Category Archives: journalism

The commercial blindspot:Funding news

The idea of the weekend – a £2 levy on broadband that can be used to pay for journalism.

There are almost 20m UK households that are paying upwards of £15 a month for a good broadband connection, plus another 5m mobile internet subscriptions. People willingly pay this money to a handful of telecommunications companies, but pay nothing for the news content they receive as a result, whose continued survival is generally agreed to be a fundamental plank of democracy.

A £2 levy on top – collected easily from the small number of UK service providers (BT, Virgin, Sky, TalkTalk etc) who would add it on to consumers’ bills – would raise more than £500m annually. It could be collected by a freestanding agency, on the lines of the BBC licence fee, and redistributed automatically to “news providers” according to their share of UK online readership.

The logic being, I suppose, that all these big broadband companies make all this money from our hard-earned content, isn’t it about time they paid. Oh, and you consumers need to get that idea of free out of your mind as well.

Roy Greenslade thinks it’s a great idea but there are problems.

Of course there are problems to overcome, such as persuading the various service providers – BT, Virgin, Sky, TalkTalk et al – to become “tax collectors” for news outfits. But a case can be made that they benefit from news production.

The other concern is about big media getting benefits unavailable to start-ups. But I imagine there could be a mechanism to distribute a portion to them as well.

I’m not surprised by the prevailing argument – the web is stripping journalism of it’s inherrent value so they should pay. As much as people would love to think we are beyond it, the anti-digital curmudgeon class still exists in journalism.

I’m more surprised. No staggered by the willful act of ignorance required to simply dismiss the issue of what would essentially be a bail out .

It’s a chilling thought that some of the best, most respected and senior journalists around can still flick a switch in their heads that separates the ‘journalism’ that they do from the organisations that they work for. That somehow journalism transcends the reality of money.

I’m not sure if it’s a blindspot (so steeped in journalism they fail to see the building and infrastructure around them) or blinkers (that many still have a hard-on for making evil digital pay). Whatever it is the idea is as sad for the attitudes it highlights as it is misguided.

Update: Dominic Ponsford has decided that David Leigh’s broadband tax plan is bonkers . But his article is just as bad. Instead of taxing broadband he wants to tax Google.

How well would Google do without all the free editorial content which it is indexing I wonder?

I think (and I might be wrong) they’d be ok, but I digress. Yes, the media benefits from Google…

But with Google UK ad revenues set to top £3bn this year the newspaper industry owners are increasingly looking like householders who, having been woken in the night by burglars, rush downstairs to make them a cup of tea before helping them into their van with the flatscreen TV and the silverware.

The logic might appeal if you are frustrated at the lack of solutions to the complex issue of sustaining journalism. But replacing broadband with google is just as simple and transparent.

More: This response to the original idea is brilliant.

 

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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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Journalism is not a profession, it’s a diagnosis.

 

Conditions for the subs had improved considerably

Thinking about Journalism as a profession just doesn’t work any more for me. That’s why I’ve been thinking that Journalism is not a profession, it’s a diagnosis. 

Stick with me…

Large media organisations are traditionally where those ‘with’ journalism have been kept – a bit like the TB wards of old – in a strict regimen that helped control it. The problem is that over time, journalism has become an industrial disease; spreading through the large media organisations replacing the more benign, older strain.

Now, new technologies and the changing media landscape that have broken down the walls to let the community in, have let journalism out. Now we can see the symptoms everywhere and the diversity might mean that the damaged, industrial strain could be wiped out.

The symptoms will vary – a commitment to telling a story about and for a community not just for yourself might be a common symptom. Some might get the more objective strain. Some the subjective, activist stream. But there will always be a desire to show sources – to be transparent.

Those who are still responsible for running the large media hospitals companies are worried. If lots of people get it, they might say, how are they going to look after these long-term sufferers; the ones who have it really bad? After all, we all know how expensive healthcare is. Lots of people running around with it would overwhelm the system.

But letting journalism loose has had some surprising results.

Although journalism is quite difficult to manage, handled with care, journalism can exist in a community. In fact, injecting it in to a community actually seems to improve its health.

So it isn’t important that a person is working for a large media organisation or not. We should think of the future of journalism as a support group. People who have recently caught journalism (no matter how mild) can come to longer term carriers for support. Everyone is welcome to share their experiences and ways of managing the symptoms.

Those who know me know how much I love to mangle a metaphor, so I’ll stop. The metaphor may not work for you (in fact it may not work at all) but I’m convinced that, until we can release some of the baggage around the term, we need to find new ways of explaining what we do to make it more inclusive. Something that allows for what it is and who does it to both be important rather than at odds.

Afterthought - Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that by letting journalism free that the mainstream media is going to die etc. There will always be a place for those who support and protect the really serious cases of journalism – getting a serious case can be dangerous. But it shouldn’t be an asylum :)

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Do we need a journalism merit badge?

 

So Ivan Lewis has suggested that journalists who ‘break the rules’ should be struck off. A move which, as FleetStreetBlues blogs:

..by implication, that there should be some kind of register or licence for all journalists

A license might be a bit strong. What else could we consider…

Journalism Merit badge

What about a boy scout style merit badge system? They have one for Journalism. They also have them for law. I couldn’t find one for PA or shorthand.

Or maybe we could go the McDonalds star route. You could lose a star for each ‘transgression’ of regulations. Gain one for an exclusive.

But seriously, do we really need to be thinking about this at all?

Fleet street fox rounds off a good response to Ivan Lewis with this:

No-one’s needed a licence to be a journalist in the 300 years since the first paper was printed in Fleet Street. You just have to be nosy and a little bit mad, the kind of person no-one else wants in their club.

A good headline? A storm in a teacup? All of that and more.

License or badge?

O'Reilly's code of conduct badge

In 2007, Tim O’reilly suggested that we needed a blogging code of conduct. A suggestion that was roundly turned on in some quarters . His reasoning was there needed to be some way of controlling the increasing amount of poor behaviour on blogs.  Blogs that followed the code and enforced it got to be deputised in to the code and wear a badge – yep, a sheriffs badge.

In the same way that we can argue that Lewis’ suggestions amount to an attempt to license, you could also argue that would legitimise professional journalists. beyond the NUJ card. This would be legally sanctioned journalists.  Yes, state sanctioned but it would give them rights and access above all others.  Especially the simply nosey or mad or worse still, those “Local nosey parkers with mobile phones

Given the attitude of the industry to regulation, the public and citizen journalism, be forgiven for thinking that many journalists  already consider themselves to be licensed already. I would imagine there are some who would welcome the differentiation.

 

 

Visible not critical: What next journalism?

I read a few interesting posts over the last few days. The first was I’m Glad We Didn’t Have Facebook or Twitter on 9/11.

That’s the real problem with attempting to make sense of 9/11 using social media: The former requires deep thought while the latter feeds on immediacy. Ten years and millions of articles after 9/11, we’re still trying to come to terms with what happened that day. We’re still sifting through the debris and our collective emotions in order to find whatever it is we lost, or to explain why things are the way they are now. I have a hard time believing 9/11 tweets or Facebook updates would have changed any of that for the better. And by now they’d be forgotten anyway, buried under 10 years of more shouting into the abyss.

The second was (a trail for) a piece in the press gazette by the Guardians Paul Lewis on the way the riots have proved the need for paid journalists

“Some people argued the digital era would see paid journalists replaced by an army of citizen reporters,” he said.

“The riots proved otherwise: people might consume news differently, but they still want it told straight, and by reporters on the ground.”

I found myself agreeing with both posts but was a little uncomfortable about that.

The 9/11 post made so much sense given the recent experience of the coverage of the riots on twitter. Not that I am, for one moment, equating the events. No, its more the position that the rumour and hearsay where dangerous, pervasive and perhaps even a distraction from more important stuff.

Perhaps Lewis’ point about the need for journalists in that is even more valid but that in itself makes me feel uncomfortable.

What next, Journalism?

I suppose I can sum up my discomfort in terms of a question. “Ok journalism,. What are you going to do next?”

If you are that important and social media needs your influence and control what are you going to do to keep your place at the table? Do we have to wait for another riot or MP’s expenses or wikipedia to prove that you are doing journalism? All great work but not a huge hit rate given the number of you out there.

Visible not critical

Of course the truth is that there are loads of journo’s doing loads of great things at every level. Really good journalism. But we don’t hear about them. At least we don’t hear about them because we are often too busy telling people why all the other stuff is not as good.

So maybe I feel uncomfortable because, whilst twitter would have had a roll to play the rumour and lack of facts would have been a nightmare. But maybe it would have been a necessary evil. Maybe it would have had to be there to fill a gap.

 

Community journalism or “Local nosey parkers with mobile phones “

Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud!

What’s that Andy?

It’s me banging my head against the desk…

There’s a story about the Beskpoke project on Hold the front page. I was interested in it as (full disclosure) my Uni is one of the partners in the project. Inevitably I got sucked in to the comments.

But just to put things in to context:

The project has been established to look at the issue of digital and social exclusion in the Fishwick and Callon areas of Preston.

Broadly speaking, the project has two parts. The first is for us to set up a team of community/citizen journalists who will report on the issues that are important to them and to their local community.

The second part of the project is centred on innovative design. Partner universities (Dundee, Falmouth, Newcastle, Surrey, and UCLan) will use the news stories, as well as other information gathered during the lifespan of the project, to design digital technologies that can meet the needs of the area. This collaboration between emotive, technological and functional design with hyper-local journalism is a ground-breaking exercise and, as far as we’re aware, has never been tried before.

Hold the Front page focus on the journalism aspect

The group of citizen journalists were trained as part of a project called Bespoke, a scheme that sees members of the public in Preston provided with flip cameras, mobile phones and journalism training in order to generate their own news stories.

Lots of comment but they are all of a type. One that stood out began:

Years of training, university degrees, shorthand classes ad infinitum.

And the reward? Local nosey parkers with mobile phones are netting page leads.

Given the usual anti-degree tone that pervades it was nice to see degrees get a mention.

Traffic Chaos continues:

So-called citizen journalism should not extend beyond a phone call or submission of on-the-spot footage to the nearest newsroom.

There’s really no such thing as citizen journalism outside of the egotistical “blogosphere”, populated by keyboard warriors and bigots who feel they can do a better job than anybody else at everything – especially the news.

Hmm. I think they actually mean that the term Cit-j has little or no meaning outside a limited circle of egotistical journalists. But everyone is allowed a view (except it seems local nosey-parkers!)

You wouldn’t call a citizen-MD would you?

Update: Jon Walker tweeted to suggest that the phrase MD related to managing director, not Medical doctor.

@ It's a small issue but I'm pretty sure that moaning hack meant managing directors, not doctors
@jonwalker121
Jonathan Walker

My response is Doh!

Of course you can’t mention Cit-j without a hackneyed and inappropriate comparison. Hacked off duly obliges

 

Can’t wait for the day they introduce Citizen MDs thus clearing out an entire layer of over-paid fools and replacing them with an entire layer of fools for free.

A great comment that:

a) conflates journalism with medicine –  because they are exactly the same aren’t they.

b) insults journalists as well as the apparent cit-j’s in such a short space – nice work!

The general tone of the comments is to wonder what impact this will have on the journos at the LEP. I don’t want to play down the plight of shrinking regional newsrooms for one minute. Or belittle those who lose jobs. But to see one as a cause of the other is a leap.

Room for all

About the same time that the LEP published it’s first newspaper (1886) my great-grandad borrowed money to buy his first house. He didn’t go to the bank, he went to the butcher. The local butcher! (We have the receipt to prove it.) Would the butcher have advertised that service in the LEP? Not sure. No doubt a local nosey parker would have told him. Oh and if that butcher had sold him a dodgy steak the chance are, nearly 60 years before the NHS he wouldn’t have gone to a doctor.

That’s how my great-grandad’s community worked. It’s how communities still work. Not on definitions of professional pratcice but on people who have the means and the skills doing the jobs that need doing.

My point to hacked-off and traffic chaos would be that there is a world outside the newsroom, full of people who do and discover in different ways. They’ve done it that way before you and they will do it that way after you. You only play a role in a community if you are part of it. Please don’t contribute to an attitude that means they chose to do it without you.

And here is that sentiment in morse code…

Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud!…

Pyramids and the shape of news

I saw a tweet a few days back from my good friend Paul (@digitaldocs).

If the news was a shape - what shape would it be?
@digitaldocs
PaulEgglestone

I replied that it was either a square or ‘a messy blob’

Thinking about it later I wondered why I didn’t immediately say pyramid. My immediate thought was box. So much for thinking outside of it!

Talk about burying the lead!

In that way the web has, I felt an echo of that as I read this article on the BBC website

Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

Perhaps it was the idea that new technology would unearth these monuments to an older way of life. Maybe it was the irony that these seemingly impervious icons of an older way of life would just dissapear without anyone knowing.

All that effort, all the reason for them being there in the first place, forgotten.

 

Playing to the audience

…in which I mangle a metaphor in search of a thought about the relationship between journo and audience.

Time was that when I was asked about the value of social media platforms like twitter for journos, amongst the reasons I would give is the capacity to build audience.

The value of the individual journalist as a brand in a networked world (in contrast to the large media org) is something I repeatedly bang on about. But the truth is that there will always be some intersection between the sole trader and the big media hubs. In fact the prevailing model seems to be that apart from a tight core of full-time staff, most big orgs will have a steady stream of freelancers in their orbit to keep their mass.

In that respect having an audience that already follow ‘brand you’ rather than ‘brand x’ is just as attractive to the big media orgs as it is your own work.

I used to liken this to the idea of being in a band.

Record companies, even venues, wouldn’t look at you without some proof that you had audience. Signing mailing list sheets, following on myspace and now twitter and Facebook are ways that bands tried to do that.

But a chat with my excellent colleagues clarecook and Robert beers and the recent blogging about guardian local got me thinking about the danger of taking that idea too far.

How long would a band have an audience if they didn’t listen to those fans? If they didn’t tell the fans where they were playing next or what they were up to?

Many journos still stick to the idea that communication with an audience should only be one way. Some will tell you it’s because of the problems with managing the flow (busy, busy people journos) whilst others will happily tell you that they have no interest in the dribbling rantings of a few nut jobs ( because anyone who uses the web other than them is a nut job).

Truth is that if the audience isn’t behind you, you have nothing.

You could argue that the best musicians do what they do regardless of what the audience wants. They are artists. I’ve got news for you. When it comes to the web you’re not an artist. You can’t create in a platform or hack away in a garret.

If you don’t nurture and talk to the audience then, in a world of pay-to-play journalism you’ve got nothing.

Increasingly the opportunities are there for those who look out in to the audience rather than those who point their sites in a singular dash for a job with the media mothership. The crowd is not just a means of getting you there. They are the measure of your success and integrity (not just other journos)

It’s a lesson that big media orgs could learn too. Stop thinking like a record company think more like a concert promoter. The days of being the big media ‘stadium acts’ are fast becoming numbered. Maybe there is room for a few headliners at the festival but the vast majority of people are here for the rest of the bill (the long tail!).

So maybe, in future, when I’m asked about the value of social media, I’ll still be talking about the value of audience. But maybe I’ll put the band metaphor to bed. Truth is the dynamics are being rewritten everyday, just like the opportunities, and they are being written on an individual level – no band required.

Why the man who tweeted Osama bin Laden raid is a citizen journalist (but why he might not care)

There of interest in @ReallyVirtual at the moment. Sohaib Athar an IT consultant in Abbottabad Lahore Pakistan. That’s right. The fella who ‘inadvertently’ live tweeted the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. I don’t need to say much more.

The way twitter responded to the event threw up some interesting areas to ponder.

  • How could a journalist new to twitter build a network that would key them in to this kind of thing?
  • How much the discussion on twitter must have been like a the discussion in the newsroom
  • How amazing networks are.

The way the network raised Athar in to the view of more than just his own part of the twitterverse is explored in an interesting article by Steve Myers who traces back through his own network to try and get to where Athar came from.

But it’s the followup article (whose title I hijacked for the title of this one) that caught my attention. Myers writes:

When I wrote earlier this week about how quickly people around the world learned that Sohaib Athar had “live tweeted” the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, I thought carefully before calling him a citizen journalist.

He was prompted to explore that further by an article refuting the claim that twitter has replaced CNN by Dan Mitchell.

Steve Myers of The Poynter Institute declares that Sohaib Athar, a guy who lives near bin Laden’s compound, is a “citizen journalist.” Athar, an IT consultant, wondered what the hell was going on when the helicopters arrived in Abbottabad. Because he wondered on Twitter, in real time, now he’s a “citizen journalist.”

Even Athar, who had 750 followers as of Sunday night and now has tens of thousands,knows this is ridiculous.

Indeed. Although I think Mitchell uses Athars tweet (below) a little out of context to suit his point.

I am JUST a tweeter, awake at the time of the crash. Not many twitter users in Abbottabad, these guys are more into facebook. That's all.
@ReallyVirtual
Sohaib Athar

All of the articles are worth a read. Myers deconstruction of Athar’s tweets is particularly good. But there is one thing that is ignored.  It’s alluded to. But never asked. Does Athar care?

Does Athar care that he is a citizen journalist or otherwise? Is it important to him.

Pondering that one just reinforces my view that the only people who have a problem with the phrase are the people who use it most – journalists.

I did tweet Athar to ask him if he thought he was a citizen journalist. I don’t expect an answer. His twitter stream make it clear that he’s very busy with interviews.

I suppose one thing you can say for certain in that whether or not he’s a citizen journalist he’s certainly a celebrity.

 

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Death Knocks

IMG_3176 Door Knocker
A really, really good post from Alison Gow recalling her first ‘Death knock’.  Not something you would look back on fondly but:

Today I contributed a content strategy, with particular emphasis on what sort of feeds we should consider aggregating and the level of showbiz news a user might require. Which might explain why I’ve been reminiscing about reporting days.

As Alison points out, the knock is an inevitability for reporters.

I’ve never done it (thankfully) but it was on my mind this week as well.

I was talking to the second years about using pictures from facebook as part of a chat around communities and the content they create (social media). One student said it would be better to ask the parents for a picture they could use rather than ‘steal’ one.  Of course the reality of that is ‘you have to go and ask them’. I asked them “Which would you rather do. Take the picture off facebook or go and do a death knock?”

In the intro to her post. Alison notes:

There are a few set questions anyone applying for a job in journalism gets asked at interview – among them is a request to summarise what they would do if Newsdesk sent them out on The Knock – which usually means a death knock.

Just to be clear. ‘Avoid it by getting the details from facebook’ is probably not the answer they would want.

Image from marlambie on Flickr

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