The role of universities: the carnival of journalism lives!

It’s new year so let me indulge in a little bit of wishful thinking:

Im imagining that my local weekly newspaper, owned by a large media group, comes up for sale (or they are in a mood to be persuaded to sell). I manage to get the university to put their hands in their pockets and buy it lock, stock and barrel. I staff it with the nearly 200 journalism students in our department. I get the marketing students and management students to handle the commercial side – sell ads etc. The computing and design students build and develop my site to include audio and video created by the boradcast journmalists and numerous media related courses.  The law department help with the legals and all the profit gets pushed in to the community ( the university is a charity after all!)

This dreamy-eyed wishful thinking was prompted by an email from (digital)Dave Cohn of spot us fame, announcing the revival of a little endeavour from years ago – The Carnival of journalism.

You can read Dave’s description of just what the hell this carnival thingymabob is . But in brief it’s a kind of curated, collective ‘think’ about a subject that changes each month.

This months topic :

The changing role of Universities for the information needs of a community: One of the Knight Commission‘s recommendations is to “Increase the role of higher education… hubs of journalistic activity.” Another is to “integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.”

Okay – great recommendations. But how do we actually make it happen? What does this look like? What University programs are doing it right? What can be improved and what would be your ideal scenario? Or is this recommendation wrong to begin with? No box here to write inside of.

For those of you not familiar with the Knight foundation, it’s a US, philanthropic organisations that invests in projects and individuals who are challenging, developing and changing news. Something that I’m intensely envious of over here in the less philanthropic UK.

The fact that we don’t have a Knight foundation (and outside of notable investments by some companies, I don’t think we ever will in that form) doesn’t diminish the impact a lot of what Knight has funded on our thinking in the UK.  Knight projects have often served as totems for the big concepts in digital journalism – crowd sourcing and funding, link journalism for example. I’m sure the next round of projects they fund will see a slew of data journalism related ideas to match the explosion of interest in that area. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that outside the specific references to states etc., the general assumptions they express are ones that would chime with a UK audience.

The role of universities

Unpicking the general premise doesn’t just cause me to daydream, it also raises some really interesting questions and, for me it comes down to two distinct areas.

  • What role can universities have in increasing digital literacy?
  • What role do j-schools have in a changing media landscape?

The first one is an easy: A vital one. In that sense it’s the same one we have always had; preparing students for the world outside of education. But a special case could be made for universities and digital literacy.

In the UK, the last ten years have seen a concerted effort (by the last government at least) to put more young people in to university. More students than ever engaged with higher education and the numbers of undergraduate grew and grew. At the same time, the web went mainstream and has continued to grow at a massive rate. the result? A generation of students experiencing ‘digital’ for the first time, at university.

We couldn’t look to there experiences at school as a base on which to build their digital literacy. Students had to learn as they went. We were all trying to assimilate things like Google and search. We all had to work out how to manage the fallout when students interactivity with Facebook went wrong. We all knew a time before Wikipedia made ‘plagiarism’ commonplace. We all learnt together.

This coming September will see, what i think, will be the first cohort of proper digital natives through our doors. They will have had some time to assimilate digital in to they way they work and live, across platforms. We can honestly start to look across their whole education and expect to see digital run through it. Everyone has a stake. So what role for universities now?

Critcial or employable?

Many would say that it is for universities to ensure that our graduates understand how to be more critical; to see the broader context and impact of digital not just the personal (selfish) benefit. Knight allude to that in their views on digital literacy. In a more uncharitable frame of mind I might say that what many would like to see is a form of benign indoctrination to the primacy of traditional media output….

You could also say that it’s for us to teach students to apply that critical and practical knowledge to a specific discipline – to prepare them for work in a digital world. That last expectation is one that, as a j-prof, I feel most pressure to meet and it takes me to the second element – the role of j-schools.

Experience has shown me that much of the expectations of j-schools comes from industry and it tends to be driven by what they need right now. (even if thats not what’s right) That makes them no different from any other industry a student may enter from uni. They want something of value to them – a useable employee or a working business model. So there is an expectation that we will use our time moulding students and focussing our research to areas that are industry relevant. A not unreasonable position to take for a vocational trade such as journalism.

The underlying tension there is that the expectation often comes with little or no respect for the critical element of what we do. Many have no time for those that think about journalism, only those that do it. It’s very much a case of  “don’t tell me what I’ll need to do in a years time, tell me what to do now”.  Industry relevance is reactionary.

Filling the gap left by traditional media

But there is also another, creeping, expectation coming from outside the media, born out of the social responsibility many ascribe to education, that the Knight foundations statement amplifies. J-schools could or maybe should be there to fill the gaps left by the media. The insinuation being that where large media orgs have failed, specifically in the area of community engagement, somehow we are best placed to replace them. Somehow, it is our responsibility to replace them.

Do I agree with that? In some respects it doesn’t matter, it’s happening.  But I do think that the consequences could be interesting.

I return to my little daydream. I think that it ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to engagement and community. It also ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to the vocational side of what we do. But I’m pretty sure that it would also have the editor of our local daily on the phone, crying foul, before the first paper hit the streets.

So, when the whole area of unis ‘responsibilities’ comes up for debate we need to ask: Are we playing our part or are we filling a gap? If we’re filling a gap then should we be sensitive (commercially or otherwise) to those who left the gap in the first place?

After all, if we do our job in the general area of digital and media literacy, what story do we have to tell to our students and what is the traditional media role in that?  Will the digital literacy that Knight sees as vital for communities open their eyes to just how badly the media, not education, has let them and their community down?

Note: In writing this I want to make a few things clear. There are no plans to sell (or buy for that matter) our local weekly.  These are my views, not the universities. Lastly I followed my own little rule of not reading any of the Carnival posts already up on the site. So if this one repeats others, I’m sorry you had to read it twice!

Free tips for successful newsrooms

The journalism carnival is back in town and, as has become the tradition, the ringmaster suggests a topic. This month Will Sullivan posed this question

What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization? (Yes, we’d all like to swing in our newsroom, lay some boot heels on chests, hoist the black flag and change everything by the end of business on Monday — but the reality is, that ain’t happening unless you have a couple buckets of cash to buy a paper of your choice and a rusty sabre.) So what are some realistic, real-world examples of free (or cheap) ways you can help fuel change at your newsroom.

It’s a good question and already the tips are rolling in.

I suppose one of the down sides of going late on a post is that many of the best things have already been said.

A lot of the posters have picked up on the idea of failure; not being afraid to try things that end up not working. Permission to fail is something I’ve talked about before and increasingly I think it’s a lesson that the media is not willing to learn. Is it a climate of fear or a slavish devotion to the daily stat that means everything has to win? Are they more afraid of risk than failure? Whatever it is it seems we are still in an industry that is on course to consume itself as it swaps innovation for a wait till someone else does it attitude.

But hold on Andy. Stop having a go and give us some tips.

Kit loans

Before I get too far on my more structural high horse tip wise I wanted to suggest a really practical one based on my particualr area of interest, multimedia.

How about a subsidised scheme for reporters/journalists/photographers to buy kit. OK, it isn’t free but I’m not talking big cameras. Make it a  choice of dictaphone or digital stills camera.  Offer a loan towards the price of purchase and a payback through salary but make it clear that the kit is theirs not property of the company. Putting a stills camera in the hands of reporter or a dictaphone in a photographers pocket will up the multimedia stuff you get. This stuff is journo kit 101 now. Any indivdual journo knows that they should have this stuff but don’t expect them to buy it and subsidise your operation. Meet them half way.

Then give them some time to play on this kit – maybe snappers showing journos how to frame a shot in return for interview tips. In fact give them playtime full stop.


I’ve said this over and over again , make some time, even if it’s just an hour a week for your staff to play. Try the web, join a club, anything that gets them out of the run of the daily grind and in a different mindset. But one thing I would add is that this is not just the responsibility of the management to make the space. Individuals have to use the time to play, not to go home early.

That attitude adjustment is an important one because everyone involved in large media organsiations needs to realize that whilst the value of the large brand is going down the value of the individual journalist is on the increase – sorry, have you seen audience/circulation figures lately. Giving time for journalists to invest in their identity is staff development and an investment that will pay you back. The only thing that will happen if you don’t is that they will go elsewhere and take all their personal brand equity with them.

And if all of that sounds a little esoteric, not the real world tips that Will was asking for, then I present my evidence in the form of the bloggers in the Carnival but better still look beyond to the Twitterverse and social networks. Here in the UK you can look at  Jo Geary, Alison Gow, Sarah Hartley, Dave Berman, Louise Bolton and there are loads more (can’t include you all).

These are all individuals passionate about journalism and what that means. So much so that they stay in industry and innovate. But they do that by teaching themselves, putting themselves out there and learning new stuff everyday. What’s the best they can hope to get for their effort? Copied.

It may be the sincerest form of flattery but it ain’t a business strategy.

Giving a little space for more people like them to find their feet does work. Just ask them how much more they would be doing with even a bit more headspace.

Take a risk

Whilst I’m in a tip mood try this one which involves a risk. I’m not going to explain myself on this. I just wonder whether anyone else will think that this might work:

  • Start some communitity forums, then leave them alone for 6 months. No rules, no moderation. Get journos to participate but as punters. Be there but don’t control. See what you have after 6 months.

Journalism – a legal definition

It’s carnival of journalism time again and this month Doug Fisher is in the chair. As has become the form over the last few carnivals Doug has suggested a topic:

What changes will need to be made in national and international legal systems to help the digital age, and especially journalism in the digital age, flourish?

A tough question but , as Doug points out, a good one given the multinational membership or the traveling J show.

Of course I’m kicking myself that I didn’t remember the carnival was due before posting two posts about legal issues. Also, thee issue of copyright/fair use has already popped-up in the Carnival.

So my thoughts turned to the mechanical stuff that UK journo students get rammed in to them from day one. The stuff that they have to do and know because that’s what being a journalist is.


The one that really struck me was contempt of court – Editorially tripping yourself up in the run up to a trial or during is one of those things every journo fears. So much emphasis is placed on getting court reporting write in the UK that many still insist that a journalist can do shorthand. No recording devices in UK courts you see. In fact getting your notes wrong can be a big issue for everyone in your organisation.

Without getting deep in to the guts of contempt (my snippet of copyright law is all you get this month), one of the tests for contempt (well strict liability contempt) is Proximity. What chance is there that a juror or anyone else involved with the case would see content that could predjudice the fair outcome of the trial.

In the days of newspapers and even TV this was less of an issue. After all how likely is it that someone sitting on a jury in one part of the country would read a paper from another?  But it doens’t take a law degree to see how the web would make a bit of a mockery of that.

And the implications don’t just stop there. On a global platform, how do you protect yourself when you report what is going on in another part of the world?

Global reach

What do you do if you find that someone from your patch is accused of a crime in, say, Australia? You could still find yourself in contempt. In the US things are a little different thanks to the first amendment but contempt – even with (by UK standards) an open court system – can still be an issue.

Now I’m not saying that the law around contempt should be tightened up and god forbid that we should encourage a worldwide meeting of lawyers to hammer it out – if they can’t do climate change then… well you know what I mean. And, like I said, you don’t need a law degree to work out that this is an issue.  But it is clear that learning all this multimedia stuff is going to be the tip of the iceberg – hyperlocal, local, national or international.  And it’s going to be frustrating.

But if you think it’s any different for bloggers, well we know that’s not the case.

And this is where it get’s problematic. Time was a journalist could find themselves in contempt because they where the only ones who could. They where the only ones who could publish. Now that anyone can publish everyone is, or should be, equally at risk.

Journalism – a legal definition

Contemp, like so many other laws, is a law that was made for another world. But the growing issue is now how any law that used to only impact on journalists is being applied (or not) across the board to those who publish.

And that’s where I think we could look at what happens internationally.

Perhaps we need to look harder at the distinction between citizen and journalist. Individual and profession. Individual and organisation. Not because it means managing an elite club but because it’s actuallydefining of what we do.

If being at risk of the law is one of the risks you take as a journalists. Then it’s clear that many, many more people are journalists now.

We need to see where human rights act stops or first ammendment gives way to case law and ask just how much do these laws define what a journalist is? And do we need to think about changing them to define and protect those who practice it or find themselevs doing those accidental acts of journalism.

An international delcalration of journalistic rights and a recognised definition of those that can claim it’s protection.

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June Carnival of Journalism

I have the pleasure of hosting this months Carnival of journalism, a monthly extravaganza of posts from the journalism blogasphere. (You can find out more here).  Last month Ryan Sholin suggested a theme: “What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?”.

In that spirit I have done the same and suggested an area to consider (if fellow carnivaliers wanted to).

Is (digital) journalism better the more local it is and what does that do to growth?

I chose that question for a few reasons. I’ve been dipping in and out of the comment around Rob Curley’s move (and some of the talk around his move back in 2006 when he went ‘big time’) At the same time I’ve been mulling over some of the coverage of flooding and fires and the like coming out of newspapers here and stateside.

All of which made me think of a debate that took place at an event as part of our last Meld project. The debate came when we where trying to define what the journalist of 2013 will look like – maybe that should have been the post – and a few of us had them as a journo who made a name locally and was now working globally. One of the group, Joanna Geary, got a bit upset (and rightly so) that this somehow limited local journalism as something that people left behind – it wasn’t important.

In fact the debate got me thinking so much I even pondered it on camera and got a few replies.
The vibrant range of stories that local throws up and the apparent belief that (hyper)local is where the industry needs to be suggests that local is better. But local is a limited market. Is local to limiting for growth?
What do you think?

Over to the carnival…

First in to the ring is ‘digital’ Dave Cohn and or him ‘local is better’ is a value judgment. But thinking about his latest project,, he suggests a ‘sci-fi’ future where news is a locally produced commodity on community platforms. Journalists become employees of the community. Where does the journalism industry fit here and where is the growth? Well that’s something the industry need to ask themselves: “The real question is if that platform will be built by somebody who holds the same values of traditional media or somebody who wants to make a quick buck”

Next up is Charlie Beckett who is thinking about the language and the result of getting it wrong. What is local? How we do we measure growth? For Charlie, local is  ‘’better” when it is genuinely local. And our concept of “growth” has to be redefined in terms of expanding communications or networks, not always as profit.

Adrian Monck pitches in on the basis that local journalism based on geography isn’t his bag. It’s all about communities of interest – networks – for Adrian. What does that means for the journalism industry?   “In the future, journalism may well survive as information advocacy. It’s already heading there with some NGOs. And yes – in the future – all journalism may be not-for-profit.”

Next in my in-box, Jack Lail, who has some good tips/advice/suggestions for those looking to get in to ‘hyperlocal’ journalism. His biggest tip? Don’t call it hyperlocal: “once you call it that, it’s doomed. Doomed to be irrelevant. Doomed to be ignored? Doomed to be abhorred by advertisers.”

Over in NZ, Dave Lee is trying to cast out news agency demons, and suggests a ‘solution’ to the problem of dying local journalism. His suggestion is a NewsHub (I’d check the url on that one Dave) which acts like a news agency but isn’t – it’s a kind of critical mass of local content. He says “by harnessing the power of local digital journalism and turning it into a mutual, lucrative business, local media can grow and grow.”

John Hassell has also been pondering how local networks can work for journalism. He sees some commonality with politics. It all starts with local angagement and the chance to take risks. Whatever it shakes out as John is convinced that “the name of the game, I’m convinced, will be local. It makes everything else possible.”

Wendy Withers rejoins the carnival (glad you’re better Wendy) with her view that Local isn’t better and her take on why so much ‘local’ doesn’t work. Given all the opportunities that the web offers Wendy wonders why the newspaper industry doesn’t seem to be able to get a handle on what works. Maybe, she says, “We need to stop seeing Web 2.0 as a way to create a community we control but as a way to join a greater community.”

Paul Bradshaw, the multi-platform fella he is, posted a video response to the question and then, later, a blog post to develop some of his thoughts. The nub, all journalism is local and the term itself is a bit of an old media crutch.

Doug Fisher ponders the points in the question with a doom’ish start “any news outlet focused solely on geographic community in the digital age is limiting its growth prospects, if not flirting with suicide”. The rest is less pessimistic. He also has a go at defining the journalist of the future to.

Much later:

A few strays for the debate. Alf Hermida returns from honeymoon  (as good a late note as you can have) and ponders, like Paul Bradshaw, if the questions is the right one: “The issue then is less whether local is better, but rather how do we redefine local to remain relevant in a digital news environment.”

It’s mine ya’hear. Mine. All mine: Ownership and innovation

From Flickr user Andyi

From Flickr user Andyi

It’s Carnival of Journalism time and Ryan Sholin steps up to the plate to host. He helpfully suggests a question to chew over for this months meeting of j-minds

What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?

Great question?

A lot of people have already posted great suggestions so some of the following may be repetitive (still it’s better to add a voice then stay quiet in agreement isn’t it)

So, the question. What should they stop doing? My answer: Stop trying to own everything.

We have an interesting problem in journalism at the moment, we don’t know who we are. Ask anyone in your newsroom what the function of journalism is, what is it for, and you get a number of different answers. (I know, we have tried) All of them are challenging or challenged by the ‘new’ media landscape.

You may answer, we are the fourth estate, we tell the audience what other people don’t want them to know. But a new media advocate may say that the audience can do that for themselves now, and (often) better.

You may answer that it is to entertain. That’s a great one for upsetting ‘trad’ journalists. Remember sonny, this job isn’t about fun.

For every defining action there is an equal and opposite old media reaction.

So given that we aren’t sure what we are or why we do what we do anymore, we revert to what we know best. Consolidate and protect. We strengthen the fortifications and move as much of the ‘community’ in to the city walls as we can.This isn’t just illustrated in attitudes. You can see the very real evidence of this all around us in the industry.

If a news org wants to do user generated photography it doesn’t use flickr or Photobucket. It builds it’s own photo sharing service. If it wants to run a blog, does it use Movable Type of WordPress. No, it builds its own blogging platform.

Why? Because then they can own the conversation.

This ownership thing, it must happen on our terms, is the single biggest problem the industry has right now and that stops innovation.

When it comes to technology, ownership encourages imitation and stifles innovation. When it comes to staff, ownership means the structures are there to support the company not the individual. They pay to own the innovators and then stop them innovating (hey, at least they aren’t innovating for anyone else). And when it comes to audience, ownership means taking and never giving.

So what do we do about it.

I think the first thing we can do is look at the ownership mindset. We need to try and educate people to a couple of simple points:

Ownership and control are not the same thing. You can be seen as owning something but not have control. That can be positive or negative.

Ownership is temporary: You’ve all heard the term no one owns the news. That’s been interpreted as meaning that we need to monitise it in a way that makes the maximum amount of profit in the shortest time. No. It actually means you need to keep turning out stuff that people want to see and so keep coming back.

Within the news rooms we can do one simple thing: Give away the one thing that you do own – time.

Give everyone in the newsroom playtime. I’ve said this again and again and other organisations like Google have so obviously benefited from it. Give every member of your newsroom staff a day a month (maybe) where they can explore, learn and develop skills. That doesn’t need to be on the web. It could be learning photography. Learning to dance at a local community center. It doesn’t matter. The key thing is that you only expect one in return – they share that experience. There is no budget line. If you get a story from it – bonus. If a great idea comes out then even better. But everyone shares.

If you asked me what the function of journalism is I would say that its ‘to be part of the society we live in and contributing to a greater understanding of that society by sharing information.’

That’s not about owning

From Flickr user occ4m