Tuesday, 23 August 2011

What message are the NCE editors sending out to their newsrooms?

I saw an update on Twitter today that read: 
Editors: 'Traditional skills more important than new media' 
with a link that I clicked, and it took me to this Press Gazette story. 
(I appreciate the above isn't an award-winning opening sentence but bear with me, all will become clear I hope...)

So once I'd clicked my link and visited PG this was the first thing I read: 
Editors involved in a review of the National Council for Training of Journalists' NCE qualification for senior journalists have urged the training body to continue emphasising traditional journalism skills over the use of new media.
More than 100 editors and senior managers were asked to assess the importance of skills ranging from legal understanding to how journalists use social media.
The top four most important skills cited by editors were: writing, finding news stories, interviewing and legal knowledge - while at the bottom of the list came social media, web skills and interaction with readers.
It's possible that third par has been worded to prod the hornets' next a little but I guess these are - if not explicitly stated as being luxuries - viewed as of being of some usefulness but not really what journalism is about.

However, I'd be amazed if all editors really saw things as narrowly as this - after all, they are journalists and we're trained to see the angles in everything.
Surveys can be so one-dimensional and I cannot imagine many editors who have believe the frankly-ludicrous Interview part of the NCE is more useful than web skills. Or video. Or an ability to moonwalk, to be honest.
I used to act as an 'observer' on the interview part of the exam (yes I was that shadowy figure who at in the corner and never spoke) and I can honestly say all that part of the day ever did was teach journalists to fire questions like 'and did anything unusual happen during the rescue?'  in a most un-real world manner, simply because the candidates all knew there was always a hidden nugget of information - like, the guinea pig alerted the family to the fire or the rugby team was actually a women's XV, lawdblessmysoul!

I wholeheartedly agree that finding stories, interviewing, local knowledge, are fundamental skills for anyone who wants to report (whether that's in msm or otherwise). But here's the thing; why would any editor say these were more important than social media, web skills and interaction? Why would any editor not understand that these are intrinsic to finding stories, interviewing and local knowledge?

Finding stories could just as easily be called crowdsourcing, something made possible by  online social networks. Web skills surely boil down to an ability to work online effectively - be that on Facebook or in Google search - and what editor wouldn't view an ability to use Google search that as essential?
What are print skills? Are they an ability to write a headline, sub a story, design a page? Because if you're going to break things down into web or print, then the universal across both include: 

Meanwhile, online you have the added ability to 
Add media
... and much more
It's no controversy to state that nine times out of ten you'll find more stories through judicious searching on social media than you will reading public notice boards on your beat patch or the death notices in your paper. You'll also get a faster, wider, more engaged response if you ask for help on a social network than if you put 'Got  a story? Contact our newsdesk' on the strap of a page. How would I have found the PG story if it hadn't tweeted it? I'm far more likely to visit a website when prompted by a Twitter link.

Another editor's comment that stood out for me as this one:
“I think the exam is still about fundamental journalistic standards – it is not a test of Facebook and Twitter skills or, for that matter, audio and video,” commented one editor. They have their place but they are not as important as the underlying principles of accuracy, objectivity, balance and news sense. The NCE should be about testing those.”
How must that editor's digital team feel? Less than valued, I'd imagine, if they knew what their boss really thought of them.
As a digital journalist, you have more skills than most of your colleagues: your toolbox includes soundslides, video, running multiple social media accounts, creating unique online content, and the ability to rewrite (or just write) webheads that are SEO-ed, add photographs, embed multimedia, move the the sports pages football splash out of the Tennis story list where it's inexplicably ended up, the list goes on.
If an editor doesn't think that's at least as important as what's being done elsewhere in the newsroom, what sort of message does it send out?

Updated August 24 2011
There have been some very eloquent blog postson the report that I've caught up with today; I'm adding them in here as they address a wide variety of points, from different perspectives...

Educator and digital star Andy Dickinson: "Frustrating as it is, I’m not surprised by the report or the reaction to it. I’ve kind of moved beyond being annoyed by the continued blurring of the lines between NCTJ marketing and the ‘views of industry’. What annoys me about this report is that it’s so output driven – it’s all about getting the paper out not about the process"
Full post here 

Martin Belam, Lead User Experience & Information Architect at Guardian News & Media: "If you get a job in a newsroom, you will be surrounded by years of experience in “traditional” journalism. What you won’t generally have is frequent access to people with the digital skillsets the industry is transitioning towards."
Full post here

Adam Tinsworth, Editorial Development Manager for Reed Business Information: "Trying to separate working a beat from social networking and the web is pretty much like trying to separate it from using the telephone: ridiculous. But the problem is that anything new has this vague sheen of "techie" that people seem to use as an excuse not to move beyond their comfort zone - and there's plenty of evidence of that in the comments on the original post."
Full post here

David Higgerson, Head of Multimedia for Trinity Mirror: "Ironically, interaction with readers scored more highly than using social media, but lower than finding news stories. Surely the three go hand-in-hand. Each can be done by the journalist on its own, but the successful, employable journalist will be one who can do all three without thinking about it."
Full post here

I've now uploaded the NCE report to Scribd (embedded below)

NCE report 2011 - * Pic via AccessHollywood 
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Woman loses phone; world's media agog

Sometimes a story can change how you see the world and your fellow man. And then there's this... 

I'm not singling out Yahoo News because a quick search revealed a whole host of other news websites were equally gripped by the drama - from Gulf News to Kentucky.com to CBS News; I clicked back 15 pages of the Google search before I lost the will to live - but, frankly, it's no wonder so many people take a dim view of the press. I bet half these sites didn't even know they were reporting the Double Phone Loss of US Heiress - they had an automated feed from AP and off it went.
How depressing is that? 

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How to stop internet trolls (infographic)

If you manage online communities, this infographic by community102.com will no doubt strike a chord.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

When does a story become a story?

When does a story become a story? Could it be when it comes to the attention of the London media?
The stick rattling my cage is an Observer article where the interviewer has discovered - in a style akin to a 13-year-old girl meeting The Biebmeister - Richard Parks.

Now, Parks is someone I've learned a lot about in a short time since moving to Wales, as everyone here thinks he sits on the left hand of whatever their particular chosen deity is. To find out more about what he's done, visit the 737 Challenge website although most people in Wales are not only aware of what he's done, they are extremely - vocally - proud of him.

Last week he came into Media Wales to do a Q&A liveblog and the response was phenomenal, with people logging on from all over the world to pass on congratulations.
But you wouldn't realise that it was well-told story if you read the Observer piece, which you can do  here. The points that particularly irked me (especially as I only heard about Richard Parks when I moved to Wales in January, and found everyone was in awe of him) were this....

and this...
Reader, I disagree with him.
Richard Parks' exploits have been reported on in near-forensic detail by Welsh MSM (and highlighted in the blogosphere, message boards and non-MSM, for that matter).
Many of the Welsh papers have followed his achievements at least week-by-week; reporters from TV and print checked in with Richard or his pr representative daily, because there was huge appetite from readers to know how he was faring, when he was setting off again, if The Toe had succumbed to frostbite forever.... it was the most comprehensively reported case of frostbitten appendage in the history of such things, I suspect.

Don't take my word for it; you can see it on this page on WalesOnline this page on thisisgwent.co.uk or just run his name through the internal searches for BBC Wales and ITV Wales for video reports . There are others, I'm sure, and I'll update this as necessary. 
I don't often get defensive but it's unfair that the work of so many of Parks' supporters (within the media and the wider public) is dismissed by a writer who dashed off some words about the lack of interest in Parks' exploits without checking facts.
Off the top of my head, these are some of the mainstream media in Wales who have followed Richard Parks' 737 Challenge from the very beginning: BBC Wales - tv, online and radio - ITV Wales - online and tv - the Western Mail (the national newspaper of Wales, WalesOnline* (national news site), Wales on Sunday* (Sunday newspaper covering Wales) The South Wales Echo (regional evening newspaper), the South Wales Argus (regional evening newspaper) and its companion website, the Gwent Gazette (weekly newspaper) and the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer.
This is not "frankly derisory" media coverage. London-based press and broadcast media may not have paid much attention until Richard Parks finally scaled his last peak but that doesn't mean it didn't exist. I can't remember the last time I wrote a 'check your facts' blog post but the Observer is seriously wide of the mark with this claim and it deserves redressing.
I may work for Media Wales but I still consider myself outside-looking-in on the Richard Parks story; it started before I got here and everything I know about the challenge, I've learned from talking to people in the office, reading articles in the Welsh press, watching the excellent documentary on BBC One Wales, and following the 737 Challenge blog and tweets. 

Local press (and local tv and radio) are frequently in at the sharp end long before London shows up to let us see how it should be done; I guess local bloggers and microbloggers are there before all of us. It would be good if the foodchain (in both directions) got a little more acknowledgement.

Here are two examples of the coverage:
South Wales Echo front page

Western Mail front page

And, just out of curiosity, I ran an internal search on guardian.co.uk to see the level of coverage afforded the same story. I know internal searches are tricksy beasts and I'm sure a more judicious search would have turned up more. Nevertheless:

 **Disclosure: I'm editor of WoS and WalesOnline

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Friday, 5 August 2011

A brief moment of newsroom nostalgia

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I was talking to a colleague recently who mentioned the days of "pots of Gloy"and suddenly, for the first time in years, I recalled watching newspapers being literally pasted together, while trying to avoid being walked into by men wielding scalpels.

Then I rediscovered a link Adrian McEwen sent me some time ago to the All On Paper experiment, where pre-computer technology was being used to produce a student newspaper.

And when I stopped to consider those two separate occurances - a conversation about how things were, and a student experiment of recreating the old, while learning the new - I realised any argument about people's inability to adapt to a shifting newsroom culture collapses to nothing.

Writing a story used to involve a typewriter and carbon paper. It evolved into an boxy word processor (possibly resembling this):

Subbing a story used to involve physically cutting up hard copy and shifting paragraphs around, or inserting new ones (hence the pots of Gloy).
I did barely any page design, and was a true roving hack, but even I had a protractor.
Now, we're designing data visualisations that allow readers to interact, to take the data and reuse, and (if we're wise) to share our creations on their own publishing platforms.
Truly, the past is another country.

The days of people lighting a cigarette with one hand while taking a shorthand note, with the phone cradled somewhere between shoulder and ear, are gone. 
The passage of typewriters means the noise has gone too. 
Sometimes, when people are working flat out, the only real sound is of muted phone rings and the air conditioning. When the presses moved out of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo, the familiar rumble and shake from the bowels of the building ended forever, and another soundtrack to the industry was lost.

But media goes on. People keep making news, journalists keep reporting it, albeit in smaller numbers, and with vastly different tools. 
No old stager of a hack would leave the office without their mobile phone now any more than they  would their notebook - a small adaption but a significant one. My phone is an indispensable tool, just like the internet.

A co-worker once warned me not to try and change X, because X had done it that way forever and wouldn't change. Frankly, I can't imagine many more insulting things to say about a colleague - especially a journalist. We change all the time, sometimes through choice, sometimes through circumstances; when we say someone else can't change, we're projecting our own fears and obstinacy on to them - quite wrongly in most instances, I'd imagine.
I enjoyed my little moment of newspaper nostalgia, courtesy of Gloy, but I couldn't imagine going back to making news like that.

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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The New Zealand earthquake and the (amazing) Christchurch Press

How do you spot a journalist in the chaos surrounding a disaster? As a general rule of thumb I'd suggest they'll be the ones running in the opposite direction to the rest of the crowd.

I guess most journos have experienced different degrees of this - heading towards something that they'd prefer not to, either because of natural curiosity or because they are more fearful of their news editor than whatever lies ahead.

But very few have experienced anything like that in the video below, where Christchurch Press, NZ, staff, headed out to report on an earthquake measuring 50 on the Richter Scale. I felt very privileged to be able to see how they reacted - both in the immediate aftermath and in the ensuing days and weeks - and the insight came thanks to Gareth Codd, who is general manager for sister publication the Southland Times.

Gareth was drafted in to help the Christchurch Press staff organise themselves and continue reporting and publishing immediately after the quake - he was chosen as he hadn't been involved and had no family in Christchurch. That meant he could think about the immediate problems without having the personal issues to deal with as well.
Gareth was back home in the UK last month, and gave me permission to use a version of an internal Fairfax Media Powerpoint presentation on this blog. It's uploaded here as a video.*

Listening to Gareth's account of the organisation needed to produce an edition of the paper - cobbled together by reporters on laptops and mobile devices as they sat al fresco amid the wreckage - and the logistics of delivering to news agents and homes on streets they had no idea even existed any more, was fascinating.

Digitally, there was no network - anyone trying to log on to find out what was happening couldn't get online and the paper became many people's touchstone (although sales rose in the days after the quake, they have fallen back again - how soon readers lapse back into indifference!) Emergency services also used the paper (and probably other media) to get information out fast.

The Press is still being produced out of portable buildings although its offices have since been rebuilt, and the teams are preparing to move back into them. One colleague died and several were seriously injured in the quake, many were badly shocked but still elected to work that day... and kept coming back to work in the following days to get the news out.

Gareth explained one of the biggest problems managers faced was convincing people to stop working, to go home and let someone else take up the story.
I wonder if that's partly because journalists see and experience things you wouldn't expect to in many other professions (this has obviously changed a lot in recent years - I guess the days of journos ducking under the crime scene tape for a quick chat are gone forever) and maybe putting on the 'journalist' persona helps you process that. It's when you go back to being Joe Public, and take off the facade that things hit home.

Anyway, I think the video is also a reminder that, beyond the UK's grubby Phone-hacking scandal with all its accusations of back-handings and worse, mainstream media can and should be a vital part of any community, and provide a valued, valuable service.

In New Zealand it was it writ on a grand scale, with terrible destruction and tragic loss of life, but the journalists in Christchurch played a fundamental role in helping people understand what happened to their community, by sharing information and stories (some were their own, of course).  
I admire them hugely.

* The video has been edited for legal reasons and I disabled embedding after some thought as it's not mine to share.