Tag Archives: kevin marsh

Diagnosing the noble disease – how we treat journalism in the 21st century.

peri

This is the original script to a short presentation I gave University of Northampton’s ‘Imagine Journalism in Ten Years’ Time‘ mini-conference chaired by Kevin Marsh,  and organised by John Mair. Other speakers included: Professor Jay RosenMatt Andrews who has his talk here ;Teodora Beleaga, who has her slides here, and Judith Townend who has put her slides and talk online. The talk is a development of one I gave last year at last years Nordic media festival and an ethics lecture I gave a few weeks ago. (which I may put up here soon)

Journalism education is at an inflection point. The mix of disruption in the journalism industry and in the education market has created a growing movement demanding a radical rethink of the what, how and who of journalism education. This paper takes the position that this also calls for a rethink of the way we frame journalism when considering how we might react to this changing environment. It rejects the idea of journalism as a profession in favour of the idea of journalism as a diagnosis.

In thinking about where journalism is going to be in ten years or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about big toes. I want to take the next 10 minutes or so to tell you why.

A few years ago now we actually got some people from industry in a room and asked them what the journalist of 2015 would look like. The first thing they said was quarter-past-eight was a more realistic goal. Twenty-five past eight is still not quick enough.

Here are some of the things the identified:

  • Technology and practice
  • Design principles.
  • Content management and online publishing
  • Storytelling and the impact of new mediums
  • Multimedia – video, audio, photography and image manipulation
  • Web technologies
  • Social networking and Web 2.0/3.0
  • Semantic web and what that means for journalists – Tagging, Geotagging
  • Search engines and their impact on content creation
  • Budgeting, business practice and legislation
  • Developing entrepreneurial skills
  • Building a personal brand
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Identifying, developing and pitching an idea for a multi platform project
  • Building Networks and Managing Relationships
  • The editorial, legal and ethical challenges of developing and managing UGC
  • Managing a complex multi-platform production

Thinking about what I teach, this is pretty much how things break down:

  • Social media
  • Curation (real time curation) -
  • Data Journalism – big data. Transparency vs accountability.
  • Community
  • Multi-platform – the impact of community and persistence
  • Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship

Much of that could be dissmissed as overly practical – lots of digital toys. But I just want to point out how much conversation they generate around law, ethics and personal and professionalism identity. This is not just playing on the web!

To try and some that up in to the kind of person we want to produce – the journalists of that future we are talking about today will be 

an innovative, social media savvy, data aware, community-connected, curator, working across multiple platforms…

Given where I am and who is the room I think it’s valid to take a little detour from what we teach to How we teach.

Like the journalism industry, education has been disrupted by new technology (and no small amount of political and social disruption too).

Howard Finberg one of the directors at the  American Poynter institute told an audience at the European Journalism Centre that Journalism education is at its own inflection point. He sees one possible response to this as 

 the unbundling of a journalism education from a journalism degree. Think about the unbundling of news and information from the traditional mass media delivery methods, such as a newspaper or television broadcast.

He questions who we care about the most in journalism education claiming that making about the faculty the center of the decision making process is a recipe for what Eric Newton at the Knight Foundation refers to this as a “symphony of slowness.

There is an element of the Utopian in a lot of the rhetoric around this idea; the idea that the internet will solve the problem; it will make information accessible to everyone. But there is also more than a good deal of commercial concern, often unspoken; can we make money?

One of the unbundling projects at Poynter’s News U (one that Finberg cites) charges $65 for their introduction to journalism module but (as of yesterday) it’s only available to registered students at Florida state.

In one sense might not seem so revolutionary when it’s not quite as unbundled as the ideal would have it – it’s more an extra to the Florida degree bundle. But the level of student engagement tells a story about the way that people want to learn as much as the state of the industry in general tells us about the way people want to consume news.

So, like the journalism industry, the education industry looks to change the way we do things.

Clearly that’s as much about the way we teach as what we teach.

For the progressives, looking to the Internet enabled mass teaching movement, that’s as much about understanding that we need to engage with more than our students. We need to open up and engage with the community around us. Now I bet that does sound familiar to the industry people in the room…

A popular peg for this is the teaching hospital analogy. The idea of learning by doing is not new in journalism – education or industry. But the importance of community engagement comes idea comes from a heavy commitment to the Civic and participatory Journalism movements: It can’t just be an issue of practicing on the community it has to be practicing with them.

Digital as well as media literacy often go hand in hand in civic journalism.  Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation’s president and CEO commented on the importance of this (as he said thanks for a whopping great grant to help facilitate it):

“In the 21st century, successful communities will be those who can best connect with each other and the world using digital media. ”

The connection between what often gets called Media literacy and democracy is one that journalism has never been afraid to co-opt in to the formulation of its own identity the fourth estate. In that sense I suppose we could also say media literacy has never been too far removed from discussions of media ethics  – You need to understand what and how journalism works to be properly critical of it. A challenge for journalism at the best of times let alone, at least in the UK, in this post-Leveson world. 

So the idea is that we (journalism education) should educate people to the way we do things (essentially the practical stuff) in journalism as well as equip them to understand the way what we do affects their world is not just a key part of us surviving the disruption but a key part of sustaining democracy.

Enabling a plurality of voices is something that is meant to be part of what we do in journalism. But what is being suggested here is that we are also about aiming people to do it without us – to fill the gaps. It should be part of journalism educations job to enable the bottom-up corrective for the mostly top-down perspectives of the news media.’ Gans (2003:103).

This perspective inevitably gives rise to the idea of citizen journalism – trust me, it does!
And in that conversation about the way we teach this new cohort of semi-journalists to be media literate (how gloriously pompous is that!), draws our attention to the elephant in the room : Who we should be teaching?

So, as much as the journalist of the future may well be:

an innovative, social media savvy, data aware, community-connected, curator, working across multiple platforms…

 they may also be someone:

…who doesn’t work for a media organisation.

Perhaps we could call it unbundling journalism from the media.

At the very least its about finding a different way to talk about it that isn’t bundled so heavily with the institutions of journalism and journalism education. That’s why I like to think about the idea that journalism is a diagnosis not a profession

To finish, let me make sense of the big toe reference. I want to talk about gout.

Gout is a disease that’s typified by an inflamed, red, very painful big toe. It’s been referred to as a noble disease. One respect a noble disease is one that comes with no stigma – like cancer but unlike mental illness say. But in the case of gout, noble means: distinguished by rank or title.

It’s been called the patrician malady – “Historically seen as a disease afflicting upper-class males of superior wit, genius, and creativity” The The Oxford Illustrated Companion To Medicine notes that the Roman poets suffered a lot from Gout and notes that there was an effort to frame it as a noble disease whose sufferers could trace their family line back to Ulysses (Odysseus) the legendary Greek king of Ithaca. You know, the big poem.

The truth is it’s called that because you often get it from a rich and privileged diet – over eating and too much rich wine.  It’s confusing noble with privileged and trying to spin the negatives.

In some ways I think we have come to think of Journalism as a noble disease. You’re special if you have it. Second only to “kings and poets”.

Of course anyone can catch gout just as, in my view, anyone can catch journalism. Maybe we are guilty of building up a structure that simply sustains a romantic view of  what has essentially become an industrial disease.

When we talk about the future of journalism it’s clear we need to think about journalism differently. The core concepts of democracy and social responsibility are coming to the fore and in a practical and collaborative way that goes beyond simply claiming them as defining parts of a professional ethic – they are symptoms.

Clearly many people think that it’s the job of education to break out of the sanatorium business and help those who have caught it to manage the condition in a way that is beneficial to them and society. In that sense  trying to understand the future of journalism is an exercise in epidemiology rather than forensic pathology.

Notes:

As seductive as the teaching hospital model may be I don’t think it quite holds up in respect to its community service remit beyond filling a media hole.

When questioned about an apparent contradiction in the idea of caring about the people you work with in a community – something I talked about in developing the broad themes I teach, I made the point about the difference between the care and commitment an individual journalist makes to a person or audience vs a media organisation, both different in their own way, For me the model of the individual, socially responsible journalist is the more robust in the future. The institutional social responsibility of the media organisations (you get what we think is best for you) is, for me, one of the key factors in msm’s engagement problems.

You have no idea how long I have been searching for diseases to use as an analogy. I think gout works well but maybe the fact that I looked so long says that the whole endevour may not be worth the effort.Sorry for those who have had to sit through me trying it out and  I’d love to know your thoughts on the whole thing.

Image from Wikicommons and officialpsds

The Ivory tower dispatch: defining multimedia journalism

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

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

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

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

Audio Journalism

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

  • Podcasts
  • Audio Slideshows

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

It works on a whole different cognitive level to video.

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

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

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

Video Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

Multimedia journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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


 

 

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The story is dead. Long live the story

What's the story

Image by Kaptain Kobold

What’s the story?

It’s a common question in journalism. But like so many things is the ‘story’ about to go?

Kevin Marsh has been pondering (and his pondering is worth noting) how his ‘announcement’ of the death of the story is coming back to bite him. It started in and article he wrote for the UKPG where he pondered on the way digital had made stories infinite:

Indeed, the idea of “the story” becomes meaningless – a learning-challenge-and-a-half when “the story” has been journalists’ major currency

Eek. If Kevin says the story is dead then obviously people will listen – and they have. And so in his blog post, Kevin is pretty bullish about the death of the story.

At one level – we journalists can’t escape the story as the unit of currency if for no other reason than one thing follows another and the conscious bit of the brain works in a linear fashion. At the same time, it’s also got to be our job – surely – to understand our audience’s need to navigate around our narratives and, crucially, to navigate back to our narratives when they themselves become the context, history and background for the next stor

Now, I couldn’t be happier that someone with clout is talking this way. I’ve been bashing my head against this one for a while. But I wouldn’t be so quick to ditch the ‘story’.

Article not story

As Kevin rightly says, what we know as a story in journalistic terms has ‘served us well’. But do we really mean story or are we really talking about an article or a package. Perhaps we need to take story back for what it is – the story – and not a description of the unit of publication.

The story of ‘Watergate,Thalidomide, the Iraq deception’ is not in the (admittedly Pulitzer prize winning) articles or reports. Its in the issues, lives and dynamic of the events. The journalism is a snapshot.

I’m talking a lot about the difference between a story and an article with my students at the moment. The first years, for example, are working in groups to cover a story. Between them they have to find a story and then decide what angle or issue each is going to cover in an article. I’m encouraging them to immerse themselves in the story, get inside it before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys).

In the same way I hate giving word counts, I hate to think that they are simply fitting a story in to a deadline. As Marsh says in his UKPG article:

The thing is, “the story” is defined by an output deadline: “What can we find out and illustrate in the time we’ve got left?” There never was anything special about that particular iteration of those facts and that illustration, though we became very good at creating the illusion that there was.

Everyone has a story to tell

Getting everyone to see that illusion – the journalists new clothes – is a daunting task and perhaps an pointless one. It’s also worth noting the importance of deadlines. But in maybe the positive here is that in recognizing that the story is more than the article we write, it might encourage the media to engage more with those who are part of it – those in the community with stories to tell – earlier in the storytelling process.