When is data journalism not data journalism?

When it’s data driven journalism….

I’m doing lit-review at the moment (this might sound academic but it essentially consists of me yellow-highlighter-penning-the-feck out of papers and journal articles) and I came across a little loop in defining data journalism that got me thinking, thanks to Wikipedia.

Look at wikipedia’s definition for data journalism and you before you begin you’re told:

Not to be confused with Data driven journalism

Look at data driven journalism and you’re told:

Not to be confused with  Data journalism

Oh and don’t even think about confusing either of them for database journalism.

Reading the definitions there’s a hint of why. Data driven journalism is one process of the broader practice of  Data journalism. Data journalism reaches outside of journalism to encompass data science and designers.

Does that mean that I can say that if I come from the school of thought that wants to play down (or distance myself) from the idea that data journalism is about output – visualization – that I do data driven journalism? Does the difference speak to philosophical/professional position?

Just get on with it?

In one sense I don’t have a problem with the distinction – it makes a kind of sense. I’m also sure many others won’t, dismissing it with the weary sigh that prefixes  ‘what does it matter what we call it, lets just do it’. 

As an observation, I have to say it’s stuff like this that really needs nailing down if data journalism (or whatever you call it) wants to be left alone just to get on with it.

One of the research papers I’ve read (it’s a great paper btw) suggests, is that “at least part of what is considered as forming the contemporary trend of data journalism mainly operates in the realm of discourse”.  In other words the idea of data journalism is not fixed.

One reading of that is that its a developing field and in that there is bound to be an element of evolution (in the Darwinian sense). Look at the wikipedia page for Computer assisted reporting:

It has been suggested that this article be merged with Data driven journalism. (Discuss) Proposed since October 2011.

You could argue that conceptually (in the minds of those just doing it) this has already happened. The CAR page, like many others on Wikipedia, will serve as much as an archive for the term, reflecting that, at one point, it was considered coherent enough of a thing to warrant it’s own page.  USeful for me as an academic but redundant going forward.

But you could also read it as making it up as we go along – that’s not very precision is it.


Elephants and MOWSUC’s – questioning the future of media

When I think about where media is going, I think about elephants.

For the longest time digital was the elephant in the room.

Now media, and journalism in particular, accept the elephant is there. So we don’t ask ‘why can’t we do what we’ve always done?’ (a: ‘coz theres a chuffin great elephant in the way!)

That doesn’t stop industry obsessing about the elephant.  So we get questions that tend to fall into two general types:

  1. Where did the elephant come from? see also , Who let this elephant in here? 
  2.  How do we get rid of this bloody elephant?

The answer to type one is easy. Who cares! It’s a moot point and I would say that if people are asking that question outside of an academic context, they know the answer and just don’t like it! Still, the question is asked .

The second one is more complicated and one that is still, if cryptically,asked with alarming regularity. But if you generally want to deal with and learn from the problems digital poses then the best approach is to take that other well known question: How do you eat an elephant?

The answer…a piece at a time.

If we think about where journalism and media is heading we know there is a direction of travel. What makes for success is less about being able to be responsive to changes in direction and more about changes in velocity.  Guessing where we are going is a finger in the wind at best. Knowing that at certain points we are going to be moving faster than others is a given.

Start-up culture 

In a digital world we see  lean, responsive, opportunistic, niche as parts of the start-up culture.  It’s been said a few times that the thing that makes sites like Buzzfeed attractive to investors is that they are a media company that behaves like a tech company.

But what I think really sets MOWSUC’s – media organisations with a start-up cultures – apart is that they ask questions. But they don’t ask the big questions they already know the answers to.

They ask hundreds of different questions everyday: What do our users like now? How did that work with the audience? What happens if we do that? If they like this, will they like that? Will this work on mobile?

These are all questions that traditional media ask (even that last one) but the key is MOWSUC do it in public, fail fast and move on, and their responses more often than not drive technological not institutional change.  Rather than obsessing about what’s happening around them, they get on with eating their pieces of the elephant.

That constant questioning is what presages the shifts in velocity. The more people asking and the more the answers the converge the more momentum they create. Then we get the sudden shift forward.

Missing the bigger picture

The criticism is that this is often a race to the bottom. Each MOWSUC, is slavishly tied to the fickle whims of a lowest common denominator audience.  It’s also seen a recipe for homogeneity: oh look another buzzfeed clone or another viral video site!

But the trick with many start-ups, is not that they are building another app in a world full of apps, it’s that they are concentrating on making their app the best it can be, regardless of someone else is doing exactly the same.  In other words, they don’t mind if someone else is eating a piece of the elephant.

Ultimately that’s what attracts investors to start ups in general and MOWSUC in particular. Even if they end up failing they have learned so much along the way there is inherent value in being inside and along for the ride.

I think that’s  most obvious in the high churn of people between MOWSUC. People move quickly between one company and another. Knowledge and experience in MOWSUC’s are just as viral as their content. 

Asking the right questions

So if I’m thinking about where media is going, I do think about questions. I think about an organization’s capacity to ask and adapt to the answers and the capacity to simple learn from rather than worrying about what others are doing.  Digital is a big elephant to eat.  Learn from the MOWSUC and just pick a piece to start munching.

Exploring the x,y,z of storytelling…

Warning: Thinking in process here. Sense may come later!

I spent some time last week talking to students about mapping. Practically we were looking at Google maps and storymap.js. But I spent a bit of time reinforcing how location is increasingly valuable in storytelling – especially as thinking about where as well as how people interact with your stories is becoming vital in a mobile/geolocated world.

Locating ourselves is easily done with a reference. Look at a map (or an image for that matter) and you can describe a point using lat and long or x and y.  That’s the heart of mapping stories and often the biggest part of getting a story located. Just look at the number of questions/solutions to converting postcodes to lat/long etc.

But, living in the real world,is it enough to simply scratch the surface?

If we think about an interactive map, whilst x and y give us the location to place the marker, the content we attach to that point, usually in a pop-up bubble,  can be quite rich.  But in the dynamic, content rich world of the web does that context equal depth? And, given the impact and engagement in images, is the benefit of location limited to a map?

Locating the user

I got to thinking about this question in more detail when we began to look at applications like Thinkglink and the Gigapixel option in Storymap.js.  These applications, just like a map, are location based but maybe we could think of them as a kind of hyper-geo-local.

Take this image of Hillsbourough:


It’s an image so we can ‘locate’ information on that image just as we could a map; the location of key witnesses; an entrance to a stand. We can also add some context to those points through interactive bubbles e.g a bio of that witness or who was in that ambulance on the edge of the pitch?

A simple x and y can place a user in a story just like a map

Adding depth

There is a limit to how much we can include on the surface of a map or image. So having orientated the reader in the scene, locating them in the story, the most common approach to leading them deeper into the story is to link back to more content. This expands the story across another axis; z or depth

Linking out adds depth to a story.
Linking out adds depth to a story.


In very basic terms I don’t think we are offering enough depth in a story online if we don’t link out. But its a common issue with interactive that they tend to be self contained. That’s changing but often this is not just about offering that depth just for context.

Anyone running a news site is well aware of the compulsion to pull people to their site and keep them there. Page views, time on site and internal referrals are all parts of the crossover between content and the business model. So in the commercial work and editorial world, depth is an essential dimension to cover.

A well structured site should be able to add depth
A well structured site should be able to add depth as a story develops

Stories don’t stand still

That idea of archive, or the growth of content around a running story is one that many media orgs have embraced at a very practical level. Topic pages on websites, tagging and related links all show that a story is not a finite thing and there’s value in tracking it’s development. That adds another dimension to our storytelling ; t for time.

We are probably more used to thinking about time in the context of time lines. The image above, for example, might be more obviously presented as:

Timelines locate a user in time
Timelines locate a user in time

I like timelines. They work really well when a story has a number of when elements. By thinking about the whole range of dimensions we can play with in storytelling perhaps we can find more interesting ways to place someone physically and metaphorically into a story.

Elements or dimensions

I’ll often say to students that thinking about the what, where and when of story will illuminate opportunities for new forms of storytelling; i.e. lots of locations in a story, maybe a map would better help people understand.  But maybe thinking about exploring other dimensions of stories is a more flexible way to think about the process.

In my mind (and after reading this you might wonder about the state of it!) asking how we locate people is a good starting point. If it is by time, a timeline is good, but if the timeline contains an image why not look at the locations and build out depth from there. Is that contextually stronger?

Multiple dimensions in storytelling
Multiple dimensions in storytelling

I realize that there are quite a few conceptual leaps here (or maybe not) but I wonder if  thinking about the x, y, z and t is a useful way to go. What do you think?

Refelcting on the #ODISummit

Over the last two days I’ve been in London getting my head around the Open Data community at the Open Data institute’s second Open Data Summit.(#odisummit)

I’m involved in an InnovateUK/Nesta funded project that’s looking at open data ecosystems that you need for open data to emerge and thrive, especially at a local level.

The summit was a great chance to do a bit of anthropology  – to get among the open data people and see just who they were. And, if the delegates at the Summit were anything to go by, what a diverse bunch they are!

The Monday was set as a training and discovery day. Training is one of the core parts of the ODI’s business; In just under two years they say they’ve trained nearly 700 people.  So it was interesting to see this as a more official part of the summit.  The subjects were pretty diverse from Law to how to bring up open data at parties – no really!

It was really useful for me , not just because I learnt a lot of new things e.g. open licensing is deceptively complex. It also helped me get a feel for the balancing act that seems to be a constant part of the open data community.

Open and Data

The crowd seemed to split for me between ‘open’ people and ‘data’ people. A lot of people were in the room motivated by openness. The power of transparency to do things better. That was often a strong ideological view, but there was also a clear commercial element here which I could best sum up as a passion for open innovation. The ‘data’ people in the room highlighted the technological and process bias; learning how to sift 6gb of data in 6 seconds or introducing a more structured, scientific approach to visualization.  Of course it wasn’t mutually exclusive. A lot of people worked the space in between.

The extent of that liminal space really showed itself in the second day as we decamped to the British Film institute  for the summit proper.

Reaching the data Summit

The day was bookended by a call to arms from the ODI founders. First Tim Berners Lee – cue lots of tech-crowd swooning – who thinks the argument for releasing data is at the same stage as the early web when it comes to the argument of what you put on the web.  He commented that it was “a syndrome of progressive, competitive, disclosure” that forced websites to offer their users more and open data will do the same.  

25 Years of the World Wide Web from Open Data Institute on Vimeo.

The other ‘end’ went to Nigel Shadbolt who sent the crowd away with ‘a data can save the world message’ underpinned by two common themes for data – Health (and it’s current poster germ ebola), healthcare.

Closing keynote: Sir Nigel Shadbolt from Open Data Institute on Vimeo.

The spaces in between were filled with government and private companies with good stories to tell around opening up and using data and a few tasty funding announcements (EU open data and heritage and culture). This seemed to be the general tone of the event – shiny happy data stories – as ODI CEO Gavin Starks said “the odi brings color to data”


One notable exception from the parade of open data case studies and lightening talks, was an onstage interview by Martha Lane Fox with Manchester teenager and EU Digital Girl of the year Amy Mather. It’s a testimony to the the attitudes that pervade in tech that the thing’s Amy said are seen as fresh and challenging . Amy was as much an example of the value of critical approaches to tech as tech itself and the interview is well worth a watch.

My reflections

It was a really useful two days for me a few points struck me:

Open data (and the ODI) walks a really fine line between ideological and commercial concerns. That seems like a really tricky balance to get especially if you stress the ‘good’ that open data can do and ally yourself to the broader open government agendas. The ODI’s take seems to be to ‘nudge’. Just one open data set from a company or stakeholder is a good thing.  Nudging is great but, as one speaker noted, the open data industry needs radical innovation not small steps.

A lot of open data business relies on the work of others. There seem to be a lot of open data businesses complaining that they can’t succeed because someone else needs to produce data. Shadbolt’s final talk referenced a number of healthcare comparison sites from the US seemingly bemoaning that fact that we could have this if only we had the data!  Somehow not being open is anti-competitive. I can see the business case in that (it’s a supply chain issue). Some speakers from government actively recognized and embraced this – Government’s Digital Director Mike Bracken noted that he saw his job as doing the hard work for others.  But the this reliance on external sources  does make me wonder about the long-term robustness and viability of this space if it’s core business is built on the expectation that others will give them raw material, and I could add for free here but…

Free is one of the most divisive words in open data: Just ask a room full of open data people what free means and see what I mean.

Open data often confuses process with impact: Will Perrin from Openly local had a combative view on the focus on technical standards and the idea that open data is defined by it’s delivery method rather than it’s utility for users – especially when when put against the ‘it makes the world better for people’ claim.  He said: “Putting an API on open government data is fundamentally undemocratic”. He asked delegates not to think of data first but bring the problem that data could solve. In that respect open data is a lot of people with hammers looking for nails.  In a similar context I also noticed that the phrases customer and citizen were interchangeable (even Will did it). Just words but (like fee) very loaded ones that need careful consideration.

The Open data community is like the foreign aid community: Some of the best, simplest examples of open data I saw came from working with (developing) countries developing open government. It’s easy to see how the combination of technology, transparency and engagement works across the boundaries. Its a seductive and satisfying justification for open data advocates. But once there is an open data capacity there, it seems some very ‘first world’ problems creep in (and a fair share of consultants).  If the ‘doing good doing open data ‘ rhetoric is going to have value then, for me, the question of how open data activities manage the transformation from an ‘aid’  model to ‘opening up markets’ model strikes me as a key part in it growing up.

All in all it was valuable and entertaining few days. I really enjoyed it but didn’t get a clear sense of who the community was. Maybe that’s not the point. There was clearly strength in that diversity and one that makes open data really interesting and engaging.

Here’s a list of the ODI’s output from the days:

Full disclosure: I got a rather nice t-shirt, lots of nice stickers and had some nice food and beer at the two days.  Thanks ODI!

Ebola Zombie image hoax: A useful reminder of the value of reverse image search

Update: This is an insanely popular post on my blog in terms of people searching for ebola zombie. Even if the picture wasn’t the thing that made you search for Ebola Zombie, I think I can say with some certainty that any report you’ve read of ebola zombies is false.  

I was casting an eye over my twitter feed today when I saw this from @TheMichaelMoran:

It links to an article with the headline “Ebola Victim Rises From The Dead In Africa, Fear Of Zombie Apocalypse”. It’s all kinds of wrong and, trust me, you don’t need to click through.  In fact if you happen to know the person who wrote it, for all kinds of reasons, they really should get (at the very least) a shouting at.

It’s staggering how powerful these linkbait engines are with shit like this. The social amplification alone on this means that I’m pretty sure that, want to or not, you’ll get a sense of this in your feeds at some point.

Of course, it’s been spotted by a number of people including, I discovered after a quick search,  Gawker who featured it in their Anrtiviral feature last week.

But…and I really must stop thinking about it because it’s very, very depressing…it serves as a useful exercise in image checking. which I’m sticking-up here as reference for students for two reasons.

The first, and it’s a bit of side issue, is to note the filename. In this case it’s third-ebola-victim-africa.jpg .  Yes.You can SEO your images!

The second is, as much as anything else of the usefulness of reverse image searching:

So the image:



Is actually a mashup of this, from (world war z)

and this mask, from make artist Jordu Schell at http://www.schellstudio.com/

And the easy way to find out…


  • Go to https://images.google.com/
  • Click the little camera icon
  • Use the URL: http://www.celebtricity.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/third-ebola-victim-africa.jpg

You have to work a little harder with Google’s reverse image search. But it gets you there and it often has a little tidbit of something to start a trail when TinEye has no results.

Elite Media trolls, banter and journalism

The Guardian’s James Ball has an interesting , and suitably search-bait-headlined, comment on internet trolls that’s worth a read.  The last par is the kicker:

The transformative promise of the internet was that it would shift control of the media agenda away from an elite group of editors to the public as a whole. At the moment, we risk merely shifting from the agenda of elite editors to that of elite trolls. Surely we can do better than that.

If you want a definition of trolls then James has that covered too –

tiny groups of – let’s just say it – arseholes are swarming our cultural coverage

I agree that the idea that internet would move power from the media elite is being challenged. But I’m not sure that power is being shifted. I worry more that the media is shifting itself into the same space as the troll elite (in some cases taking on its behavior or, as James suggests, at the very least feeding it).

Social media is now the ‘audience’ as far as journalists day-to-day experiences are concerned. I think that’s why some struggle with trolls, especially the idea of ignoring them. They confuse trolls with the audience because in terms of a journalists perspective through social media, they are there audience.  It’s a vicious circle. Attention is attention.

I also look at my social media feeds and I see a lot of media, trolling media. I see journalists on some media sites taking swipes at other journos. I see articles that reference or can be traced back to ‘banter’ (I believe this is what we have to call it these days) on social media. Of course, the swipes are more often than not good natured and this is nothing new.   Hell, the Daily Mail is the biggest troll the BBC has ever had!  But the insular nature of the debate – fleet street/media gossip –  isn’t confined to the columnists  or the editorial section anymore. The elites/cliques and communities are more visible and vocal. In the same way that journalists might see social media as the audience do social media see that as journalism?

So as I look through my feed and follow stories like gamergate etc. I  finding myself asking, How much of that elite trolling is being done by elite media?

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that journalists create/welcome/deserve trolls. I know there is a difference between trolling and ‘banter’ and that ‘banter’ is a broad church that covers some pretty shitty behavior. Trolling is something that needs some serious and fundamental thought in newsrooms – its about feeling safe when you work.  But I think it might be a little too easy to see trolling/banter as an aberration or something necessarily separate.

I’m thinking about this a fair bit at the moment as I start the year’s teaching thinking about where social media fits into their journalism. James’ piece made me wonder that faced with a bunch of students who are active and established users of social media (where, take it from me,  the public ‘banter’ is pretty robust)  I should really be thinking about getting it the other way round: Where does journalism  fit into their social media? For many of them, that’s their experience of journalism as a consumer, it’s perhaps the first experience of many of the next generation of news consumers.

How we behave online as journalists just gets more complicated  the more we do it.  Interesting times.





Come and work with me teaching digital journalism

Yes it’s Jobs news. No not that Jobs! (oh and there’s no laptop included, Sorry!)

I’ve got some interesting projects on the go this year (more on that in coming months)  so I’ve got a bit of breathing space in my teaching.  The result is that there’s a job going at my place to teach digital journalism.

It’s a fixed term contract and 0.5 but it’s a great chance to get some teaching under your belt (and work with some good people).

You can check out the job at the uni website. Follow the link for vacancies, check Academic and it should be in that list.

I would give you a direct link, but our job website is doing odd security things (apparently to stop unscrupulous jobs site scrapers) so details below if you want to know right now:

Job title: Lecturer in Digital Journalism

Job reference: REQ001252

Date posted:05/09/2014

Application closing date:14/09/2014

SalaryGrade H £34,233 – £39,685 (Starting salary unlikely to exceed £34,233)

Job category/typeAcademic

Job description

The School of Journalism and Media is seeking to appoint a Lecturer to teach digital skills across its programmes.  Experience of working in industry as a journalist or content creator at a senior level is essential, as is experience of teaching in higher education. Experience of managing content across digital and online platforms is desirable.

Applicants should have a first degree or equivalent professional qualification and a higher degree in a relevant subject or the willingness to work towards a higher degree.

Applicants need to meet all essential criteria on the person specification to be considered for interview. This is based in Preston.

School/Service: School of Journalism and Media

Hours: Part Time (0.5 FTE)

Basis:  Fixed Term Contract (8 months)

Interview Date: To be Confirmed

Job Description / Person Specification

Helpful Hints For Applicants


Picture by  Matthew Yohe from Wikicommons

An updated timeline of journalism in a digital age.

Early last year I updated my timeline of journalism events in a digital age and I thought it was time to take a look and see what needed to be added.

So I’ve updated it including the following:

  • I’ve added the appearance of Buzzfeed in 2006: Who knew that this viral startup would be thought of the ‘preeminent media company in the future’.  I’ve also added the $50 million dollar investment from earlier this year.
  • The NSA leaks story:  The reach of this story makes it a defining moment for me.  It’s a story that brought security and net neutrality into the newsroom with some excellent (and innovative) storytelling along the way.
  • Jeff Bezos buying the Washington post – media buyouts don’t often break the mould but Bezos putting up $250million of his own money is an interesting one for me.  The fact that it’s the man behind Amazon – considered by many a successful online company  with experience in many of the areas where the media is playing ‘catch-up’.
  • Leaked NYT innovation Report – media orgs will fall on any intel on the industry and their competitors but this leak to Buzzfeed (there they are again) of an internal review of the NYTimes’ digital efforts was as notable for it’s view of who the competition was as it was it’s candid material.
  • The murder of James Foley: Many journalists have died in the process bringing us news from warzones. But the way the video of Foley’s death surfaced and the ensuing debate around how we shared the news (and the video) speaks to the changing way we view news and conflict.

I’m sure there are more and I’m sure that there are some that aren’t so US centric so I’d love to hear your views on what should be included.


Steve Matthewson Head of Business Professional Networks at The Guardian suggested including the closure of the News of the world. I’d considered it but it didn’t feel ‘digital’ enough. However, Steve makes a good point.

So I’ve included it!

Twitter user @sms2sms suggested a number of inclusions, including Flash!

I thought that was a great idea. Even if it was there as a motivation for people to create an alternative, I think Flash has shaped the way we tell multimedia stories online. So it’s in.@sms2sms also suggested Rocketboom, another good idea that’s now in.

American Univ Journo prof Andrew Lih offered:

I’d never heard of it but remember the later ‘clicks and morter’ attempts later on. This is a gem of an example and well worth an inclusion. Also worth a read is John C. Speer’s disseration on the subject.

Am I responsible for a shitty freelance market?

Yesterday I posted about using Medium as a platform for my second year students. In passing I mentioned that Contributoria also looked like a good bet. That led to a brief exchange with Sarah Hartley (editor at Contributoria) which also included Leeds Met uni lecturer Karl Hodge, about how the process of pitching to contributoria could be included in teaching.  That lead to this from freelancer @digitaldjeli (whose website on news from Africa and more  I can recommend btw.)

A fairly lengthy exchange followed which I found a bit frustrating and ill-tempered (I actually said ‘rude’ at the time). I’m sure digitaldjeli thought much the same of me.  But it was food for thought and I wanted to get down a couple of points down. (Yes, it’s my blog and I can ruminate if I want to)

Looking back, the conversation seemed to touch upon a few broad, interrelated points:

Journalism courses (encouraging students to pitch) skew the market  

I wasn’t sure who or what that original tweet was aimed at, so I asked digitaldjeli if it was the fact that it was students pitching:  

I’m not really sure that I like the distinction between students and journalists here.  I expect that mine are both. Or for that matter that all students are carefree with no responsibilities.  As to whether it’s courses like mine that are adding to the weight of the hammer I don’t know.

A brief look through of the figures suggests that there would be around 14-16,000 people studying journalism and information related degrees in the UK( a guesstimate based on figures from the OECD).  That’s not taking into consideration NCTJ type courses etc.  But let’s also factor into that the industry redundancies. Estimates put job losses in papers alone at the 8,000 mark (that was a few years ago). I’d say there were more journalists entering the market than students. But, being fair, across the industry as a whole,  that’s a lot of people that could be fighting to be heard in the freelance market.

All of which suggests a broader point I heard echoed in digitaldjeli’s tweets:

The freelance industry is a in a shitty state, please don’t make it worse

It’s easy to see how that point connects with the first – it can’t support the people already in the market so why flood it with more. In that respect I think it’s appropriate to question if offering the courses we do is unfair on everyone, including those students on a course who might expect to make a living; asking who is taking the risk. But taking the industry as a whole we aren’t great at being fair.

I can be generous and say it’s competitive. But the truth is that people will take whatever edge they can to get ahead; everything from dropping a name, leveraging a contact, citing past employers on bios or paying for a course.  Healthy competition is OK and the great thing about the web is that it means players like contributoria can explore ways to help broaden (and maybe flatten) the playing field. But plenty of people will exploit that. It’s as likely to be a dodgy internship as much as a training course that exploits or closes a door on broader opportunity.

I recognize that the compulsion to analyse the industry and its models to understand sustainability isn’t one that stops with the mainstream parts of the industry. Journalism education and training, in all its forms, is just as much part of that process and  it’s right that we should feel that pressure and be held to account.  The vast majority of people I know in the edu/training sphere care and worry very deeply about that.

I’m certainly not comfortable with the idea of us essentially ring fencing certain aspects of what is essentially an economy; barring one element to protect another. If we do that we have to get into the idea of what makes one lot a journalist and another not. (good luck with that but I really don’t care for the distinction). But maybe a shift in perspective doesn’t hurt.

Expectation or responsibility

It seems that the last 10-15 years of the journalism industry are defined by the concept of expectation. An expectation by some that life will continue, untroubled as it always has. An expectation that the web will make things better. An expectation that there should be special treatment or exceptions made.  I’ve always seen a big part of my job as managing and informing expectation so that people can make informed choices.  But one result of the conversation has been to get me thinking about responsibility. Where does my responsibility for this begin and end?

There doesn’t seem like there is going to be much settling down in the media landscape any time soon and it’s certainly not going to get flatter (or fairer). Asking how we can be more responsible in cultivating that landscape seems a more positive one than finding ways to deal with a set of increasingly conflicting expectations.

The right Medium for student work

I’m in the process of finalizing my course/module  descriptions for this year. In one of my second year modules – the digital landscape –  we are asking the students to produce a piece of multimedia reporting (the other assignment is to work in groups to pitch a media related start-up idea).

I’m pondering the way I get them to ‘submit’ that work.  My gut feeling at the moment is to get them to submit to Medium.

What about a blog?

Across all the digital stuff we do, students are encouraged (or compelled depending on your point of view) to start a blog.  All do and some keep it up. So their own blog is one option. Put work on the blog and then give me the links.

But experience has shown me that often the students will only engage with their blog at the point at which they begin to work an an assignment. That raises two issues:

  1. They don’t really engage with blogging: Some might say that in a social media world blogging is less valuable. I disagree. But I’m also nervous of making it a requirement to blog as it, well takes us back to the main problem of why they are ‘using’ a blog.
  2. Some students will take the position that, because I have asked them to submit on the blog, I’m responsible for telling them how to use a blog.  I become defacto tech support. In principle that’s something I don’t mind but, in general Google faster than me for basic ‘how do I add a link questions’.

We also have a content management system within the department based on Escenic. It’s great and robust but, for a number of reasons, not public facing.  That makes it hard for them to promote their work on Social media. They can link out but not in. I know, I know but there are reasons OK!

In and off the media landscape.

For this module in particular I want the students to engage with working in the broader media landscape. So I’m trying  to balance giving free reign to publish on any platform against the demands for public interaction against practical demands.  Hmmm.

My current thinking is based around the following

  • Restricting choice: It sounds bad I think it would be useful to make a decision that will practically and technically  suit 99% and negotiate with the 1% that want to push the envelope.
  • Visibility of content: Picking a platform for their content which already has a strong(ish) content base will give them something to compare/aspire/compete with.

Bearing all of that in mind, Medium feels like the right choice. I’d very much like students to be doing more with their work.  I’d love them to pitch to sites like Contributoria – and if Contributoria had an open submission (not a criticism at all) then it would be a great alternative.

But as it stands medium seems to have a workable input system. Not too shy of multimedia and there is a ‘content network’ element which I think would be interesting for the students to explore. This is not an either/or situation. Students will still be expected to have blogs and there are other places in the course where design or ‘code’ are more suited. But I’d be interested in what others think.

 After-matter and notes: I should note that when I say submit we do have a process here by which I get students to submit the text of their articles so that we can run them through plagiarism detection software.

After tweeting a link to this post a few people added their thoughts:

Tom Rouse from  echoed my thinking:

Nick Petrie from the Deputy Head of News Development &  also liked the idea

adding that medium simplifies things for them. Daniel Bently from @circa did note the limitations of some of the embedding option, but liked the challenge

Siraj Datoo, Political reporter at BuzzFeed UK, was a bit uncomfortable with having student work online:

 I think there’s a valid point there. Often, for very good reasons, a piece of work may not reflect what a student is capable off. I think we could manage that and there is always the option to remove the work when it has been marked. Siraj also made a good point about the way medium uses social media (twitter in particular) to promote your work. I don’t mind that challenge. I think its good for students to consider the social media impact of their work. Alex Howard, columnist  , made a good point about taking a more fundamental approach:

I have some real sympathy for this approach but in the context of this module it’s outside the learning outcomes. But not for other parts of the course.  One reservation I do have is asking students to pay. That’s not a general issue – it’s what pays my mortgage. But this would be paying specifically to submit an assignment.  Still, Alex makes a good point when he notes…