ve posted a lot over the years about the need for aggregation and curation. I am starting to wonder about what doing the opposite of these things could offer.

Is there an opportunity in dis-aggregation? The death of the homepage idea is well discussed, as is the  ‘each piece of content should be a destination’ viewpoint. So what if a mainstream legacy brand decided to make and distribute its content designed to travel purely through social platforms? And made it was self-sufficient, with its own life support system – commercial, editorial and marketing all bound up in one – networked to sister content through links?

Would that start to get us off the hook?

Anyway, enough platform.

I wish we could have talked more about the social media contribution. Jo Geary gave a storming presentation about Twitter which included a fairly damning slide about a US newsman scooping the UK media on the Glasgow helicopter crash, courtesy of an established and intelligent Twitter search.

And she also spoke nostalgically about the past – but it was just that. Platform does not define her type of journalism.

Understanding that isn’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it’s appreciating the baby is a teenager now, and is therefore an entirely different animal altogether.

Peter Barron, head of communications for Europe, Middle East and Africa, spoke of collaboration and the free tools to help understand audiences and connect with them.

In fact, considering the theme was revival, an oft-raised point was not knowing the tools to use.

This is a Google search of the phrase ‘best online tools for journalists’ – there are plenty of people out there writing about the free things you can use, and sharing their knowledge of how-to and why-to in great detail.

None of the apps or tools mentioned is particularly complicated, most are free and someone  (hint – the boss) in any media business should be taking responsibility for ensuring at least one member of the team is trained up to be expert in this stuff, so they can, in turn, make sure everyone else in the newsroom is getting clued up on it too. That’s as true for a local weekly paper as it is for Sky. Ensuring the skills are there may require hard decisions and maybe someone does need to be taken off the rota for a few days at a time to go on courses or conferences, and the company has to stump up for this. The outcomes will pay for themselves 20 times over in a few months, as you start bringing in better stories and connecting with your audience.

* Final points:

The folly of Giving It All Away For Free Online point was made. Paul Bradshaw took the parable offered up, turned it into a fairytale guaranteed to give some industry types nightmares, and posted it here. Recommended reading.

Staffing was also raised – David Higgerson’s excellent summation and reflection post on the conference and this particular issue is worth a read.

In the last panel session of the day, I was asked to respond to a question about why students didn’t want to work in newsrooms because they were sweatshops. However, that became a bit sidetracked by the whole ‘what tools to use’ debate.

I am in contact with journalism students from various J-schools via social media and email all the time – some of them I consider friends I’ve yet to meet in real life – and they don’t ask me about potential sweatshop conditions ahead of them. But perhaps that’s out of politeness.

So it’s a hard one for me to answer, too, as I don’t know enough about the situations in all newsrooms.  Perhaps it’s one for the industry press to pick up and examine in greater detail?


[Photo:  www.threeforksranch.com}

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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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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Making time for added value

Money UK British Pound Coins
 (Photo credit: hitthatswitch)

I have an intellectual crush on Robert Picard – he’s one of the academics currently publishing about journalism, and particularly mainstream print media, who really is a must-read. 
I mostly follow his journal papers as he’s an occasional blogger but, like Clay Shirky, it’s always worth reading when he posts an update. 

His latest post, Many Journalists Can’t Provide the Value-Added Journalism Needed Today, makes the point:

To survive, news organizations need to move away from information that is readily available elsewhere; they need to use journalists’ time to seek out the kinds of information less available and to spend time writing stories that put events into context, explain how and why they happened, and prepare the public for future developments.  These value-added journalism approaches are critical to the economic future of news organizations and journalists themselves.

Unfortunately, many journalists do not evidence the skills, critical analytical capacity, or inclination to carry out value-added journalism. News organizations have to start asking themselves whether it is because are hiring the wrong journalists or whether their company practices are inhibiting journalists’ abilities to do so.  

Added value journalism doesn’t thrive when there’s a requirement to write multiple page leads, plus hampers, photo captions and nibs every day. For writers, it’s hard to find the time to develop your own skills and methods of story-telling.
Audience can add value, if we get them involved – through comment, image-sharing, document scrutiny or suggesting interview questions. Given the invitation, they’ll come up with some good headline suggestions too (I particularly like the Northern Echo’s use of this). 

I have an issue with this statement…

Unfortunately, many journalists do not evidence the skills, critical analytical capacity, or inclination to carry out value-added journalism. 

…because the evidence of the Daily Post newsroom trial demonstrates, ever day, that reporters do have the skills and inclination to add value. They may lack the time, but that’s an entirely different thing and a failing of an organisation, not an individual. 

 But Picard is right to say journalists should add value themselves, whether through context, data interpretation or by creating compelling, competitive content, be that via text, images, visuals or curation. 

The landscape of newsrooms, especially regional newsrooms, has changed vastly. There are smaller teams but within those we need a wider range of skills, or entirely new skills. Added value for readers can also be career-enhancing for hacks. 

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Shifted focus – audience, content, platforms

The Daily Post is three weeks into a new  live breaking news blog – viewable in real time and fullscreen, here

(This is how it appears on the homepage,on the right hand side of the above screengrab)

It runs seven days a week, ticking away between 6.30am and 10pm Monday-Friday and with a little later start at the weekends (or earlier, depending on what’s been happening).
We keep the tone conversational but informative (and also, when appropriate, a bit informal – why not? Today’s shift handover update made me smile).

Anyway,TM’s digital publishing director David Higgerson has been involved from the get-go, and he’s been explaining the raison d’etre of ours and the MEN’s breaking news blog on Journalism.co.uk and Hold the Front Page – you can find the articles here and here.
In them he explains the hows and whys of how print and digital platforms can and should support each other. 

It’s shiny, but the liveblog is actually higher-profile piece of a much bigger jigsaw in our newsroom, with the aim of moving from 




A couple of years ago I blogged that producing a newspaper by using a flatplan as a guide to the contents was not the best way to do things. 
Now the editorial team has had to put its money where my mouth is, as we experiment with print and digital production ideas based around that. We still have to use a flatplan but it’s far less in evidence than was previously the case.
Live news is reported live; I’ve always believed our best chance to sell newspapers is to use our sites and networks to actually tell potential readers what’s going on rather than produce it, magician-like, and hope that they’ll a) see the newspaper and b) care enough about the headline/free pasty offer to buy it

Visibility matters. Take this blog post – it will get auto-tweeted by my Dlvr.it service at some point, I’m not sure when, and lost as the Twitter river flows on. A tiny slice of people will see the link, an even tinier slice click on it (and thank you, reader, for doing that. You are lovely.)
If I were to keep retweeting that tweet, I’d have a bigger audience but no guarantee of a more interested audience – I probably just annoy those seeing the same content being pimped for the third time.

But by telling people the progress of something , you make it more compelling. Flowing information onto our digital platforms, and repositioning ourselves to be a part of people’s day earlier, gives us a better chance of reflecting their interests in our print pages. 
So the liveblog is important – it tells people what’s happening, it gives the team staffing it their own identities, and it allows conversations. But it’s also an enabler to us changing the way we think, and way the work.

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Storified: The Future of News Media in Wales debate

I would have liked to attend the Future of News Media in Wales debate at Cardiff JOMEC on Monday night – it sounded fascinating.
Luckily, I discovered it was underway on Twitter and with assistance of some excellent tweeters at the scene (a big thank you to everyone who helped those of us not attending follow the event by posting such great updates) I was able to see how the debate unfolded.
This was the purpose of the night: 

Newspapers are closing and there is uncertainty about the future of news provision on radio and TV.  Can new media, citizen journalism and the promise of local television fill the gap?  And is the news business in terminal decline in Wales, or are we simply seeing an adjustment to technological change and new consumer demands?

The speakers were: 

  • Phil Henfrey – Head of News and Programmes, ITV Wales
  • Alan Edmunds – Editor in Chief, Media Wales (and, in the interests of disclosure, my former boss) 
  • Mark O’Callaghan – Head of News and Current Affairs, BBC Wales

And, because it was so interesting and relevant, I’ve Storified it here too (it has a few seconds load time…) 

[View the story “The Future of News Media in Wales ” on Storify]

The Future of News Media in Wales

Curated tweets and links from the #rtswalesnews debate at Cardiff University Journalism School, as collated on Storify

Storified by Alison Gow · Mon, Oct 01 2012 13:16:17

The debate: “Newspapers are closing and there is uncertainty about the future of news provision on radio and TV.  Can new media, citizen journalism and the promise of local television fill the gap? And is the news business in terminal decline in Wales, or are we simply seeing an adjustment to technological change and new consumer demands?” 
The Future of News Media in Wales | Royal Television SocietyNewspapers are closing and there is uncertainty about the future of news provision on radio and TV. Can new media, citizen journalism a…
What’s the future of news provision in and for Wales? Debate now at Cdf School of Journalism #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot

Tweets on the future of print media 

Is there really increasing appetite for Welsh news?why are papers closing? #rtswalesnewsTim Hartley
#rtswalesnews Alun Edmunds – let’s talk about growing the audience by meeting audience demands and needs.Emma Gilliam
@jamestewart – Trinity Mirror didn’t invest in reporting staff on the ground and that led to decline of titles #rtswalesnewsTony O’Shaughnessy
#rtswalesnews Alun Edmunds responds to @jamestewart criticising lack of reporters on local press saying titles must make profit to surviveRichard Sambrook

The panel’s thoughts on convergence 

Convergence a brilliant opportunity for journalists says Alan Edmunds EiC Western Mail #rtswalesnewsRichard Sambrook
Has Media Wales truly embraced online? Has the BBC crowded everyone else out? #rtswalesnewsTim Hartley
Is online news’s salvation? Are papers and tv dead? Surely not for some time yet #rtswalesnewsTim Hartley

… and meeting audience need 

Content needs to be relevant. Discovery and share is vital to building social networks through news. – @philiphenfrey #rtswalesnewsEmma Gilliam
#rtswalesnews Alun Edmunds – let’s talk about growing the audience by meeting audience demands and needs.Emma Gilliam
BBC 606 phone-in is citizen journalism, isn’t it? – asks/states Alan Edmunds EiC Media Wales #rtswalesnewsEmma Gilliam
Phil Henfry itv Wales says technology means he has more reporters and local content than ever – albeit citjos not staff #rtswalesnewsRichard Sambrook
#rtswalesnews Demand for reporting from mags courts is down says Editor in Chef, Western MailTony O’Shaughnessy
…news is consumer driven and journalists have to adapt to how the public want to receive their news #rtswalesnewsCardiff Broadcast

Arrival of local TV

Nicola HT tells #rtswalesnews local tv may not be the answer. Is it sustainable? Trust is all says EdmundsTim Hartley
Big challenge for new local TV stations will be content – Alan Edmunds #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
Local TV’s arrival in marketplace hugely welcome says Phil Henfrey From ITV Wales #rtswalesnewsTony O’Shaughnessy
Local TV might grow interest in current affairs and news – a positive halo effect for existing broadcasters @philiphenfrey #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
Internet-connected TVs will put more emphasis on importance of trust and brand – @philiphenfrey #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
#rtswalesnews @philiphenfrey excited by prospect of TV becoming mobile and socialRichard Sambrook

Show me the money…

#rtswalesnews local tv can mean new and different kinds of content says panel – but who pays ?Richard Sambrook
But who’s going to get paid for journalism? Question to panel #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
Exciting opportunities to develop paid-for local papers for iPsd/tablets – Alan Edmunds, W Mail #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
Reality: Models must be profitable, Alan Edmunds EiC Media Wales #rtswalesnewsElin James Jones
The prospect of news on tablet is a very exciting opportunity. Not convinced by pay wall – Alun Edmunds #rtswalesnewsEmma Gilliam
Ask why people follow you on Twitter. If people want your content, there will be business models @philiphenfrey #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot

The panel’s views on qualities for aspiring journalists…

1. Stamina 
#rtswalesnews mark o’c echoes my frequent advice: success I journalism depends on stamina and curiosityRichard Sambrook
#rtswalesnews Keep going. Good advice for future journalistsEmma Flanagan
2. Visibility 
Think – What will get you noticed? @philiphenfrey #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
#rtswalesnews P Henfrey: @CardiffJomec students need to work out what their purpose is to their followers.Kelsey Redmore
3. Skills 
Journalists of future must be up for constant change & able to do “pretty much everything” to a high standard @philiphenfrey #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
#rtswalesnews BBCs Mark O’Callaghan says core skills, hinterland and curiosity are keyRichard Sambrook
Among the concerns expressed during the debate… 
Is there really increasing appetite for Welsh news?why are papers closing? #rtswalesnewsTim Hartley
Concern at lack of plurality and Cardiff centricity expressed at #rtswalesnewsTim Hartley
Heads of news at BBC Wales and ITV Wales far too nice about each other’s teatime news programmes when asked to find flaws #rtswalesnewsHuw Thomas
“@tonyonthephone: #rtswalesnews Demand for reporting from mags courts is down says Editor in Chef, Western Mail”>Surely still important?Greg Lewis
#rtswalesnews model may be brokenHywel Wiliam
But… there is cause for optimism too 
There will be jobs for @CardiffJomec students says Alun Edmunds. #rtswalesnewsEmma Gilliam
Absolutely crucial that ITV Wales remains as strong competition to BBC – Alan Edmunds #rtswalesnewsMike Talbot
.@philiphenfrey also made great comments re people turning to brands they TRUST for news in an internet world. #rtswalesnewsEllen Coyne

Future newsrooms, and lessons from Poland

Now I’m in North Wales, it’s no longer such a stretch to get to events in Liverpool like Social Media Cafe (find out more on SMC here – and if you can go to one, do. It’s brilliant)
So off I went to Thursday’s open mic SMC to find out more about the mechanics of how it operated (can you work out why, Reader?*) and sang for my supper by giving a 10 minute talk on journalism futures and digital newsrooms.

It wasn’t a formal presentation; I just jotted some notes down about what I want to achieve at the Daily Post, talked around that, and then fielded some smart questions from the audience.
The following day, I watched a
fascinating video presentation on the future of media (of which more later), and after musing some more, I figured I may as well blog my thoughts out a bit.  
The prompt notes I used for SMC are in italics,
subsequent musings aren’t.

1. Academic Robert Picard says the “fundamental problem for media firms” is that of selling 19th and 20th century products in the 21st century, without altering the value of the offering, or relationships with customers.
His  point being, you can’t
have a seismic shift in the market – the sort of disruption that not only creates entire new platforms and turns production, consumption, and distribution on its head – then still expect the inherent value to remain unchanged. Or, indeed, for the customer/consumer base to remain unchanged.
Getting past the legacy issue, given the inherent costs and the structural, operational and cultural drivers, is not easy. But JRC is attempting it with their latest move; I will be interested to see how that develops.

2. The term Legacy, when applied to the Olympics, should be a good thing. When applied to Journalism, less so.
The legacy not only of infrastructure but of culture and practise is one of the biggest obstacles there is.
I hesitate to use the phrase digital evangelist but if you’re one of the people trying to work in new ways in a newsroom, I suspect at some point you or a like-minded colleague has uttered the phrsae: ‘But journalists are supposed to like Change; that’s why we went into this job. If we didn’t we’d work in a bank.”
I’ve said it myself… and I was wrong. Journalists are people, and people like Variety. That’s a very different thing to Change. Variety is interesting; Change is generally unsettling, at best.

3. Convergence is not about multimedia, it’s about users.
Specifically, users and customers. The collective formerly known as Them and Us.
This theme had previously been touched on at SMC by Laura Yates and Edwin Pink, who – while talking about the achievements and work of Liverpool’s tenantspin, in engaging older people digitally – observed “It’s never about the tech, it’s about the people.”
Convergence is a lightbulb phrase: Use it with someone who knows what it means, and it illuminates the conversation; use it with someone who doesn’t, and everything goes dark.
I think about convergence more as a service shift to meet audience needs, instead of deadlines.

So, for example, a converged newsroom would promote: Collaboration, transparency, accountability, reciprocity, partnerships; it would do this by making engagement and audience management integral, online and in real life (irl being *social media cafes or surgeries, for example); and asking, explaining, sharing, would be an editorial ethos.
My expected outcomes would be: Newsroom sees better engagement, culture change, openness, wider network; Audience has more trust, engagement, involvement, better value

I thought some more about this while watching the interesting video mentioned earlier. Editor Grzegorz Piechota, speaking at the 2012 Future Forum (it’s 50 minutes long, and worth the investment of time, I promise) said this about the changing internal structures of the Press: “Editors were responsible for the audience development and we [his newspaper company] simply believe that in the digital world cooperation between the editorial and the marketing side of the newspaper is becoming even more crucial than it was in print.”
Media, converge thyself.

4. We’re competing against Apathy
I don’t routinely worry about BB
C getting a story up online before me – although it might irritate me – or buying a story from an agency I don’t have the budget for, or hyperlocal sites establishing local news hubs. That’s not because I am indifferent hyperlocals or the BBC/ITV et al or dismiss what they do, it’s because competition are a reality; I’ve dealt with it all my working life in one form or another, and there is no monopoly on information.
But I do worry about apathy – about waning attention spans, disappearing audience who aren’t migrating elsewhere, they’re just… gone, and incorrect facts and opinion (Misinfopinion?) that has a half-life of seemingly forever. Just ask Morgan Freeman.
It doesn’t have to be incorrect, either. Media companies Facebook apps have resulted in all kinds of linkbaity non-stories from way back when appearing in my timeline as friends read and share them, apparently failing to spot the ‘2008’ dateline on them).

Kevin Anderson has also blogged about the ‘battle for attention’ here and sums up what bothers me far more purposefully. His considered post, which examines the clamour for audience attention and the bombardment of information we’re exposed to now, is recommended reading.

Finally, while considering how a digital newsroom could and should operate, I found inspiration once more in Grzegorz’s brilliant reality. In his speech, he explained how his newspaper sent 21 reporters to 21 schools to get the inside view on digital natives and education in Poland. 
His newspaper galvanised Poland’s education system by making people a part of it. More than 20,000 teachers became involved in Gazeta Wyborcaz’s education campaign,  more 7,000 schools participated and changed how they worked, and the government ripped up its policies and started again.
That’s what I call a result.

Now, aside from the rock of bureaucracy most regional editors trying to launch a similar idea would founder against, I can’t imagine having 21 reporters, let alone losing all of them for one week to do research.
Such a project is beyond most the resources of most press (regional, at least) but I can see a way of crowd sourcing investigations.
It would involve a lot of planning, a lot of goodwill, and a lot of mutual trust (these three things are not exactly what the media is known for) but it is not only do-able, it’s desirable. It is, quite possibly, essential for the survival of MSM.

Being able to say “we know how this should be done, and why this should be done – we even have an idea what is going to be found out as a result of doing it – but we can’t do it on our own”  is a digital future that has to become a reality.
Finding the people who want to be involved, and asking them to do so, isn’t hard (although rejection
is, obviously, but we’re big enough to take it).
Wanting to know, and then wanting to understand, are common traits
in us all; journalists in MSM have the advantage in that we’re trained and supported, and have an established platform to parade our work on, as opposed to having to create and build that platform.
But collaborative partnerships do give us opportunities to work across larger-scale stories that might seem out of reach, with mainstream media bringing the benefits of platform, audience, legal protection and guidance.

; that’s my Trinity, always in that order. One informs the other, informs the other. And that would be my future newsroom.

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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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