Category Archives: ivorytowerdispacth

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Who takes the risk in changing journalism?

I’m spending the next few days in a research symposium about journalism. Lots of great people with interesting things to say about the changing face and challenges for journalism.  I’m not going to go into too much detail about what’s being discussed -that’s partly because a lot of it is related to ongoing research and the usual form, and often contractual obligation, is stuff doesn’t make it out until its been in a journal (I know, don’t get me started on that one).  But regardless of the topic one of consistent questions has been how we and students respond to this.

One example of this was a conversation around entrepreneurial journalism.

The idea that we as j-schools, should be encouraging more innovative and entrepreneurial thinking is not new.  A number of schools now have modules and courses exploring just that.  But how we ‘sell’ that has been and remains a tricky proposition when the demands of the industry we serve are set against an education market ‘disrupted’ by the same things.

Like most universities in the UK we are coming to the end of our ‘open days’. They are a chance for prospective students to see the campus, meet the staff. Well, I say students; a big part of open days is for parents.

I find that it’s often quite hard to talk to the prospective students as you’re answering questions from parents. How many modules? What’s your contact time? What are your employment statistics? I’m not being critical of this at all – who wouldn’t want to be  sure that they are getting the best. The best experience and the best value.  But I does feel like the questions that editors and accrediting bodies ask me – how many hours do they go to court? Can they do shorthand? Can they do facebook?

Under the idea of a service economy (serving students and industry) J-Education is not just being asked make a lot of commitments. We are being asked for guarantees!

I was pondering that during the presentations when we talked about entrepreneurship and innovation in journalism and it struck me how much I feel we are at (or very, very close to) an inflection point when it comes to the value proposition for developing journalism education.

The truth is entrepreneurship is about risk.  I have enough crappy motivational tweets appearing in my timeline about ‘daring to fail’ to know that.  But I’m across two industries  – education and journalism –  that don’t do risk well.

It’s clear that most of the journalism industry isn’t prepared to take that risk (with notable but not consistent exceptions) The model for the industry is for buy-innovation not nurturing it. Yes, there are some exceptions but lets not kid ourselves that they are the norm  (yet). That’s a culture that reaches across all aspects of an organisations work including training.

That’s why, in the same way media has shifted the responsibility (and risk) for training and skills to education, we now see the demands for a more innovative and entrepreneurial journalist are placed at educations door.

At the same time education is coming to terms with a market driven model - compare-the-market parents looking at our stats.  That culture doesn’t really suit risk.  I couldn’t sell a journalism course on the kind of failure stats we see in startups these days.

Theres the decision driving me to feeling close to the inflection point. Which of those ‘markets’ is the ball and chain?  Which one of those is going to drag me down past viable? As a J-school educator, how do I balance the demands of industry to deliver what they tell me they want with the demands of consumers for guarantees of a return on investment?

My gut reaction is that the response to industry is pretty simple – we are not going to take risks on your behalf unless you invest.   But that’s the easy bit. It leave us with more to  do in educating students to the idea of risk and the broader landscape of opportunity that digital offers.  Risk and opportunity – not easy terms.

I happen to think there is no better place to take a risk than university – independent thinking and challenge are what we are supposed to do.  I also believe that there is no better industry in which risk can pay off – innovation is really valued, even if (or perhaps because) it doesn’t really know what to do with it – everyone wants a pet unicorn even if they don’t know how to look after it!

But it does feel like we are getting to a point where, to really enable us to make good on that opportunity,  J-schools are going to have to make a  choice.  Journalism education is  already at a point where we are thinking about how we unhitch ourselves from many of the structure that some believe  makes them the de-facto suppliers of skilled workers for industry.  A position that I’ve always thought of as moving from  giving them what they want to what they need.

But that feels like the easy part.  When it comes to selling the alternative it’s easy marketing speak to say opportunities but it’s risk – plain and simple.

That feels like unchartered territory for all of us and I wonder if it should and why.

Image from Ben Sutherland  on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/6764509451/ 

Doing data in a journalism course

It’s a subject that isn’t going away and it’s also one that generate a huge amount of debate – data journalism. If ever there was a perfect hook to hang all of journalisms best and worst it’s data journalism! But a recent flurry of tweets and a nice ‘there’s no reason not to try this stuff’ post from Matt Waite focussed on one part of the debate – how should we be doing more of this in our j-courses and who should be doing it at.

It was something that Matt kicked off with a tweet:

Quite a few people pitched in (an assortment of tweets below):


There is an interesting point in there about adjunct courses – essentially but not exclusively online courses – which I think is fair. There’s no better way to  put journalists (and students) off than combining maths and computers!

As I said in my response, we do ‘data’ across all of our courses and I thought I’d share an example of the kind of intro practical stuff we are doing with first years (year one of three year degree). It’s done in the context of a broader intro to data and journalism and it’s developed and expanded throughout the three years (more so as we are shifting things around in the courses.) including a dedicated data journalism module.

My take at this stage is that data journalism is worth considering as part of a more structured approach to journalism. The students are no doubt fed up of my Process into content mantra.

Anyway. Two slideshows below are an intro – context lecture and the other is the related workshop. And, yes, I know there is a fair bit of visualization in there – charts and maps – which some data people can get quite sniffy about. We are careful to make the point that not all data is visual but I do think a visual output can be a quick win for capturing peoples interest. It’s just the start.

Again, these are just the slides, there is the usual amount of narrative and discussion that goes with this. They are presented as is:


 
Let me know what you think if you get a chance.

Ivory tower dispatch: Headlines, SEO and WordPress.com

Online Journalists can learn a lot about optimising content from the likes of the Daily Mail but can we put it in to practice on WordPress.com blogs?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking to first year journalists about blogging and the starting point is why blogging is a a bad idea.

In the past I’ve tried to make the case for blogging – of course you need a blog – but the upshot of that is that some students dismiss it as ‘something they have to do’ and file it as ‘look at when the assessment is due’. At least by talking about the downsides – time, dealing with trolls etc. – you can discuss motivation in a constructive way. So they all start (or, for many, restart) a WordPress blog.

Outside of the usefulness of blogs to them as journalists,  one of the reasons for introducing blogs in the module (essentially basic online journalism practice) is that it gives them a platform to experiment with things. This week it was a way to look at headlines.

When you deconstruct how and why headlines work differently online you end up taking about two main themes:

  • Grabbing attention – not only how your headlines have to grab attention and get people to read on the page but also outside your site – different platformsaggregation etc.
  • Serving different audiences – how you need to tailor you headline for the reader, search engines and social media. 

It’s clear that there are a number of different strategies to do this and all require levels of optimisation and it was interesting to explore how accessible ways to do this in practice are when you’re using WordPress.com. 

Getting noticed in search

We know that search engine optimisation has become a more complex thing than simply loading your headline with key words. That’s great news for the reader as headlines are now slipping back in to the more descriptive eye-catching headlines we might associate with print; stuff that is as useful to the reader as it is to your ranking.

A simple, but not always obvious way this works is to take advantage of technology (and your CMS) to use different headlines in different places.

The Daily Mail are experts at this.Take this story on the Eastleigh by-election:

  • Front Page: ‘Beastly in Eastleigh': Conservatives in crisis as UKIP push Tories into THIRD place after Lib Dems hold onto must-win seat with dramatic by-election victory
  • Article Headline‘Gutted’ Tories plunged into crisis after being pushed into humiliating THIRD place behind UKIP in Eastleigh by-election as Lib Dems cling on to must-win seat
  • HTML Title: Eastleigh by-election: ‘Gutted’ Tories plunged into crisis after being pushed into humiliating THIRD place behind UKIP as Lib Dems cling on to must-win seat  | Mail Online 

That last one is in the code (Right-click and look for something like view source and you’ll find it in between <title> </title>).

What’s immediately obvious about this, outside of the technical, is that writing a headline for the web is really writing headlines for the web. Who says technology simplifies things!

Each one of those headlines, in it’s own way, is designed for attracting attention. But, at risk of oversimplifying things here, although each one contributes to improving the searchability of the piece, it’s the title that does a lot of the heavy lifting (find out some more about the title and seo).

So can we do something similar with our wordpress.com? The short answer is no.

In a WordPress blog, unless we spend money on a fancy template, getting a ‘magazine’ style layout where we can trail content on a front page is nearly impossible. Even if we splashed out on a custom template it’s still almost impossible to specify a custom headline for the front page. So our attention grabbing front page headline is out!

At a post level, the title for the post and the title in the html are the same.  So whatever I put in the title box, WordPress will use that as the html title as well. The only difference is that it will add the blog title to the end.

  • Post title: SEO headlines are tricky to write
  • HTML title: SEO headlines are tricky to write | andydickinson,net

The only thing we could conceivably do at this point is to change our blog title to include some keywords that generally relate to everything we write about. A little generic though. So no search engine headline ‘hidden’ in the code.

We are left trying to write a headline that balances the needs of the reader who wants to know what’s in a story and if it’s for them, and the benefits we would get from a little tweaking to suit a search engine. Luckily all the evidence points towards a happy medium.

If you can get strong keywords – in journalistic terms the who, where and what of a story – in to the front part of your headline then you’re on to a winner – both readers and search engines like it when you put proper nouns up front. Taking the Daily Mail example above, the HTML title headline

Eastleigh by-election: ‘Gutted’ Tories plunged into crisis after being pushed into humiliating THIRD place behind UKIP as Lib Dems cling on to must-win seat  | Mail Online – would be our best choice.

There’s plenty of advice for picking good keywords including using tools like Google Trends and Google ad words tool to help identify good keyword contribution.

Social media optimisation

Making the effort to strike the balance between search engine and reader friendly optimized headlines is worth the effort but search engines are not the only place we find stuff these days. Social media plays a big part in the recommendation and discovery process so optimising our content for those platforms is going to be worth some effort.

Ensuring our headlines travel across and round social media whilst retaining that ‘attention grabbing’ quality is a challenge. Take twitter for example. We don’t just have the headline to worry about, we also need to leave room for a link and, maybe, space for anyone who wants to retweet to add ‘RT @ourname’. So we actually have a limited amount of space to work with.

The advice is to work with a headline of around 65 characters. That gives you a headline that will appear on Google searches without getting truncated and if you wanted to tweet it, used along with a URL shortner like Bitly or wordpress.com’s  built in shortlink generator, you leave enough space for people to add their own stuff. Using something like Bitly also give you the added bonus of some nice stats to help track your social media traffic.

Excerpts

It’s worth noting at this point that the excerpt function in WordPress.com can play a really important part in selling your content. Some WordPress  ‘magazine’ style themes use it as the article summary, but if you add an excerpt it is used as the meta description for your article.

That ‘code’ won’t necessarily peak the mechanical interest of a search engine like the title tag does but it’s what appears under your (carefully crafted) headline in search engine results. It’s your chance to reinforce what the article is about and draw the reader in.

It also gets a lot of use in the social side of things. Look at this code from the header of a wordpress post using the standard 2012 template.

<meta property="og:type" content="article" />
<meta property="og:title" content="SEO friendly headline here. It&#039;s the headline and html title as well." />
<meta property="og:url" content="http://andystestpress.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/seo-headline-in-the-html/" />
<meta property="og:description" content="This is the excerpt but it&#039;s used as the META description which google will use as the &#039;snippet&#039; under the title." />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Andy&#039;s Testpress: its great" />
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@wordpressdotcom" />
<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary" />

The og in there means open graph and that means Facebook. This code essentially controls the information that Facebook uses to display details of your post when someone shares or likes the link on Facebook. The Twitter one does the same thing for the twitter card that’s displayed.  The title is the same as before.

On the face of it, using WordPress.com for blogging  may not give us the flexibility that the big players have to craft different versions of headlines. To get that you need to install your own version. But out of the box it does a lot of stuff for us. All we need to do is pay a little attention to the content.

If we want to get the best out of our headlines then they need to be attention grabbing, relevant, hooks for our articles that are no longer than 65 characters and front-loaded with appropriate keywords. And if we want to start optimising for social media we need to give the excerpt some attention as well.

Note: Clearly content optimisation (search or otherwise) is a complex and rich process – I’ve not even scratched the surface of some of the stuff specific to wordpress.com let alone SEO in general! Simply tweaking a headline or excerpts is only the tip of the iceberg. I’m not suggesting that working your headline is in anyway SEO or that good content, carefully crafted for your content is not just as (if not more important). Just saying :-)

Note 2: Not all wordpress themes are the same. As much as we might argue that HTML is not something journos need to engage with (btw, yes they should) having a root around the header of your chosen theme to see what meta is kicking around is not a bad or techie thing to be able to do.

Note 3: Paul Bradshaw has a great blog post about using the wordpress editor which has some good stuff to say about URL’s and links – two factors in google ranking.

Ivory tower dispatch: Social networks are personal

Get off my land

Over the last semester I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the use of social networks; how and why they might be useful/important/problematic to journalists. But over the months I’ve been hearing an increasingly common complaint from students. The gist of the complaints is something like this:

Stop telling us to use social networks. What we do with social networks is up to us.

The implication is that social networks are personal and not up for grabs as part of the syllabus. Us telling them what to do with their social network would be like us telling them who they could be friends with or what to where. Butt out of our personal lives!

I had to think a little about whether I actually was telling people to use social networks and, reflecting on it, I have to say that yes I was. A bit.

I was telling people that they should sign-up and explore things like Facebook and Twitter because I felt that they were important things to experience and understand as journalists and not just as users. But what I’ve never done is say that people must use their own social networks for that.

In fact I’ve made a lot this year of how you might separate the two things; How important it is that when you do use social networks as a journalist, you do think about how much of you (as your personal social networks represent you at least) you want to see. That might mean, for example, creating a new Gmail account and using that to build new accounts that are ‘work’ related.

The response to that is often, I don’t want another account to manage. Which I find quite an odd thing as it kind of suggest that because you use Facebook to manage your social life you’ll never be able to use it as a journalist  What a missed opportunity!

Person or professional? 

For me, understanding the line between personal and professional is really important when it comes to social media and journalism. There have been numerous examples of people falling foul of social media searching at job interview. And things don’t get easier once you have the job. Stories of journalists coming in to conflict with their masters over social media use are increasingly common. But, thinking about it, maybe there is a case for intruding a little on students personal social media habits.

It’s not just the old standard of employment if you saw you on Facebook, would you give you a job? I sense an increase in the numbers of people finding the content of their personal accounts putting them in a legal (and often moral) line of fire. So in this post-Leveson world where, journalists are having to aspire to higher moral and ethical standards than the audience, isn’t it fair to say that the personal is also up for scrutiny?

OK, in reality, that’s a line I wouldn’t cross. I’m not going to demand to see (and grade) students social media output to assess professionalism. What students do in the privacy of their own social media world is up to them – at least I hope they have thought about the distinction between private and public!  But the idea that this means I can’t talk to them about and yes, maybe make them, temporarily at least, sign-up for Twitter or Facebook is not something I can buy in to. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the developing norm is that social media isn’t where journalism should be. Maybe we should all just be people. Maybe social media is now ‘another country’ where different rules apply.

What do you think? Am I getting old? Just not getting it?

Picture: Nic Walker on Flickr

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Ivory tower dispatch: Free online video editing

This week, amongst other things, I’m pondering video. I tried to write about some of the more contextual thinking around video in a earlier post, but it’s the practical side that’s been upfront for the last week.

In the workshops for my Digital Newsroom module I’ve tried to find open source or free resources to use over and above the resources available to the students via the uni network.  I wanted them to explore the possibilities (and limitations) of using free resources and compare the workflows to the more established stuff.  In many cases the free stuff is what the industry are using; slideshare, audioboo and soundcloud for example.

When it comes to video editing the choice of free apps is pretty limited. Most are clunky affairs with a limited range of compatibility with the range of video file formats most things are spitting out these days.

There are downloadable options. If you’re on Windows for example then you can take advantage of the feature-film-ready Lightworks.  A monster app that’s truly industry standard, but there isn’t much else. And if you’re on a mac…well….

So I went looking for online video editors. Sites that offered video editing through a web interface. The results were limited.

Youtube

Youtube has a pretty decent clipping editor as part of its standard enhancements. If all you want to do is adjust the start and end times (a top and tail) then the enhancements section of the editor is pretty good. You can also add audio. But there is very little in terms of even the basic functionality you’d expect from a video editor. This is sub-windows moviemakers stuff.

It’s more advanced video editor is a little more useful but let down by a lack of audio control.

Filelab video editor

Filelab video editor

Along with its audio editor, Filelab’s video editor looks like a really good bet. The ‘problem’ is that its windows only (and you need to install a plugin). That makes it a no-no for our network and, I’m guessing, for many corporate networks.

WeVideo

Wevideo is my current fave. It’s flash driven which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it does need a flash player above 10.2. But beyond that I think, for free, it’s pretty handy.

You can see that the user interface is pretty standard but it does offer nice touches like rubber band editing on audio levels and video transparency and there is a nice collection of open source audio and video files to add.

It plays well with most video formats ( I downloaded one of my videos from youtube and uploaded that) and a jpeg graphic created in powerpoint rendered nicely. It’s limited to 500MB max file size but for short video that’s no hardship

Exporting is pretty easy. The free version will create a watermarked standard definition 480p video file which you can send across to your youtube or vimeo accounts. You’re also limited to 15 exported images a month.  The watermark isn’t obtrusive but you could buy an HD 720p version for $4.99. You can pay $10 a month and get no watermark, higher resolution and 2 hours export a month. The plans themselves seem a little limited in that respect but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more granular offerings and the pricing plans are split across personal, education and business.

 Collaboration and mobile

One of the neatest parts of Wevideo is the option to integrate with Google Drive and the option of a mobile uploader.

Conclusions

All in all I think WeVideo is a very neat and user friendly solution to editing video in the cloud. Of course there are apps for your phone, ipad and other platforms and the flexibility of something on your desktop – FCP, Avid, Lightworks or premiere – is always going to be better. But as something to get you out of a whole, create a quick edit or tidy something up, I think it’s pretty impressive. I’ll let you know what the students think.

 

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The Ivory tower dispatch: defining multimedia journalism

This week in the ivory tower I’ve mostly been looking at multimedia.

I’ve been building on the idea that, regardless of the approach you take (the fast/slow journalism split I created last week) , chunks of multimedia are going to be you building blocks.

Of course there are the practicalities to consider, but I spent a bit of time thinking about the broader context and what that meant in terms of roles within a digital newsroom.

Something that’s become clear in my pondering and looking around is that there is a belief in two distinct forms of journalism – audio journalism and video journalism.  These are not just variations on a broadcast theme. The rhetoric being used clearly indicates a belief that they are new forms of journalism and that was all a bit worrying.

Audio Journalism

Even though a large part of the audio on the web is produced in much the same way as broadcast (a kind of pre-medium specifics is you like) proponents of Audio Journalism  identify two forms of content as core to the definition:

  • Podcasts
  • Audio Slideshows

The form of podcasts is pretty flexible and there is no one clear format – short, scripted and snappy or round table – that’s been agreed on. In fact the development of the different styles suggests that the form has outgrown it’s platform-derived title. They are different from broadcast in a number of ways not least in the business model. The big challenges now are metrics and return on investment. The battle ground is tablets where app delivered podcasts can be monitored more effectively   So, podcasts clearly provide the established framework – the mode and form – that helps set audio journalism as a definition.

In that sense podcasts are the solid, practical output. So it would all be a little technologically deterministic if it wasn’t for the intellectual weight that Audio slideshows  add to the definition.

Benjamin Chesterton’s take on Audio slideshows (as reported by Kevin Marsh) in response to the question “Why would you choose a slideshow when you could use video?”

with moving video, the viewers eye is centred – broadly, locked to the framing of the video camera. With still images, the eye roams. It stops and moves and stops and moves. Frozen gestures and expressions kick off a cognitive process – thinking – that moving images simply never do.

 

Something similar is true of good audio. The best audio blends reportage (‘being me, being here’) with the kind of aural cues that make audiences think and wander off down their own pathways while still engaging with the sound.

Put the two together – great audio documentary and great still images – and you have something that is potentially MORE than great storytelling.

It works on a whole different cognitive level to video.

It’s a take on audio slideshows that I’ve seen echoed around the audio journalism community. The claim of a more cerebral and deeply cognitive experience is quite seductive and calls on much of the deeply long-lived and traditional practices of photojournalism and image editors; the power of an image. But am I being cynical in seeing a reading of video as shallow and surface? Are we seeing a similar rhetoric to the slow/longform journalism? Video is surface and temporal. Pictures are deep and connected.

It’s a hard position for me to feel any real affinity for and one that often feels laboured (not by duckrabbit I might add). When I see advice on the five shots that make great slideshows I see a version of the 5 shots you need to make a good video package. In my view neither is better or worse, but with more in common than the broad demarcations suggest.

The discourse that’s used to define audio journalism is one that’s familiar to me as someone who has had more than a passing interest in online video.

Video Journalism

I’ve watched the concept of video journalism shift from a technical revelation, a rush to embrace a new platform, all the way through a new business model, via snake oil, to be a kind of new wave of film making.  It’s clear that it’s supporters feel it’s something different from broadcast.

The films are often authored, they are commonly open about a bias or particular viewpoint, they often cover stories away from the mainstream. But in form they are often best defined by their difference from standard broadcast fair than any general innovation.

That’s not to say there isn’t some compelling, editorially excellent, important and often, downright beautiful stuff going on out there. But beyond experiments with the form – none linear narratives and presentation – there’s little innovation. Maybe a good deal of disruption, but not innovation; using afterFX in a documentary is not innovative. It makes the claim for a new form of journalism a little hollow especially when a lot of it reflects such good journalism.

I know that the biggest regret of many VJ’s (unless your selling the dream not living it) seems to be that it isn’t taken seriously by broadcast journalism. I can see their point. The shocking lack of strands for documentary has pushed the good stuff online – it was only a matter of time.

Things are changing for VJ’s in that respect; without mainstream broadcast (which is their loss). But in my travels I still found pockets of identity crisis and concerns about a lack of recognition – why is that so important if there is a new (and better) form of video journalism I wonder.

Multimedia journalism

The concern over recognition is one that spreads beyond audio and video to those who prefer the title multimedia journalist (they chose the title rather than it being their job description).I was genuinely saddened to read Mark Kelly’s blog about his experiences of trying to do video in a newspaper context, bemoaning the ‘sea of crap’ he has to work with

I believe we’re about to see a huge surge in mobile phone footage shot by print journalists. And we all know what happens next, multimedia producers like you and I get given the footage and asked to turn it into something usable. But you can’t polish a turd can you?

It’s clear Mark has a deep commitment to producing quality stuff, but In another post he explains the exit route and maybe reveals the problem all in one:

Interestingly the majority of multimedia journalists are actually broadcast journalists who’ve ve set their sights on a future in TV and are working for online platforms as a way of gaining experience, a good plan given the growing number of channels and the lack of quality content available.

I suppose there’s nothing worse than being a frustrated broadcast journalist having to lower yourself to working with newspapers, apart from maybe being the newspaper journalist in that equation.

One commentator thinks the world of broadcast will have more respect for his skills:

Fortunately I’m leaving newspapers for the world of broadcast. There, they seem to recognise the breadth of talent, creativity and man hours that go into something worth watching. Maybe newspapers will learn that one day too.

The people who march under the video journalism banner would maybe have some different advice for them.

Conclusions

So why was all that worrying. For me it’s encapsulated in the plight of multimedia journalists. In trying to define themselves as different from the (traditional) norm they exclude themselves from all the groups. Perhaps it’s the environment that doesn’t respect the skills that pushes that banding together – maybe one day there will be a union!

But mostly all of the debates and definitions around multimedia (and you can use what term you like here – audio, video, multimedia, visual journalist) reminded me a lot of a section from Life of Brian (some bad language here)


 

 

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Ivory tower dispatch: Fast and slow journalism and innovation must die

Al Jazeera English newsroom
The Al Jazeera English newsroom – Not available as a google app  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A diverse range of things in the ivory tower this week.

Balancing personal and professional social media identities was still on the agenda – the mantra was you might not use it but your boss might want you to. Thinking ‘how would I do this if I was doing it for someone else’ when you use social media as a journalist is, in my view, a good discipline.

But it also got me thinking about the perverse way that social media allows a newsroom, even with limited resources, to spread themselves far and wide and then begins to squeeze those resources all the harder in managing that reach.

From a personnel perspective sites like IFTTT and other social media aggregation tools and apis help. But often they strike me a bit like consolidating a debt. You get so many social media outputs that you have to pull them in to one place. The you start to ‘spend’ until you need to consolidate again.  Put that in a newsroom setting and the problem can get worse. Imagine the social media debt you could get in to if one person holds all the details of your social media account then leaves!

So I spent some time looking at using things like Google apps to help create shared resources to manage this kind of thing. Simple things like having a spreadsheet that has all of the social media accounts of reporters and journalists in one place and delegation of gmails to share accounts. But on the whole managing a newsroom might not be as easy as it sounds with Google apps as the sharing of resources and the capacity for accessing multiple accounts is not as straightforward as you’d think.

If you’re thinking about using Google apps (like Drive not the enterprise stuff) to manage the newsroom, my advice is to look hard at your newsroom structure first.

Quick, slow ,quick, quick slow

Paul Bradshaw’s 21st Century newsroom redux was a timely and useful addition to my lectures around the idea of digital narratives. That was the rather broad title I set myself as I thought about the two (opposing) views of digital storytelling;  The fast and furious, stream driven, exploded pyramid of news Vs more considered long-form journalism.

In principle its easy to contrast the pressures of diving in to the stream with all it’s risks with the apparently more considered and (to some) more journalistic long form. I took a little step back in to the idea of slow journalism. It’s a thoroughly pompous concept in my view, but it’s interesting (and frustrating) to see some of the same discourse applied to support long-form.  It was an interesting coincidence that one of ‘slow’ journalism’s early suporters was none other than David “£2 pound tax” Leigh.

Ultimately though it’s a contrived contrast. In practice you can (and often have to) approach the process of journalism wary of both sides of the coin. Paul’s update to the model helps reinforce that – amazing what more arrows can do! – and was required reading this week.

The whole exercise reinforced for me the idea that in a broad context, thinking multimedia is the way to go when approaching digital narratives. Note the word digital there, not online. Yes, online is a unique medium. For journalists, who are mostly dealing with the stock website page, it comes with some very specific requirements for writing and story construction. But if we are looking to embrace the full opportunity of rebuilding our content across platforms then we still need to address the issue of how we create and curate our multimedia not just our interactions with the audience and their interactions with our content.

All of that echoed several lectures/conversations I had around more general concepts that I thought where touchstones in digital thinking at the moment:

  • Social media
  • Curation and real-time curation
  • Community
  • Data journalism
  • Multiplatform
  • Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship

Nothing ground breaking there, but I think there is an increasingly clear narrative to connect them. Think about how long-form relies on curation and an understanding of community to create content that takes advantage of tablets (where much of the time-shifted reading people engage in happens). It’s a narrative I’ve been trying to get straight for a little while. You can ask the students if they think I’m getting there. But if you want to see a first go, this is me at this years Nordic media festival giving it a go (it’s also the first time the Journalism is a diagnosis not a profession idea get’s an airing)

And finally, in discussing this, and perhaps trawling through endless kickstarters brandishing their slow journalism credentials like a battered copy of fear and loathing, made me realise just how much I hate the word innovation and how hollow it is.

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Social media for journalists is like The Generation game

This week (as a earlier post suggests) I’ve been kicking off teaching with a look at social media and how journos can use it to create a presence. That presence isn’t just about promotion, it’s about connection. It’s about putting your virtual self in front of the audience and the stream of content they produce.

That got me thinking about The generation game.

For those who don’t know it, The Generation game was a UK game show that started in 1971 and ran, on and off, till 2002. It’s big finish was the conveyor belt game. The contestant would be sat in front of a conveyor belt loaded with consumer goods (and a cuddly toy) which they would have to remember. Then they would have a minute to try to recall all the items. Whatever they remembered they kept.

The whole thing struck me as an interesting analogy of the process of managing information for journalists and how it has changed.

In journalism terms the old solution to the game would be to take notes (in shorthand) of what went past. The digital solution would be to subscribe to the RSS feed of the conveyor belt and filter it later on. Job done. Walk away with the booty.

But now the whole thing is more like the end of the game.

When the contestant sits down they get a bit of time to consider the content but then the audience begins to shout. And shout. And shout. It’s noisy. Often helpful but more often than not the helpful stuff is drowned out by repetition and distraction.

The conveyor of news

The proliferation of places where you might find yourself in front of a virtual audience is a bit of a blessing and a curse. Social networks make it easy to build profiles – it’s easy to get yourself to these virtual places –  but managing the sheer amount of information/interaction that they demand is more challenging.

Information overload is nothing new to journalists on the web, which is why I used to spend  a bit of time looking at things like RSS as a means of controlling information. But RSS has, for many, been replaced by the stream  – the realtime flow of information from the connections we make on social networks.

RSS answered the challenge of how we manage information. That’s still the challenge, but now it starts with how we manage the interaction with people who find it for us. Filtering the filterers (maybe).

There is so much value in there, but the prize is for those who can handle the thousands shouting “cuddly toy!” to get to the detail.

 

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Ivory tower dispatch: A tale of two websites

Across a number of classes this week, two websites have stood out.

To start the week I had this from China Daily.com

Worst headline of the week!

Shoddy! Which thesaurus did they drag that one up from!

This was paydirt for me as I talked to the class (a group of chinese students) about writing headlines, seo. Something that “Shoddy railway project closed down” fails at in every measure.

Worse still the story is really good:

The 74.1-kilometer railway project [Jingyu-Songjianghe Railway project in Changchun], with a total investment of 2.3 billion yuan ($360 million), was recently found to have illegally contracted a fake company and a couple of laymen who barely know anything of building bridges.

Two blokes stroll up and blag $360 million! Come on!

The week ended with a lot of talk about video and a chance for me to roll out my favourite example of the use of online video

Visceral video at its best

It’s an old story but for me it perfectly illustrates the way that video can enhance a story.  This is clip video at its finest – the text tells the story and the video shows you the visceral experience. It enhances the story and works with the text in a combination of media that’s unique to the web.

When I play this in a class I know that one minute in I will get a reaction, a big ooooh that underlines what video is great at. Watch and see what I mean.

Ivory tower dispatch: RSS is like twitter.

Like others in J-school I’m getting to know new classes, spending a bit of time talking about the ‘gathering’ part of journalism and how digital tools can help. So yesterday I bullied my class of postgrads through, among other things, RSS and Google reader.

When I raised the topic, one of the class commented that “it’s just like twitter”

I initially disagreed, talking about the differences of simply gathering, organising and filtering content and actually interacting with people.  But I’ve had a little time to reflect and, do you know, I don’t think that’s a bad way to think about RSS at all.

Twitter is about building a network of people who you can engage with and (positively) use. A network that is big enough not only to give what you want but also what you thought you didn’t need. The serendipity of twitter is one of its charms.

RSS is a lot like that but with websites and not people. The bigger your ‘network’ of websites, the more chance you’ll find something of interest.

For journalists a lot of the motivations for using the tool are the same: network building; time managment etc.

Points of reference

When I introduced Reader, a few people in the room had heard of it (and used it); Most had not. That’s always a surprise to me, but not a criticism of the students. The early days of new classes are always an interesting reality check for me. My world (geeky and riven through with online as it is) is not always the real world! So it’s nice when something gives you pause to reflect.

It made me think a little more about points of reference. I’ve worked through a chronology of this stuff. Started using Reader before twitter and felt the transition in passive to active engagement as the web has developed. That makes sense to me. But a lot of people in the room have come the other way. Facebook and twitter are their point of entry and reference.

Maybe that shows that digital/online journalism is really maturing now (or maybe just my view). Like many other things it’s now as important to look back at how this stuff has developed as it is simply to use it. Even if that ‘history’ is only five or six years young!

Update Kate, the one who suggested RSS is like twitter, reminded me that I should quote my sources.

@ Aren't you supposed to attribute quotations? ;) *cough* itwasme *cough*
@Kate_S_Mercer
Katie Siobhán Mercer