Friday, 30 December 2011

Shifting to Google Apps from Microsoft - not a trend... yet.

In its article A Microsoft Horror Story: Newspaper Chain Is Switching 8,500 Employees To Google Apps Business Insider says "this isn't the case of a small business switching from some legacy email system to Gmail while maintaining a huge Microsoft contract for Office and other products. This is a big company that seems anxious to move all its employees away from Microsoft products completely.
"One story doesn't make a trend -- there were cases of businesses moving off Microsoft to Linux and OpenOffice in the last decade, too, but Microsoft continued to grow its sales every year. And Microsoft can point to some case studies where customers chose Microsoft's cloud services after testing Google's.... [but] even ONE story like this should be enough to make Steve Ballmer and company sweat."
Trinity Mirror's move to Google Apps started with Media Wales two months ago and is still being rolled out across the rest of the group but (even as a hardened Google user) I have to say it makes life much easier than the old IBM suite. Sharing docs, and calendars, using Google Groups and having (almost) unlimited storage space for emails has been great; apparently  Google+ integration is also planned, which could have benefits in terms of using hangouts to boost - for example - in-house training.
It might not be a trend yet but look at what the Journal Register Company has achieved with the Ben Franklin Project publishing using purely free online tools and software.
Moving away from established brands to experiment with light-touch, third party apps is something that most publishers would have struggled to wrap their heads around a decade ago. Now, ownership  can be seen as a tie - look how many media companies are renting press space with rivals - and the ready ability of newsrooms to adapt free social online tools for storytelling is only helping the culture shift.
Personally, I'd imagine Microsoft are looking at the way things are moving with some concern. Be interesting to see what it does to arrest the shift.

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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Why UGC means never having to say you're sorry (apparently)

Perhaps I should just have one huge post on user-generated content that gets updated as merited because, to continue with the theme of UGC from the last update, this example shows what happens when a newspaper assumes everyone has the same knowledge and standards. 

Image: James Parks
The photograph on the right appeared in the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, recently - two trains, one new, one from bygone days of steam, captured barrelling along under a crisp blue sky. 
Taken by a 'trusted contributor' who submitted it to the newspaper, it was published on the front page of November 27 edition. 

Then, on December 17, the Standard-Examiner's Behind The Headlines column carried what amounts to a long explanation for misleading readers

In the column, staffer Andy Howell explains that the photograph was in fact a composite, Photoshopped by the person who submitted the image and published in good faith (albeit without checking) as a genuine shot instead of a cut-n-shunt of two photos. Howell states:
I believe the photographer did not set out to deceive us or the public. The end result was more a product of miscommunication and a naive misunderstanding on the photographer's part. It is also a cautionary tale for us and other newspapers as we rely more and more on citizen journalists and contributors...
The photo was taken by a "long-time train enthusiast", whose work had been published by the paper before, and who deliberately set out to capture two shots that would when manipulated, show the old and the new in harmony. 
The photographer believed that his composite image told a story in the best traditions of photo-journalism:
He shot separate photos of both trains and didn't think twice about overlaying the photos to create the composite image. He said he had read a column of mine where I explained that photojournalists try to tell a story with their images. To him, combining the photos was just a way of telling the story.
The column apologises for the deception (although one could question the depth of the apology after reading the whole column); it doesn't accept responsibility for checking the provenance of the image, however.

The big mistake James [the photographer] made was not telling us the image was a composite. If we had known, we might still have run it... and clearly identified it as such.... James is sorry he didn't tell us.
There should be a mea culpa from the newspaper at this point rather than a 'James is sorry' (the photographer misled by omission, not through an intention to deceive the newspaper).
The column says the lesson for us all is that "sincere motives can still lead to bad journalism". Actually, not checking sources leads to bad journalism, and readers know it - read the comments accompanying the column (90 of them last time I looked).

Mistakes happen all the time but when a publisher is dealing with people who supply work (in this case it appears the photographer provided it free - his 'payment' being to see his work published) it cannot take things at face value. It says:
...we need do a better job of educating the public as to the role and ethics of journalism if we want them to be regular contributors.
Possibly a simple (humble?) "We are sorry and we have tightened our procedures so this cannot happen again" rather than an explaination as to why the newspaper was not to blame would have played better with the audience.
Behind the Headlines state one of the principles of journalism is: Never Deceive Your Audience. Perhaps it should remember another: Check Your Sources.
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Thursday, 15 December 2011

UGC: It can't be a case of something for nothing

One of the Citizen Journalism Unconference pos...
Image via Wikipedia
Reading Maria Purdy Young's take on UGC (Citizen Journalism: Something for Nothing Won't Last Long) I remembered Bild's 2008 announcement that it planned to pebbledash basic digital cameras around its potential audience, to try and boost the paper's photographic network. 

According to Bild's picture editor, the newspaper now receives something like 4,000 photographs a day, and the service has led to nearly 1,000 lead stories. (More here, courtesy of Google Translate). 
The mind boggles as to how Bild process all that content pouring in, or whether they respond to everyone who makes a submission (I doubt it's possible)  but it really is the whole River of UGC idea that the regional press has been so intrigued by in recent years.

Bild is, of course, huge - 2.2m copies a day - with a vast audience and the amount of photos, tips and more it receives are correspondingly vast. 
But I remember thinking. at the time Bild and Lidl announced their plans, how wonderful it would be if only the Liverpool Daily Post could give free or peppercorn cost Flip cameras to people. 

Because, as Maria Purdy Young says, something for nothing won't last. In fact, something for nothing shouldn't last.
There should be an exchange - it doesn't mean a financial one but an acknowledgement that both sides are benefiting in some way. Flickr groups are a case in point; when David Higgerson and I worked in Liverpool we had to learn the nuances of running a group where some images were printed, free, in the newspaper.
Ultimately, it worked - the Flickr group members and the Post&Echo worked out a exchange/balance - but if we hadn't, I think the groups wouldn't be the effective, healthy communities they are today. 

There's a quote in the Purdy Young article: “CNN has been relatively forward-thinking in its approach to citizen journalism,” he said. “They mix iReport content (from unpaid citizen journalists) right in with the professional CNN content. But it’s not so simple as you hand a camera to someone and then you fire a journalist.” (it's attributed to someone named only as Myers, who isn't referenced elsewhere in the piece).

No doubt having your video in amongst the 'pro' news video will satisfy some contributors whereas others will feel short-changed. Either way, I doubt CNN worries about its UGC exchange balance too much - they aren't going to be dependent on the same contributors all the time. It's like the regional news organisations view of the nationals: They come in, trample over everything and leave, whereas we have to live with the consequences of our actions.

But for local papers, getting the balance right is crucial, and it will involve investment - cash, time, knowledge-sharing are just some of the things we will have to be prepared to exchange. 
Frankly, I think there could be a steep learning curve on this one.

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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Testing... testing... Some curation tools compared

Given that curation is the new black*, or at least a popular, effective way to tell stories, the number of tools caluclated to help with gathering and presenting information rises every week.

Since I have accounts with any number of them of them, albeit mostly unused, and happened to be using Storify for work today, I thought it might be interesting to run the rule over a few others. 

So, Storify, the one we're all using and loving was my weapon of choice for work, and I've embedded that one here (it will need a minute to load - more of that later).

For me, Storify offers great flexibility and is very user-friendly - the drag-n-drop approach is fast to pull together and it offers excellent sources. I also like the fact that it has a bookmarklet you can drag to your browser bar - one click and you're ready to start curating a swathe of information. 
However, it would be incredibly useful to be able to put date specifications on some sites (particularly Flickr and YouTube) as a lot of the returned media looks exciting but is historic.

 Also, it can take time for the widget to load. And if you've got a lot of content, it's l-o-n-g - by which I mean it takes up a lot of space on a webpage. Which, from a user point of view, has potential to be annoying - particularly if it's embedded mid-story.
From using CIL for liveblogging I know users on busy blogs complain content revelent to their interests is hard to find. I feel the same issue here - it would be nice to have the ability to put a * (or something a bit more sophisticated) next to, say, official sources or interesting links.

I joined Storyful years ago and I think it's an effective curation tool with lots of functionality (including date relevance) with the added bonus of being very handsome (Storify is, well, a bit functional by comparison). Here's the one I made.

 The search sources are the same, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Google and rss, with the ability to add links. I also like the Add A Section tool - it distinguishes a new strand of information and has the nice, newsy feel of a sub head. 
Storyful is huge, of course, and has professional curators doing paid for work (the curation around today's tragic grenade attacks in Belgium was extremely impressive.)
  Alas, Storyful curations exist on Storyful; you can't embed them anywhere. You can tweet and Facebook them but that's it. The lack of an embed code is for me, as a basic techie only, a shame. I like Storyful very much but I want to be able to post my creation elsewhere if necessary and that's just not possible.

Themeefy got off on the wrong foot by a) autotweeting that I'd joined without making it clear this would happen, and b) being less intuitive to work out than the others.

However, I only discovered this site at the weekend and got round to testing it last night so I may have been a bit frazzled and lacking in concentration. 
So, the idea is much along the lines of Storify - you get your menu alongside a space to create your 'magazine'. 

You can add social media (and it's got by far the largest number of sites available - the usual suspects plus several others from Wikipedia and Wordpress to Bibkosh (associated social media site) plus the ability to upload files and photos, and design a page from scratch with hyperlinks, text, photos and more.

I liked it, I have to say. The Themeefy I made is superficial (in my defence I was very time poor) but it worked well - it felt a little like Storybird - and it had the crucial embed ability, plus the usual social media link ups for publicising your work, and a 'comments on/off' option. 
I would like to be able to add more content to each of the pages more, so they had more of a feel; I couldn't work out how - or even if - that could be done. Having said that, the ability to create a unique page, with multimedia, was a useful feature.

A few others: 
Bundlr: Chrome bookmarklet, bookmark extension, collaboration with others, various social media integration, embeddable. 
Pearltrees: Blogged about this one before: I like it as a curation tool. Offers multi-collaboration, embeds,and the opportunity to open up sections so your tree has 'branches' dealing with specific topics. Beautiful to look at, frustratingly limiting to use. 

* Apologies to the Cliche Police; I really don't have an excuse.

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Friday, 9 December 2011

Do newspaper closures mean news deserts? Maybe... not

English: a picture taken in the desert of kuwa...
Image via Wikipedia
I was reading Tom Stites: Layoffs and cutbacks lead to a new world of news deserts this week* and it got me thinking about how (and whether) a newspaper really is intrinsic to the fabric of a community.

It is a thought-provoking piece, exploring the concept of news deserts - although Stites is discussing US newspapers, it could just as easily be applied to the closures of local newspapers in the UK. 

But it does strike me that, just because a newspaper closes, that doesn't mean news stops being reported - just that it's being reported differently, and by people who don't hold down mainstream media jobs.  
Niche sectors, like (biz), or How-Do (media/creative), hyperlocal blogs like Pits n Pots, spring to mind. Plus you've only got to look at the Talk About Local successes, and the even the emergence of n0tice (ok, it's in beta at the moment but I see a lot of people sharing things on other networks from there even at this early stage) as a forum for information sharing.

So while I understand the idea of news deserts I'm not sure it's a case of 'lose your newspaper, lose your news'. What did shock me though were the examples cited in the article - one US paper cutting back from 130 staff to 12 (that's 12 reporters - news-gatherers - by the way; it doesn't actually state how many production or other editorial staff were let go)  - it's hard to see how the vacuum can be filled swiftly and effectively. Nature may hate a vacuum but that's dozens of content creators who have just gone from the news machine. They aren't all going to suddenly decide to start a Patch blog for their area.

Stites writes: "Elites and the affluent are awash in information designed to serve them, but everyday people, who often grapple with significantly different concerns, are hungry for credible information they need to make their best life and citizenship decisions. Sadly, in many communities there’s just no oasis, no sustenance to be found — communities where the “new news ecosystem” is not a cliché but a desert."

Of course, when you're hungry you aren't so picky about what sort of food you get - if MacDonalds is the only place open, chances are that's where you'll head. 
The same holds true for information - you learn abot a big breaking story on Twitter Facebook and maybe head to MSM for more information - a news banquet if you like. 
I'm just not sure fast food news is what we should aspire to as a full time diet.

Part One:Tom Stites: Taking stock of the state of web journalism; Part Three:Tom Stites: Might the new web journalism model be neither for-profit nor nonprofit?
This post was first blogged on Diigo; other links I save are here
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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Your newspaper BMDs column is now live on Twitter

"FOR SALE" - a classified ad in a ne...
Image via Wikipedia
Long ago, when people tended to AskJeeves instead of just Asking, and citing Wikipedia as a source got you a newsdesk hairdrier (so, circa 1994), being rota-ed to do the Births, Deaths and Marriages scan was an envied job.

 Usually you were the early shift reporter, so you would potentially already have bagged at least one edition's on-day splash from calls, and then you were able to settle back and peruse around a dozen pages of arrivals, departures, public notices and classifieds in the name of Human Interest stories.

Once you found a decent lead lurking in the BMDs, there was often a friendly vicar (M&Ds), obliging undertaker (Ds) or several postings from proud family and friends (Bs) to help you track down your quarry, aided by the phone book and directory enquiries. Failing that,  an advertising colleague manning the classifieds ads booking might agree to look for the phone number of whomever had taken out the ad in the first place.

I landed any number of death knocks as a result of BMD trawls, and the Personal column always, even if it didn't generate any leads, provided brilliant entertainment. 
The Liverpool Echo death notices are legendary (one - genuinely - included the optimistic 'you've come back from worse than this' and I personally spotted one congratulaing the newly deceased on his son achieving a degree); in my first week on the paper I turned to the BMDs to find someone had announced the death of a loved one by publishing, with songwriting and musician credits and copyright, the lyrics to The Whole of the Moon. It took up an entire column. 

The family announcements columns offered possibly the best and most human face of newspapers; death notices and weddings on the two weekly titles I worked at were published free because they were considered news. For those of a certain vintage, buying a freshly-printed Tenby Observer or Western Telegraph from the front counter, the front page glance would be followed by a scanning of the annoucements - the old 'just checking I'm not dead' joke was obligatory. 

You have to pay for most announcements now, every penny counting of course, but maybe the reason they are so compelling is partly down to the fact that it's where the audience/customer has an element of editorial control, simply by dint of paying to publish.
People get to write and style their own entries, use the grammar they chose, the exact quotes, photos and length of the piece and, unlike ad features, they are usually of interest to at least several people.

Anyway, the thing that prompted this self-indulgent muse was a question from a journalism student whoe dissertation includes a consideration of whether Twitter is essential for journalists. 
I happened to say as part of my response that I thought maybe Twitter, Facebook and other social networks were the new BMDs - people take to them to announce major events in their lives, from livetweeting a birth  to a Facebook status update announcing the death of a loved one - and in the same way those announcements, public notices and classifieds were seen as essential reading by everyone in a newsroom, Twitter should be as well. 

Lives are recorded on YouTube videos and sometimes they go on to become stories in their own right; when Seesmic offered video threads I used to talk to a fellow poster, who lived in America and who had cystic fibrosis. Two days after our last contact, I learned of his death via Twitter. I've seen the passing anniversaries of his death being marked by tweets from others as well. 

Lots of people post announcements of a very personal nature, from new jobs to lost jobs, engagements to separations, and they do it online, via blogs, forums, social networks, photo-sharing sites... 
It's a rich vein of information and you don't even necessarily need to be an enthusiastic user of Twitter to exploit it. 
Twitter Lists are brilliant for sources, as are the social ranking sites like Peer Index  (I'm less sure about the ranking usefulness of such sites than I am their ability to list topic or geographic interestingness). Geographic Twitter searches, sites such as Monniter and Twibes are just some tools that can help.

If you didn't read the BMDs and announcements it didn't mean you were a poor journalist, just one who wasn't exploiting your sources to the full potential. Same goes for social networks now - you are missing out, even if you don't know it.

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Thursday, 24 November 2011

Google Wave closing down

Goodbye Google Wave. It seems so long ago that we were all selling our grannies for invites...


From: Google Wave <>
Subject: Google Wave Sunsetting in 2012
To: alisongow
Dear Wavers,
More than a year ago, we announced that Google Wave would no longer be developed as a separate product. At the time, we committed to maintaining the site at least through to the end of 2010. Today, we are sharing the specific dates for ending this maintenance period and shutting down Wave. As of January 31, 2012, all waves will be read-only, and the Wave service will be turned off on April 30, 2012. You will be able to continue exporting individual waves using the existing PDF export feature until the Google Wave service is turned off. We encourage you to export any important data before April 30, 2012.
If you would like to continue using Wave, there are a number of open source projects, including Apache Wave. There is also an open source project called Walkaround that includes an experimental feature that lets you import all your Waves from Google. This feature will also work until the Wave service is turned off on April 30, 2012.
For more details, please see our help center.
Yours sincerely,
The Wave Team
© 2011 Google Inc. 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043
You have received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google Wave account.
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Saturday, 19 November 2011

My Interesting Reads (weekly)

  • Despite the title, this isn't a rant about nepotism - it's an excellent read about what it means to be a journalist, with some great anecdotes and observations on a long career. Having said that, it's difficult to disagree with the point that "Clinton is not the first unqualified silver spoon from the professional political class to be handed a plum news job...The current crop of media silver spoons includes Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain, who is a contributor to MSNBC; Chris Cuomo, son of former New York State Gov. Mario Cuomo and a correspondent at ABC; and Jenna Bush Hager (left), daughter of President George W. Bush and a correspondent for NBC's "Today" show. Hager's professional qujennaalifications? Your guess is as good as mine. Either she was hired on the strength of her status as a teacher's aide and reading coordinator, or she was hired because her daddy is the former head of the Republican political machine. Curiously, her first big accomplishment was landing an interview with Bill Clinton, the former head of the Democratic political machine. How much do you want to bet that one of Chelsea's first big "gets" will be a similar interview with George W. Bush?"...
    • It was Sept. 6, 2005, and Ray Couture and I had just about finished the gruesome body count inside St. Rita's Nursing Home in hard-hit Chalmette, La. We'd found the corpses of 15 elderly Americans in various states of decay.

      It was a horrendous experience. The worst bodies looked like they'd been carved from butter after floating in the floodwaters for eight summer days. Some still had catheters hanging out of them.  It took us an hour to perform the room-to-room search in the dark and flooded facility. The wooden doors had expanded in their jambs and we had to shoulder them open without slipping and falling into the stew of decomposing tissue, feces and swamp mud that covered the floor. Yellow streams emanated from the bodies - a characteristic I would later learn is typical of decomposing fat.

      Ray and I were in the lobby, where a few beams of sunlight illuminated the brown high water mark all around the big room. An indignant voice broke the silence.

      "This ain't right," the voice said, dripping venom. "These guys never had a fucking chance and that ain't right."

      Ray was staring back at me in slack-jawed amazement when I suddenly realized the outraged voice was my own. The "me" I keep penned up inside. The "me" that isn't a detached, professional observer of the human condition. The real "me" who has opinions and knows each corpse inside St. Rita's was someone's grandmother or grandfather.

      ritaIt was also the me that knows that leadership is done by example and that elites are expected to get down in the muck with the rest of us when there's hard work to be done. Chelsea Clinton and her fellow silver spoons haven't done that.
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, 18 November 2011

My Interesting Reads

  • ..."Whatever your idea is, however brilliant, it is a consumer of resources, not a creator. The creation of value comes from the execution of the idea, not the idea itself. Your idea is a liability. You, as the entrepreneur, are paying the expense of creating an entity that converts that idea into a valuable executor, a valuable business. The valuation of that business through investment is the indicator that your turned that liability into an asset."...
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

How to (not) kill journalism

I read this a while ago but I had a broken wrist and, while I could have potentially used all sorts of free online tools to get my point across, I really couldn't face it. I was in pain, and I disagreed with this post so fundamentally, that the best thing to do was simply put it in the bottom drawer for a while. 

It's been a while. I'm still disagreeing with this post but the beauty of time passing is that more commenters have arrived to give their point of view too. And what a disheartened bunch they are, in the main 

I'm not sure what I should expect from a post that's titled How To Kill Journalism, but here are a couple of pars that struck me. Let's start with the patronising: 

First, it needs to be said is that the author, a young widow in her early 40s, is extremely earnest, well-intentioned and one of the hardest-working administrators I know.

Bless! A young widow! Possibly facing the prospect of picking coal with her bare hands if she doesn't toe the company line!

And then there's the 'slave labour' kicker 

Unfortunately, she now works for a division of the Journal-Register Company, which is to journalism what a Soviet slave labor camp was to the union movement. In the process, she seems to have lost sight completely of what journalism is supposed to be.

JRC = Gulag. That's not hyperbole in any way, is it? It's the sort of rational thinking that, after just three paragraphs, tells me I'm going to get a reasonable argued, considered, piece of critical analysis. I guess Jack Lessenberry is deliberately courting controversy and doing what a good columnist should - stirring things up. But he's got a lot of 'hear hear' responses from people, who obviously think slave labour is what digital journalism is about. 

I wrote this three years ago because I wanted to explore the different ways a reporter could tell and share a story using online tools; it's now as antique as a Stylophone. I got some angry reaction too, mostly from Twitter and discussion boards, from journalists ex and present who thought I'd written a prescription for what they should be doing, rather than what they could do. 
And they were wrong, as well. As a reporter I always found time for the things I wanted to do; it was the boring, complicated or trivial that would slip down the to-do list.

In her memo to staff, the editor asks her JRC staff if they had...

• Crowdsourced so they could ask more relevant questions of local officials
• Uploaded the City Council's agenda to the paper's website using before the meeting and share it on social media so that readers would know that city leaders were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit 
• Checked in to the meeting on social media and then Tweet and posted on Facebook some of the discussion points during the meeting?
• Shot video of local residents during the meeting protesting the decision, processed it during the meeting, and posted it on the paper's website before the meeting ended?
• Posted a paragraph on the website under Breaking News about the vote during the meeting and wrote the full story after, posted it online, and then pushed it out using social media, SMS text, or breaking news alert via e-newsletter subscriber list?
• Followed up on the issue by hosting a live chat the next day with local leaders and residents?

For suggesting the above, she's condemned as naive and over-demanding, and of failing to understand just how busy her team are. 
This is more bullshit than I'm prepared to accept. 
Let's consider the evidence...
Did you crowdsource so you can ask more relevant questions? - You did, didn't you? After all, it only takes a "Off to Oxdown council meeting for #oxdowncuts debate - what do you think?" you crowdsourced the issue. If you were a smart journalist interested in writing relevant copy and asking the questions people care about, that is.

Did you upload the doc to Scribd? - This is one of the most labour-saving sites around; most national and regional titles I know of are using it to upload pdfs, reports and more. And they're not alone - the Government Docs section of Scribd has everything from the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Accident logs to the a guide to UK Crowdfunding. Uploading the agenda of your local council meeting so people can see it is a no-brainer; it's your job as a journalist to share information - especially public realm information that others may struggle to access. 

Did yyo use social media to check in and then update during the meeting? - Journalists regularly and accurately live-tweet evidence in court hearings without keeling over exhausted; tweeting "Labour has failed to win over independents on council over library cuts" and posting it via sms to Twitter during a boring stretch of debate is the work of seconds. 

Did you shoot video before the meeting? - Possibly you did, if you got there early enough. Did you edit and upload it during the meeting? - This one depends on your phone and some in-office co-operation really. I could edit and upload to YouTube (not my employer's cms, but the code could then be copied by a co-worker) from my smartphone in a couple of minutes. It would be rough and ready but it would be a snatched moment-in-time, something the audience could experience only because I shot that video. 

Posted updates on the vote [etc] - Journalists have been filing copy over the phone for years, or in my case handing sheaves of written copy it to the passing bus driver to drop off at head office. Emailing something from your phone or ringing it to newsdesk is not unusual, nor is then tweeting to say it's online.  I wouldn't expect that same journalist to write the e-bulletin; I would expect a colleague on the digital team to push it out. 

Hosted a live chat the following day? - Happens all the time. If it's a big enough issue, why wouldn't you? One popular web chat we hosted brought the Media Wales sports editor and the Liverpool Daily Post&Echo chief sports writer together on a liveblog for a chat about transfers. A. Chat. But it was one readers could be a part of, by posting questions and comments. Thirty minutes flew by, everyone enjoyed themselves and the audience broadly thought our two sports guys were awesome for doing it. Not bad. 

What I don't know - and what I suspect the writer of How To Kill Journalism doesn't know, is whether that memo was sent as a round robin, or to an individual. If it's an individual, I can see why they would feel concerned - without a manager sitting down and taking you through that sort of list and showing you how easy and fast these tools are - it would be daunting. If it's a round robin then everyone involved in that article has responsibility: 

  • The news editor sending the reporter out is responsible for ensuring their workload is reasonable
  • The reporter is responsible for covering the meeting in the way specified (and that includes following the company strategy, which in JRC is digital-first, as well as the line manager's briefing)  
  • The web team is responsible for offering support, curation and unique content to support the reporter
  • The editor, ultimately, is responsible for ensuring people have the adequate tools and training to meet her requirements
On the editor's blog - I can't link because Jack Lessenbury doesn't link or reference her newspaper - one woman apparently posted "Is a reporter going to spend literally days covering one event?" 
To which I hope the Unknown Editor replied "yes, sometimes they do. Sometimes they sit in a court all day without filing anything other than a few pars, and sometimes they spend days on a story for it to collapse because the subject has had a change of heart. And if the event is important enough (and one might suggest a debate involving city leaders who were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit was important enough) then they would spend as much time as necessary covering it."

Look how long the Middlesbrough Gazette spent on this story outing their local MP as less-than-dedicated - "The Gazette has been making daily calls to Sir Stuart’s Westminster office and Middlesbrough home over the course of several months. Despite making a total of 100 calls, no one ever answered." Often, playing the long game is what garners the greatest rewards in journalism. 

Anyway, it might not mean much but I wholeheartedly support that Young Widowed Editor, whomever she may be. It's not memos exhorting staff to engage more and ask the questions that matter to their audiences that will kill journalism - nothing, I suspect, is going to kill journalism; it's just that some people won't recognise what it's becoming. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

I've been reading... 10/14/2011

  • ..."every community is different. I've personally talked to people in charge of large online communities – ones you probably participate in every day – and part of the reason those communities haven't broken down into utter chaos by now is because they secretly hellban and slowban their most problematic users. These solutions do neatly solve the problem of getting troublesome users to "voluntarily" decide to leave a community with a minimum of drama. It's hard to argue with techniques that are proven to work2...
    • I'm not quite sure how I feel about these sorts of reality-altering tricks that are impossible in the world of atoms. On some level, they feel disingenuous to me. And it's a bit like wishing users into the cornfield with superhuman powers far beyond the ken of normal people. But I've also spent many painful hours trapped in public dialog about users who were, at best, just wasting everyone's time. Democracy is a wonderful thing, but efficient, it ain't.
       That said, every community is different. I've personally talked to people in charge of large online communities – ones you probably participate in every day – and part of the reason those communities haven't broken down into utter chaos by now is because they secretly hellban and slowban their most problematic users. These solutions do neatly solve the problem of getting troublesome users to "voluntarily" decide to leave a community with a minimum of drama. It's hard to argue with techniques that are proven to work.
       I think everyone has a right to know what sort of jail their community uses, even these secret, invisible ones. But keep in mind that whether it's timed suspensions, traditional bans, or exotic hellbans and beyond, the goal is the same: civil, sane, and safe online communities for everyone.
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Future of Journalism conference plenary speaker Robert W McChesney

The Future of Journalism conference (day 2) Plenary speaker was Robert W McChesney, Gutgsell Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
He had some l issues with the points made by the previous day's Emily Bell. His talk was lively and authorative but, while he might have considered Emily as one-eyed over the futrue of journalism, I think he was too.
So, these are my notes of his session: 

1. The Guardian operation is not representative

The Guardian is a non profit organisation - take that and the other publicly funded media in this country out of the equation and there is not a whole lot left.
"If you don't have funding then it is not journalism. I don't know what it is. The world is filled with young peple who want to do journalism and there is no lack of talent or enthusiasm but there is a lack of support and funding. That is where I disagree with Emily Bell."
He also warned there was nothing on the horizon to suggest the labour Market in the US was going to improve and the critical situation US media found itself in was not going to get better.

2. The future from the past?

Professional journalism in the US at its best had deep flaws and these have grown more pronounced with commercial pressure. There are great journalists and great work being done but you cannot romanticise the professional system; it is so flawed it made it easy for the system to collapse. 
Professional journalism was mandated in the constitution a hundred years ago to protect media owners' monopoly powers in their local areas.
This crucial period defined journalism. It replaced sensationalism and lack of commitment to accuracy, but it had flaws.
Reliance on people in power set up the range of legitimate debate in a paper; so if a journalist raised an issue outside that they were seen as ideological. 
He have the example of investigative reporting into wars, saying the more certainty you hear about the reasons for US involvement in a conflict "the more it is likely to be bullshit pushed by people in power".
James Madison, the fourth ppresident of US, was a believer in free press; his argument rested on the schools he received he had as a classical scholar - that Athens and Rome became military empires and it led to their downfall. "Government cannot survive militarism."
Madison said the people of a country could only stop leaders from militaristic regimes is if they knew about it through a free press.

3. The economy, stupid, and other problems

There has been a huge increase in business news, he said, with newspapers employing multiple business writers and carrying sometimes two business sectinos. 
"Most of this journalism is utterly pathetic"  [and sucks up spin or extols CEOs] "and lets the top one per cent of society control debate on the economy."
He said journalism had missed entirely the scandals and housing, economy and other bubbles of the economy in recent years, showing there is a crisis in the Journalism industry. 
He added the lack of coverage of the growth of inequality was shocking, given the scale of the problem.
Thomas Jefferson said unless people without property had access to information democracy would not work.
Voting in the US shows the very wealthiest vote in presidential elections - 75%. About 20% of the poorest sections vote.
"Journalism's role is not to reinforce that but to reverse it and draw people into public life.
Professional journalism does not have to be this way. Reporting what is said accurately is not Journalism. Great journalists do not have different criteria for political parties. That is where we need to point towards."

5. Funding

Referring to Emily Bell's "dismissal of public money to support journalism" he described the concept as preposterous - "if all the philanthropists do eveything they can to make it work it will be a piss in the ocean". It is not enough, he said, adding a young person working for free trying to coax an ad from a micro company would not replace the existing model. 
ournalism is a public good. If all funding was removed from education what would you have? Good education for the wealthy, altruistic projects run by philanthropists, but it would be insufficient.

When advertising came into newspapers 50 -80% of revenue came from advertising and gave the lie that journalism was a profitable business but it was never going to be a sustainable model.
Advertising has always been a mixed blessing and advertisers have much more leverage than ever if you want their money.
"The pressure to compromise is greater  than ever. If you get something for free online you are not the customer, you are the product. And that shapes journalism and it does not shape it favourably."

6. Does state funding mean state-controlled press?
In the US, $1bn is spent in total on media in a nation of 310m people. If it spent per captia on public media as other nations it would be vastly more - eg. in the UK £25bn. Other countries spend much more on public media. These countries are not police states, the evidence is overwhelming for supporting media.
The five or six countries which have the largest public subsidies of journalism are the countries that are most democratic according to ratings by the Economist - that means the most free press exist in countries which have the most government support; increasing subsidies can lead to more aggressive press towards the government, not less.

Subsidies can work. America needs subsidies to increase money for public and community outlets and competing newsrooms in communities.
And, as part of the exercise, he said: "Let's take kids out of college for a year and teach them journalism."

Massive government subsidies were used to indiretly set up free press in the US in the 1700s. The government spend millions ensuring the establishing of a Post Office - the distribution outlet for a newspaper - and subsidising the cost, especially for local newspapers.

If the US today spent the same on subsidising papers today as it did in the 1840s it would cost $35bn plus.

7. The importance of journalism to a nation
You need institutions to protect journalists; people are beginning to accept this. They see there is no other option but subsidies - the debate should be how you make it work, not whether it is right.
The crisis in newspapers is part of the wider US crisis. We are looking at an ecological crisis too. Our political  system is off the rails - "dollarocracy". Public opinion in the US has not changed much on core government issue since the 1970.  The two political parties, however, have shifted dramatically and there is a huge gap between what people believe and what people in power believe.
The corporate crowds is happy with a journalism free environment.
He warned public broadcasting was in a precarious position and the news media diet of Americans was appalling. "At a  local level it is mind boggling what has happened."
Working conditions for paid journalists are much worse. The era of the "digital sweatshop" - working for Huffington Post or Yahoo.

The three biggest political scandals in Washington in recent years all came about through three reporters and all three are now unemployed.
"Volunteer dudes" do not expose corruption, he said, adding: "If I'm not getting paid I'm going to cover the basketball game not spent months investigating corruption."

The future of journalism?

Pew Centre has been researching Baltimore news for the past 25 years to see how many completely original news stories were being done in Baltimore -including tweets - and it is down 70% since 1991. " There still seems plenty of news and we will always have news but not much journalism."
Pew looked at what made something news - 86 per cent came from PR or official sources. It is cheap to do, but it is wrong. Ratio of PR people to journalists in the US IN 1960 was 1-1 in 1980 2-1 and now 4-1
A crucial part of PR is to influence the news. "We will have a lot of news but it will be largely propaganda and spin - much of it extraordinary right wing propaganda."

He finished by warning we don't have the luxury to wait twenty years for journalism to be saved we need it now. "We always talk as scholars about how democracy needs journalism but you can't have journalism without democracy. It thrives at it's best in a democratic society."
Pessimism is self fulfilling, he said.
In the US we are in a very different place to what we have previously experienced. Scholars are often said to be fighting 'last year's war' and that doesn't work any more. We are entering terra incognita.

It is an much better resources version of our NPR but the code of journalism it has adopted allows people in power far too much power in what is being discussed.
The solution in the US is that you have to have more than one form of publicly funded media outlet.
His suggestion to fund digital journalism: Give everyone a vouchers to give go any news medium of their choice, and those outlets must put everything in the public domain. Nothing is protected by copyright.
If everyone had a $200 voucher and banded together with others you could hire a reporter to work for you. "Of course a handful would dominate and it would crystallise over the years."
Digital makes a mockery of the current model. We can't set up barbed wire and charge people to get in. Let them pay in advance through a system that gives them choice.

And he finished by warning: "Investigative journalism in US now boils down to someone leaking something to a journalist. The people who own our media aren't keen on pissing off people in power by investigating what they are doing."
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