Ivory tower dispatch: It’s all about the process

A stroke of luck at ivory tower land this week as Graham Holliday (with Dave Heywood from the BBC college of journalism) came up to talk to the students about how he fits digital in to what he does.

If you don’y know Graham (@noodlepie) then I can recommend checking out his work. He’s based in Kigali, Rwanda where he works as a foreign correspondent/photographer/trainer and publishes the KigaliWire

What make Graham such a great example is the way he integrates digital in to what he does. It isn’t because he is a geek or because he has a ‘business model’ for kigaliwire. It’s because it just makes it easier to do his job and it helps build his brand.   You can get an insight in to that from the Kigali Back wire

It couldn’t come at a better time for me as most of my contact with students this week has been about process.

Anything but process journalism

After last weeks conclusion that the basic journalism process was not good enough for the new digital landscape, I talked to the second year students about models that might.  Under the broad idea of models and process journalism I looked at Paul Bradshaw’s model for the 21st century newsroom and Charlie Beckett’s (and a bit of Jeff Jarvis’) take on networked journalism.

I wondered if a distinction could be that Charlie’s take on Networked journalism described ‘why’ we needed to this stuff and Paul’s model effectively described how. A bit simplistic but better, I thought, than the over simplistic catch all of ‘process journalism’ - a phrase so willfully crying out to be misinterpreted it hurts.  And it also meant I could pick-up on other elements of Paul’s model and develop that in to more practical areas.

When brains go rougue.

I also touched on some of the issues thrown up by the changing role of the journalist taking a comment by Charlie on Paul’s model along the lines of ‘doesn’t this make journalists editors’.  It’s clear that being closer to the process, more transparent and also a conduit for social media content, instantly published, racks up the pressures.

I left them with some more keywords to think about:

  • Beatblogging
  • Process Journalism
  • Community Journalism

But Preston isn’t Kigali

The conversation about process continued with the postgraduate and undergraduate newspaper students who found Grahams lecture both interesting and scary in equal measure.  Graham had highlighted a number of platforms he used (pixelpipe, yahoo pipes, tube mogul) to make Kigali wire and other parts of his content distribution (distributed journalism) work.  It elicted a ‘Whoa, tech overload’ response from many and one or two pointed out that it doesn’t really scale to Preston does it (Graham made a similar point).

I agree with that sentiment, up to a point.  We are often presented with great examples of how new media has made for great journalism. Twitter in Iran, collaborative mapping and reporting round the Palestine/Israel even the growth of Data Journalism. But those who ply a more local beat could feel that it’s all a bit too rarefied.

But I made the point that you could look beyond the platforms and see the process he used and that process (along with the concepts at the heart of all the high-profile examples) was scaleable.

In the end it was a great motivation to look at RSS and some of the other great sites out there that could be included in a journalism process, regardless of where you where. Last week they found out what beats (topics) and patches (geography) they were going to cover this year. So I left them thinking about Beatblogging and, I hope, how they could bring a little Holliday in to how they did it.

Accountability Vs Transparency

All of this marks a bit of a turning point in what I teach from the contextual to the more immediately practical. Next week, for example it’s all about audio. But a guest lecture slot in the Journalism Issues module gave me the chance to consider much broader contexts. But networked journalism wasn’t far behind.

The title I was given was the converged newsroom but I didn’t want to go over the ground I had done with the students in other modules. So I picked a few issues, ideas and themes that I thought had been driven by convergence but would directly impact on the students.

I picked

  • Paying for journalism
  • Hyperlocal
  • Data Journalism
  • Distributed(networked) journalism

Paying for journalism inevitably meant talking about paywalls which led to talking about the changes to media ownership regulation suggested by Jeremy Hunt as part of the local TV agenda. That led to Hyperlocal which in turn led to devolved government. That led to the accountability (we need local TV to enable people to hold those in power accountable) and so to transparency and data.

It struck me that the sudden boom in government data marks a move to use transparency as accountability. In that respect, if you think data journalism is not important then you are wrong. If you want to hold them accountable (as all journalists should) and data is all you have, then you better know how to work with it.

It needs to be part of your process.

Old and new

All of which highlights the challenge in what I do. Traditional journalism practice comes with a set process. But what if the world you are supposed to be reporting on changes around you?  We can’t say that good journalism will always be good journalism (and in that the way we do it is also ‘good’) because the world and those we hold accountable has changed. If journalism, and the process of it, doesn’t change then it isn’t fit for purpose.

Hopefully in Graham the students saw how it can work.

4 thoughts on “Ivory tower dispatch: It’s all about the process”

  1. Hi Andy,
    Great article.
    It’s always a bit frightening to see one’s statements from two years ago being quoted, but I actually think they stand the test of time. But if you or your students want more up to date examples of networked journalism in practice – nationally and locally – then they should have a look at our Value of Networked Journalism Report, published in June 2010 and downloadable from here:
    http://www.charliebeckett.org/?p=3164
    cheers
    Charlie

  2. Thanks Charlie

    I’ve included a link to the report in their reading. :)

    I agree, the concepts do stand up. It’s nice to have stuff that’s got some development behind it. Often I feel a lot of the stuff that’s current is a little speculative.Great for debate but not as useful for context.

  3. Thanks for that Andy – good to meet in Preston and most interesting to see the follow up after I left the lecture theatre.

    I guess the processes I use do indeed look scary from the outside, but I do think any student with rudimentary knowledge of rss, twitter et al could sift through pixelpipe and pen a similar distribution plan for their content.

    I spent quite a while planning on paper and then thinking about the workflow before doing. The thing is, in the digital realm, the workflow constantly changes.

    Thanks again. See you in December…

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