Does the lack of court reporting make shorthand a redundant skill?

shorthand sexism!

Interesting stuff coming out of the AJE conference today.  A summing up of the proceeding from the morning over on their website asks Is journalism deserting the courts? A good question and the research around it looks really good especially David Holme’s examination of the ‘marked decline’ in court reporting.

Which got me thinking…and this is me playing devils advocate…

I accept that there are some outlets that do court reporting very well; it hasn’t completly disappeared. But surely it’s now a specialist part of the reporting process.

Doesn’t that mean that one of the core reasons for banging on about the ‘essential’ and defining nature of shorthand is pretty redundant?

Image credit: Shorthand image from Sizemore on flickr

Updates and after mater:

Matt Wiggins posted about his experiences studying for his shorthand exam and got some useful comments on how the new format of the exam is going down with students.

David Higgerson mentioned this post in a post about the broader subject of the NCTJ VS. Universities debate. He picked up on a post by Roy Greenslade which challenged the NCTJ’s ‘right’ to dictate what was taught on Journalism degrees. Cue a meaty comments list with the usual mix of pompous and the positive. All of which, Dave thought, missed the important people in the debate – the students.

I commented that I thought students where at the heart of the debate after all, we all need them. We need students on courses (uni or otherwise). The NCTJ have a board of directors to pay so they need the fees. And the industry need the graduates with the right skills.  But I made no apologies for raising the debate. Without a contemporary discussion of this stuff how can students make an informed decision about whats right for them.?

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The challenge of a (university research) council website

ROCKVILLE, MD - OCTOBER 26:  Lab workers demon...
The newsroom of the Future?Image by Getty Images via Daylife

“Those ‘traditional’ consumers are joined by younger readers who prefer to find their news ‘unfiltered’ on the web. We are trying to serve both groups, and we are delighted with the enthusiasm that our new British partners bring to the effort.”

That from a press release for reported in

It’s essentially a website for Universities to publish research and news about their research. Why? Because…

In an increasingly complex world, the public needs access to clear, reliable research news. Futurity does the work of gathering that news. Think of it as a snapshot of where the world is today and where it’s headed tomorrow. Discover the future

A lot of this has a familiar ring. The claims sound a lot like the reasons why journalism is so important and the role of journalists will be vital.

But it also reminds me of the some of the issues that surround much of the ‘council newspapersdebate. These are organizations who should be open up to a bit of ‘filtering’ especially when there is public money involved . The content they put out should be open to scrutiny and question.

Of course this risks becoming a circular argument. If journalism was doing its job and reporting science properly then they wouldn’t need to do this.

But it also goes to underline what we already know but many media orgs seem to be unable to respond to; communities are using the web to tell their own stories.

In the case of it’s a community of interest (with all the self-interest issues that brings) but it’s just as common with hyperlocal communities of geography.

Whatever the motivation, is this the kind of thing that journalism needs to step up to?

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The price of transparency

The price of transparency is £5. At least that’s what it will cost you to see the whole of this clarification at the Northumberland Gazette.

£5 pounds will get you the full correction
£5 pounds will get you the full correction

Perhaps it’s an unforseen problem of paywalls or just an oversight on the part of the paper. But it does highlight an area for some rethinking. Particularly from the PCC who are supposed to regulate this kind of thing.

Due prominence

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

So says the Editors Code of practice from the PCC. There have been many ways that newspapers have dealt with this – more often than not in a corrections and clarifications section buried deep in the middle of the paper.

But I suppose we also need to start thinking about these things being buried deep behind the paywall. And if paywalls are the future then perhaps the PCC needs to think long and hard about the way it requires those at fault to say sorry and correct mistakes. It also made me think that we should all maybe pay a bit more attention as well.

Show me how good you are

If I am going to pay someone for this stuff then one of the things I should want to know is just how accurate their content is and how transparent they are.

I for one would like to see all corrections and clarifications made free and visible on all parts of media orgs websites before the paywall. That way I can make an informed choice.

Thanks to Josh Halliday for pointing this little gem out on Twitter.

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Are newsrooms the new starving garrets?

Antique Typewritter
Image by amos1766 via Flickr

I thought as a writer you could just get paid to write

I heard that phrase in the cafe to day as I was working on lectures for next week. It was a small group trying to get their heads round arts council funding and realising that despite all the agreements in place for minimum fees the money doesn’t match the reality.

It was obviously a frustrating reality for some of the group who realised that they can’t just get paid for what they do without getting involved in all the other aspects. You can’t just write the play. You have to involve actors and put the play on. A writer can’t exist in a vacuum

I felt really sorry for them.

It’s clear that the shrinking pot of money and the way the funding worked was forcing them to compromise at the expense of the professional standards (at least professional standard rates). Just because it’s the arts it doesn’t mean that you should do it for free.

It made me think about journalism.

It echoed a phrase I have heard repeatedly over the last few weeks: “people will pay for good writing” .It was always in the context of paywalls – the latest idea in funding journalism – and in my opinion its one the emptiest phrases I have heard in a while. The reality is that good writing, on its own, is not enough. There are other actors on the journalism stage now and  everyone needs to be writing to involve them.

The solution for the group in the cafe was to scale back on performances and start the painful process of finding match funding and sponsorship to offset the cost.  Key to that was the relevance to the community. The Police, council and other organisations are looking to fund writers and creatives who get in the heart of the community.  The idea that all the money would come from above is well and truly dead.  Much as the writers wanted the distance they couldn’t have it.

Sound familiar?

Are paywalls our arts council? Are the community our match funding? I don’t know.

One thing is certain. The reality of how we pay for this doesn’t match our professional expectations and definitions. Much as we would love it not to change it already has.

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ireport the death of newspapers

CNN’s ireport has posed an interesting question

Faced with declining readership and a worsening economy, many newspapers are grappling with whether to stop the presses. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News recently closed its doors, while the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is moving to an online-only format.

How does this affect you? Do you read the newspaper every morning over coffee, or do you catch up on the news online? Is your local newspaper still around?

Put your thoughts about the newspaper industry on video and share your daily news routine. Your stories could be featured on CNN.

The views sum up the general debate. Here are a few that have made it on CNN

Interesting stuff

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Hubris and journalism

I’ve been catching up with some reading (that “mark all as read” option only kept things at bay for a while).

I started with Alison Gows take on the an event at my Uni last week. Mark Skipworth, executive editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, came in to talk about the tele’s digital transformation. In the process he seems to have strayed off the path in to the ‘journalists are better than bloggers’ debate. His phrase – “No one tells a story like a journalist.”

Alison comments on the general feeling in the room.

Ouch, that’s a poorly-expressed phrase, I thought. Except it wasn’t – it was what he absolutely believed… with his next breath he went on to dismiss the ability of bloggers to provide quality, impartial reportage.
I think it proceeded along in this vein but the muttering around me had actually become more interesting than the fuddled point the speaker was labouring towards. (Which was, I think, that journalists are impartial and quest for the truth.)

A bit of a blinkered view. As Alison concludes,

If you believe only a journalist can tell the story then you’re closing your eyes, ears and mind to the millions of people out there who are telling their own stories

But you’d be forgiven for thinking that, in some quaters at least, journalism really is the about the art of not listening to people.

That was my immediate thought as I read. James Silver’s article on n Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s rude awakening to hate comments on a recent piece. Having recieved over 900 comments, some apparently very hateful, to an article called “Spare me the tears over the white working class” Alibhai-Brown is less that taken with the transparent nature of the web.

“I think editors were initially overcome by the openness of it all,” she says. “But the time has come for them to think about where this is going. There hasn’t even been the beginnings of a proper debate and there really needs to be.”

But one commenter on the story thinks this is a lesson newspapers need to reflect on

I think it may have opened a lot of newspapers’ eyes as to the level of frustration their readers have about some of what passes for journalism in their papers.

It’s a sentiment that echoes a splendid quote in the article from Rod Liddle

“Some readers always thought we were a pack of self-obsessed wankers. Now they have both the confidence and the platform to tell us what they think. And seeing their words ‘published’ on the internet, next to lots of other comments, seems to legitimise what they say and spur them on.”

I find myself agreeing with the sentiment. If your gig is to write stuff to get people spitting out their cornflakes then don’t be surprised if some of you targets spit back.  Don’t get me wrong, hateful stuff is out of order but ultimately you have a choice; Invest in good moderation (time and people), leave it open and let the crowd police itself (a brave waiting game) or close all comments and don’t engage with the audience.

The inconvenient truth is that, unfortunately the last option can’t and won’t stand for long. The door is open and to paraphrase Liddles view, the web puts the commentators and commenters on an equal footing. You have to get that right or you lose the respect of your audience.

All of which added an extra resonance for me to the  kerfuffle that has blown up around criticism of the Press Complaints Commission by the Media Standards trust. The PCC is the newspaper industries (self) regulation body and according to the MST it isn’t fit for purpose.  Martin Moore picthes the report  in broad terms on his blog.

You would be forgiven, as a member of the public, for thinking that the system was geared more towards protecting the interests of the press than the public.

The resulting war of words has already raised some interesting debate, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. But it seems that, in the national press at least, there is a real need to move on from the idea that “no body tells a story better than a journalist”. If the MST is to be believed, the public don’t think so and , as the Alibhai-Brown case shows, they now have the means and the motivation to tell them.

Print organisations will need to open source their systems: New year convictions

Cookie cut or good business? Network template CMS's - Picture from Flickr by Toucanradio
Cookie cut or good business? Network template CMS's - Picture from Flickr by Toucanradio

The second of my new year convictions is Print organisations will need to open source some or all of their content management system if they want to stick with corporate templates.

Why? Because it hampers attempts to upskill journalists and softens the brands that are supposed to be so valuable

Let me explain (ahh, go on.)

By corporate templates I mean the practice of centrally controlling websites and rolling out the same core design across all the group publications.  The most recent example of this that I’ve seen in the UK is the recent roll out of Archants new template.

The motivation for this practice, on the surface, seems pretty logical

  • A standard template ensures the brand identity is managed effectively

Brand awareness

Thats’s an intersting one for me.

I’m constantly being told that the brand value that the local newspaper has, the identity within the community, is key, unique in fact. So why spoil that with one size fits all websites?

I started the post with an example of the latest in a line of network templates take a look at the site below by comparison.

This is the website of the the Champion newspaper group who, apparently bucking the trend, have just announced that they are about to launch a new, free weekly newspaper in Mersyside

The Champ News
The Champ News

It’s worth a visit so that you can explore the whole thing. In particular take a look below the scroll and have a look at all the widgets and free things stuck in there alongside all the free hosted video (I recommend the Visit Southport video where all the grey sky has been replaced with wonderful blue)Not going to win any awards is it. I think it has a bit of charm but is way below par. That said is it any less navigable or useable then Archants new template?

IT and ads drive CMS not content

The other reasons for ‘network templates’ often given are:

  • IT provision is easier to manage if it is all in one place
  • CMS backends essentially render geographical control of the systems redundant

and finally and most importantly for newspaper groups

  • advertising and commercial activity can be managed, packaged and sold as a national concern across a network

What this really means to the people who are using the system is a response and development time, wildly out of line the assumptions of the constant news flow and demand for innovation in the industry. Put simply, if you want a dipity timeline or a youtube video, you can’t have one until we have rolled it out across the network.

It’s limited flexibility for least risk. That’s a lowest common denominator approach and it stifles creativity.

Limiting creativity

I could speculate on the reasons for this slow development mentality. Maybe it is technical. Maybe the systems are built to interface with the print systems which would baulk at anything other than text. Maybe the IT people don’t trust the journalists. But whether its the curse of print legacy system (and the models they sustain) or the cautiousioness of IT people. That’s not really the point.

What this limitation in the capacity for flexibility does is take any activity to take journalists forward with digital skills and puts a big ball and chain on it. A really frustrating, rusty, hulking printing press of a ball and chain.

I only need to look at the increase of twitter followers, new blogs and fresh faces that have appeared since christmas to know that journalists are really fired up about online. They love twitter and blogging and RSS. Once they get excited by slideshows or video or maps they want to try them.  The avalaunche of new apps that appear on the web news of which spread through their newly followed feeds appear as a tweet are the biggest most exciting toy box imaginable. They have stories they want to tell.

Then they go in the office and it grinds to a halt.

That great stuff they tried on their blog the night before needs a form signed in triplicate, a request to central support and good dollop of patience. By then the stories dead and a little bit of the excitment has died with them.

The tenacious ones will stick with it and innovate. They will eventually get Dipity or a Google maps through the system and approved for use and really fly with it getting much earned kudos and immitation. Others will bypass the system all together and use open source blogs and website tools to get their content across getting no less praise.

Open sesame

That’s why I say print organisations will need to open source some of their systems.

What I would like to see is more print organisations integrate open source software in to their networks and keep it open source. Not take it and ‘stitch it in’ removing all the functionality. That means they can benefit from the fast moving developments in the community and support the innovation where required.  I can’t believe that proper implementation of an existing system like wordpress or moveable type is no  harder to support than a ground up creation of a similar system or the heavy handed integration of many.

Better still some or all of the elements of a companies own CMS could be made opensource. Look at the benefits the BBC get through projects like Backstage.

Many will argue, and perhaps with some justification, that the innovation does get through and IT are responsive (I’ve been scrupilous in my efforts not to attack IT people here). But even if the space is there for the innovation that newly upskilled journos are bringing to the newsroom the ubiquity of ‘network’ templates does little to protect a brand.

Essentially there is no excuse not to be a little more open.

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Broadcast thinking will be the heart of successful print models: New year convictions

Not that TV model! Image from Flickr by C-Monster
Not that TV model! Image from Flickr by C-Monster

Yesterday I set out four new year convictions. Things that I thought where going to be important this year because, well, they had to be.

First was Broadcast thinking will be the heart of successful print models this year.

In the past I’ve been pretty hard on broadcast. I think they have been slow to embrace the possibilities of the web particularly in the context of news. On reflection I guess my disappointment with the broadcast media is framed as much in my frustration that  the print media didn’t embrace the advantage it gave them. But I still think broadcast are slow.

That said there are some elements of online development, most notably the development of the web as a platform, where the broadcast players are driving the agenda.  In that context I appreciate that I live in a country where all things broadcast are skewed by the BBC and that colours competition .  But I think it’s difficult to argue (though many will try – if you want to fill a lull in conversation with independent news execs just mention BBC innovation and sit back) that some of the BBC’s multi-platform activities have produced the “proof of concept “ that the rest of the media wouldn’t or couldn’t do. I’m thinking of the equally cursed and blessed iplayer in particular.  But this follows for the broadcasters outside the UK who have taken the web to heart as a platform.

I think Clay Shirky summed it up nicely when he talks about embracing the conversation, saying:

The question is who figures out the business model that says it’s better to have 6 million passionate fans than 7 million bored ones? That is going to be the transformation because what you see with these user groups, whether it’s for reality TV or science fiction, is that people love the conversation around the shows. The renaissance of quality television is an indicator of what an increased number of distribution channels can do. It is no accident that this started with cable.

And it’s that last point that is of particular importance to me when it comes to this particular conviction.

Let me sidetrack with a (very, very) brief history of broadcast

  1. Broadcast starts as a closed-shop; state broadcasters with large production capabilities.
  2. Then large, none-state, independent/commercial broadcasters appear with equally large production capabilities.
  3. Cable/satellite/multi-channel appear and change the economies of scale
  4. A steady influx of independent production companies appear, working across broadcasters benefiting from the changing economies

Let’s stop at that point

If I was to look at the print media at the moment, I think they are at step 3 after an extended period of step 2. And this is where there is plenty to learn from the broadcast model.

When I talk about a broadcast model I’m not thinking of the platform implications discussed above, important as they are, For me the broadcast model, particularly as it relates to the changes in journalism,  starts before that.  It’s about the way content is commissioned and produced.

Broadcast has always been good at recognising the need to bring in expertise. Originally it was about employing the talent, keeping it in house. But later, in the multi-platform world, it would be about commissioning that talent; People who had the knowledge and contacts to create the best content.

Opening up their model to a more transparent broadcast commissioning style of content creation is the biggest opportunity for those changing their model. They have to develop from the model of owning the talent to commissioning talent. Those that embrace that approach can benefit from having the best people and the audience they attract. The independent producers (perhaps a single journalist) maintain a level of authority and ownership. They can take their content to the open market (just as broadcast independents do). That creates a broader content economy that benefits all.

Of course things are not that shiny bright in broadcast.

The next steps in our little broadcast history go something along the lines of

  1. Though the number of channels grow, revenue shrinks. Commissioning budgets shrink with the knock on impact on independent producers. Quality suffers all round
  2. Independent companies follow the economies of scale and consolidate to super-indies
  3. Super indies take a stranglehold on production and garner more control over rights.
  4. Large broadcasters are relegated to participating in a bidding war for superindie owned rights they can’t afford.

You can colour round the edges with failed attempts at convergence and constant rows with independents and unions but that’s about where broadcast is now (Ok, maybe  they are stuck around point 3). Imagine those next steps played out in print world. Replace independent production company with journalist and it would seem the writing is on the wall.

But I think that we are at a turning point.  Done right, the commissioning model is sustainable because the platforms are more diverse but print can still have a sustainable business, smaller perhaps, but profitable because of the diversity. To seriously engage with the model print needs to start doing things a bit differently

  • Change its relationship with their freelance providers – stop treating them as faceless labour and start seeing them as value added.
  • Be more transparent with the sources of content – broadcasters have credits and a logo of the independent company at the end of their content, why doesn’t print?
  • Pro-actively commission – Broadcasters have slots and briefs for the programmes that they want. Print needs to do the same.  There is no better example of this than Dave Cohns model. A commission/marketplace model similar to broadcast.

If these things don’t change then the broadcast history will come to pass. We can already see signs of the superindie model appearing in the online territory print are trying to hold.  Print needs to adapt to make itself more attractive to those with the contacts and audience as the economy is fragmented by the platforms and the market becomes more fluid in favour of smaller independents.

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Social bookmarking in UK papers

Fellow UClaner Louise Thomas has published the findings of her research that looked at the use of social bookmarking. Plenty of interesting stuff

The type of bookmarks used also distinguishes the two groups, with links to sites such as Fark, NewsVine, MySpace and NowPublic proving much more popular among nationals than regionals.

While regional websites have a greater percentage of websites using the StumbleUpon (up 18.9% against nationals) and Facebook buttons (up 16.2% against the nationals).

And a nice slideshow of her finding.

Also, check out Louise’s other blogging activities at

This makes a nice companion piece to the ever excellent Martin Belam’s new series looking at social bookmarks