Journalism is not shorthand for defunct thinking.

I spent the last two days in a room with lots of arts and humanities academics at the Creative Exchange, talking about the digital public space(DSP). There was a great talk from BBC archive boss and DSP guru @tonyageh which set up a pretty passionate (if a little utopian) position for ‘releasing’ archive and how that can build a space where everyone can benefit from access to ‘stuff’

What I found interesting and frustrating in equal measure was the way some of the debate around the idea took on a negative frame because it came from a broadcaster.

It wasn’t that there was a problem with it being the BBC. Quit the opposite. The fact that it wasn’t a commercial thing was seen as good.  It seemed that, a large number in the room didn’t like broadcast as a term. It was mass media, mass consumption, untargeted and uncritical. Not what we do at all. Almost the antithesis of the creative and arts ethos in the room.

That mutually agreed dismissal of the term and the generally accepted anti-cultural interpretation seemed unnecessarily self-serving to me; relegated to the position of ‘mainstream’ simply to be something to kick against and give an idea momentum.

I think the level of frustration was not really because of the debate. Put a room full of academics in a room with the promise of funding and everyone is going to start pushing their own view. No, I think it built on a residual frustration that I have been feeling about the arbitrary way terms are taken up as shorthand for everything that is wrong or creatively moribund.

Journalism is one of those words. 

Journalism is not broken and it isn’t a word that sums up everything that is wrong with the way we make stuff relevant and meaningful to people. But people are using it as if to say, “well, that didn’t work did it. Let’s find another way to do this”

So when I hear people talking about needing to find new ways to engage people (as I have over the last few days in really positive and seductive ways) particularly those who see digital not only as part of the solution but as a diagnostic device, I grit my teeth and wait to see who gets it in the chops to show how fresh and new the thinking is.

Thankfully many (in fact most)people I heard today didn’t. But it happens.

As someone who is involved in journalism I’m happy to admit that there is a lot wrong but let’s not write it off as some outmoded practice to be replaced by robots or simply a failed experiment to be cited by new thinkers.

Much as I like to be iconoclastic, it’s actually quite tiring and, in a world made more pragmatic by a broader cultural and media landscape, a bit like tipping at windmills.

Maybe we should be investing in changing peoples understanding of the phrase. Perhaps linguists will disagree but it strikes me there is more to be had from changing peoples understanding of something than there is in trying to educate them in to new ways of thinking using new, made up terms.

So I think I’ll be hanging on to journalism. I’ll be trying to think of new ways to explain it and make it relevant and you don’t get to co-opt it or dismiss it without joining the debate.

Journalism doesn’t get off the hook that easily. I don’t think we’re quite done with it yet.


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


Conditions for the subs had improved considerably

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

Stick with me…

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

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

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

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

But letting journalism loose has had some surprising results.

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

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

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

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

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Interesting stuff for Tuesday


I thought I would start with a “guess the object” comp. Answer at the end.

Wendy Parker has some good advice about getting started with blogging –Beginning blogging for journalists: Get started, already!

On the geek side of things JVC Pro debuts solid state camcorders for Final Cut Pro editors which could solve the problem of intermediate timelines ( a common affliction of FCP users)

Less geeky but still video related is a post by Chrys Wu outlining 10 golden rules for video journalists. These come from Washington Post video journalist Travis Fox at a recent “Creating Video Narratives” workshop at Beyond Bootcamp. Solid stuff.

From the sublime to the ridiculous.  Joe the plumber is going to ‘report’ from Gaza. Old news I know but, honestly, you couldn’t make stuff like that up could you. Next Obama will send Hillary Clinton over and they will do battle like Mothra and Godzilla over Jerusalem. What makes me more mad about that, and in a more serious tone is that journalists are being hacked to death. Much as I hate to question Joe’s motives. Man, journalism has to be taken a bit more seriously than ‘joe the plumber’.

Maybe that re-inforces Bob Steele’s point as he worries about Ethics Crashes on the Digital Media Highway over at Poynter. It’s a thoughtful piece but the tone doesn’t recover from “Too often we give unjustified credibility to bloggers who are, at best, practicing amateur journalism or simplistic punditry.” Recent events in Mumbai and now Nepal, plus the countless other incidences of violence against journalists and bloggers reporting the world around them should be making this kind of them and us redundant.

On a lighter, but no less interesting, note though is Mark Hamilton who explains how he could get behind some of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent rambles about journalism

The ever brilliant Martin Belam continues to pick apart media sites and their web presences by looking at  how the sites appear when people search for them in Google

And more UK goodness from Lindsay Bruce giving more valuable lessons in community in part 9 of an invaluable series on Paul Bradshaws Online journalism blog

Meanwhile Pat Thornton calls for more innovation in the user interface of news sites. I think he is right but it may be a difficult balance between convention – already established – more depth which you could deliver as effectivly with a better relationship with the print product. But that takes us multi-platform and away from Pat’s point. Worth a read

Read/Write web’s How to: Build a Social Media Cheat Sheet for Any Topic has been popping up across the place with glowing recomendations. Well worth a look. As is their article on Mobile TV.

Aspiring web journos can get a glimpse of life as it could be as the NYtimes profiles the renegade cybergeeks who may just save the paper. (wasn’t that the plotline of the last Die Hard?)  It feels a bit 90210 to me. By which I mean, this is how the beutiful people do journalism. But read it with a less cynical eye and there is some nice insight.

And the picture? It’s one of several arty shots of Fabian Mohr’s new FlipHD. He has more nice pics and some test movies on his site. Go and have a look.

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The Grassy Knol: Google’s ‘attack on media’

The appearance of Google Knol seems  to be causing some consternation in the J-bloggashpere.  The general tone is that the search giants new ‘encyclopedia’ is a step too far.

Danny Sanchez frames his (very balanced) take with a quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt

We’re in the advertising business – 99% of our revenue is advertising-related. But that doesn’t make us a media company. We don’t do our own content. We get you to someone else’s content faster.

Danny’s argument is that Knol is very firmly about generating content (and revenue from it ) rather than simply hosting it. He continues.

Knol also represents a potential conflict of interest in Google’s own search results. If Knol articles are meant to be “authoritative articles about specific topics,” those familiar with search engine optimization will see the red flag.

You can see the dilema. Authority, advertising and effective search. That’s what google is offering whith Knol working alongside its other offerings.  And that’s what the media industry has been spending a good deal of time and money trying to buid.  The truth is Google have always and will always do it better – up to a point.

Stable door…

It’s common sense that Google, like many of the other web giants out there, are something to learn from rather than challenge. So I’m not sure that accusing a company, with an effective business model and sensible development strategy, of killing of the competition, especially if the competition is no competition at all is going to cut much ice.

The economic environment of the web may have changed since Google was a fresh faced start up. But first to market is still first to market. A retrospective ‘monopolies and mergers’ approach to leveling the playing field could backfire. Look at the way the record industries protectionist stance has hit their market.

We are not Google

In this instance I think the market will decide. The ubiquity of Google in the search market will mean that people will start to look around for their content. Perhaps we will see the re-emergence of the metafilter search. Maybe the idea that journalists will become the trusted filters will be where we need to focus. As more than one person has said – we need to do what we do best and ignore the rest.

But here are some things to consder along the way. Perhaps reasons, maybe excuses. But things that we need to think about:

  • Google don’t need to ‘fix’ search results they profit either way.
  • SEO fixes the results- even ethical SEO – that skews results
  • Trust is earned – we have still have a surplus (I think we do) we should invest it wisley
  • I bet the media write a story ‘slamming’ the quality of information on Knol before someone writes a Knol attacking the accuracy of the media
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Photojournalism Ethics is an ivory tower.

I’m often reminded as my status as a lecturer. It’s usually in that ‘it may work for you in your ivory tower, but this is the real world sonny’ way, but I don’t mind.

One of the reasons I like being in education is it allows me to have a foot in both camps and, importantly, the time to reflect on that. But I am careful though. Wherever possible I try to not let the minutia of everyday academia filter through. That should stay in the ivory tower.

Sometines I wish industry would return the favour.

PJ Mark Hancock has been pondering ethics in photojournalism and makes some very interesting points. At the heart of the ethical debate for photographers is the issue of photo-manipulation. Its clear that, in photojournalism, these are big ethical no-no’s.

I get the impression that Mark is frustrated that this is even an issue for snappers given the apparent acceptance of ethical practices by journalists.

If a reporter requests we do something unethical, for example, we could ask if they “make up” quotes in their stories. While they should recoil from the notion, the actions are exactly alike. A lie is a lie.

Part of me wonders where reported speech comes in to that analogy – but I digress. Mark puts the blame for ethical problems at the feet those who break the rules. But he see’s a potentially bigger problem in convergence.

Putting photographers at the sharp end of a convergent policy is common – in fact many photographers will demand that they should be there – puts them at a point where photojournalism and TV journalism meet.  That raises some ethical issues.

For Mark there is a very clear lack of journalism ethic in TV news. Why? Well one reason is that practitioners don’t come from newspapers:

While early broadcast news pioneers came from the newspaper business, most recent broadcast celebrities have not.

With an ear to my experience in TV that feels a bit unfair in a broad brush way but I have to concede that the reality (in the US at least) would seem to support Marks view.

But interestingly for me some of the blame for this comes the way of education.

This divergence is often compounded at universities. While some universities do understand the connection, others continue to place RTV majors in the theater arts departments rather than journalism.

If you surround them with actors then they are more likely to make stuff up.

In my university the TV production course is in a different department from journalism. They are taught in the same building as Dancers and actors. We actually teach our journalists to shoot and edit so it’s a bit of an odd model. But in a sense, that isnt the point.

The real issue is that because of a lack of consistency in the industry, ethics becomes an academic debate. What is acceptable or not is an internal issue.  It’s the industries own personal ivory tower. In the same way a professor will reserve the right to pontificate on the ethics of academic research or what consitutes a good student,  the j-industry see fit to reserve the right to use the moral, theoretical issues as defining features of the industry.

I don’t disagree with a word Mark has said. His proffesionalism and genuine hope for a better ethical standard in the industry is the kind of thing that the indusrty needs to drive the standards. But those standards need to be in place for the rest of us to respond to rather than react to.

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Braindump -owning up to ownership

Marking has done a good job of getting in the way of things – shows up my inability to multi task doesn’t it – but i’ve been storing up one or two bits to go at thanks to Taboo. So here goes a brain dump on the theme of ownership- sorry

In a kind of last-in-last-out thing taboo served up a story I had tabbed about the process of recovering a stolen laptop. One Joey Carenza III has been remote accessing a friends laptop that was stolen and used it to harvest a large amount of data (including screenshots) before the guy worked out how to stop (most of) it. It’s a great story which reminds me of the infamous stolen sidekick story. My favourite part:

That being said, today I found out this guy is: 27, an ex-con, i know his DOB, his mom’s maiden name (thanks e-bay!! – he has been shopping ebay for a police scanner…i wonder why?), he belongs to local sex/date hook up site , his email address, and today i snapped a screen shot so clear, that you can read the lettering on his ink.

Scary, hey!

Whats yours is mine

Perhaps the techno-donkey thief could argue that possession is 9/10th’s of the law. If he was a journalism manager he could be right.  Over at Poynter Christopher ‘Chip’ Scanlan uses his Chip on the shoulder column (see what he did there) to ask who owns the stories that reporters write. Or rather, he asks who should own them: the journalists who produce it or the companies that publish it? So is it what you write or the means for people to access it?

Interesting question. For what it’s worth (insert magical prediction music here) I predict a state of play where journalists are employed on a profit share basis and editors become content agents. Think football without the salaries and a transfer window rather than silly season.

And on the subject of ownership, the idea of who owns local raises it’s ugly head again. The Newspaper Society has announced the imminent publication of its ‘six-figure’ called Local Matters, that will prove that newspapers are the only ones allowed to exploit local audiences, sorry,  help “isolate the real differences in needs, activities and attitudes across the UK, and how local media continues to play a vital role in people’s lives.”

How much of this is about users/audience/local people? Didn’t see any ‘community’ on the list of their recent, by strick invite only, Local matters conference. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of livings at stake here and I realise the Newspaper society is there to help the industry but here is a little hint. Serve the local community properly rather than trying to keep the compatiton out and you may get a bit more loyalty (and business).


Still, perhaps you can’t blame the trad-media (and that is pretty much newspapers these days isn’t it) for being a little defensive.  They’ve been playing by the rules – all be it ones they made up – for years and then others just ignore them, right? Take this from firedoglake founder Jane Hamsher:

“It’s hurting America that journalists consider their first loyalty to be to their subjects, and not to the people they’re reporting for,” she said. Told, for example, that the Times ethics policy states that “staff members should disclose their identity to people they cover (whether face to face or otherwise),” Ms. Hamsher was dismissive. In the context of political reporting, she said, such guidelines are intended to “protect this clubby group of journalists and their high-ranking political subjects, and keep access to themselves.

Ouch! She was responding to the actions of Huffington post journalist Mayhill Fowler in a  NY Times story earlier in the week.

Eyebrows where at full raise over Fowler’s antics at the front of a press scrum which elicited some off colour comments by Bill Clinton. The big problem – she didn’t say she was a journalist – as she told the LATimes:

“Of course he had no idea I was a journalist,” Fowler said by phone from her Oakland home, recalling her close encounter with Clinton for “Off the Bus,” a citizen journalism project hosted by the Huffington Post website. “He just thought we were all average, ordinary Americans who had come out to see him. And, of course, in one sense, that is what I am.

The death of the gentleman

Phrases like deception and dishonesty have crept in to the debate around Fowler’s actions. I think that’s strong. We have a saying in the UK for someone not playing by the rules – it’s just no cricket. It belongs to a time past when only a gentleman had the time to learn and play cricket. So to not follow the rules, well you weren’t being a gentleman.

In so many ways the trad-media is a gentleman’s club playing cricket. But why are they so surprised when no-one else plays by the rules.

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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

Interesting and motivating stuff

I’m involved in two days of an exciting Meld project and as part of that I am showing ( or may mention) a number of bits of technology and services. I needed a place to put the links to access them and thought I would share them here.

It’s all stuff that has made me go ‘wow’ and/or made me think ‘that would be great for journalists if…’. Of course there are lots of other things – the blog really helps collect and remember them – so if you have things that fall in to the ‘must see’ inspiration. I’d love to see them.


I love this stuff as it offers an interesting way for ugc to be contextualized and then inhabited. Nodes of content – photos – that each has their own story used to build up a bigger picture. The very definition of the way CJ should work .

A couple of links here to the original Photo tourism applet and then the Photosynth version in a similar vein. Also a neat demo of the Seadragon technology

and the TED presentation by Blaise Aguera y Arcas around Photosynth.

360 video

I love the Google street view stuff and this builds on the concept. Immersive media have a very impressive looking bit of hardware (although low-fi versions are around) and a few examples that, perhaps, hint at the uses a journalist may find in interacting with this stuff if not generating it themselves. (look about 2mins in)

News/editorial games

The Political machineOkay, breakout with news headlines may make MSNBC’s claim to have invented a whole “newly invented genre of ‘news gaming'” a bit hard to swallow. But it is good fun.

Games have started to seep in to journalism consciousness. A version of the Neverwinter nights has been used to train journalists and the games ideas that sprang from that project

But it isn’t all just retro-gaming or journalism training. Editorial/issue games are more and more visible.

Whether it’s highly polished stuff like The Political Machine or influenced by single issues that resonate like Police brutality, September 12th or the raft of issue games from Persuasive Games.

There are loads of serious games out there covering the kind of stories and issues that journalists are. This is where I really think we need to be exploring much more.

Wii news channel

Speaking of games. I know there are other consoles out there but I just got a Nintendo wii. The news channel is pretty straightforward in what it does (streams AP content) but the way it does it is pretty cool. Putting journalism in an environment (like throwing the digital newspaper on the gaming lawn) seems to me an area that is being neglected in the msm’s attempts to ‘own the platforms’.

And the old wii, like the iphone and PSP, is getting platform friendly content.

Digital narratives

The Work of Jonathan Harris

Interactivity and multimedia are part of the reason why the web has become so popular as a journalism platform. Seminal work like OnBeing and The Final Salute show just how good journalists are at telling stories and giving stories a voice. Of course other storytellers have embraced the platform. The work of Jonathan Harris is a particular favorite of mine. Lots to learn and learn from in all areas.


Time Tube

Journalism is getting in on the act with visulaisation whether its infographics with an extra edge or projects using Google maps, tag clouds or something fancy like the Spectra Visual Newsreader app (Kudos to MSNBC for getting another mention).

General shots of stuff.