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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Thursday, 8 September 2011

Future of Journalism conf: notes from plenary speaker Emily Bell #foj11

I spent a couple of hours this morning at the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff, where the plenary speaker was Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia's
Graduate School of Journalism and former director of digital content for the Guardian.
Her talk was titled The (Many) Future(s) of Journalism, and my notes are below, if you missed the live stream of the event...

1. The 'stop talking start doing' complaint about conferences

"I'm glad to be here talking about the future of journalism because in 1987 the only discussion we had about. Future of journalism was to do with printing strikes, it was nothing to do with the newsroom."
She said that at one stage academia existed to put people into jobs that were heavily templated.
It was accepted that the best way to do journalism was the way it had always been done, and answers were not easy: "There are no silver bullets because journalism is less defined by the business that
supports it. We are left with a shapeshifting proposition that dodges definition."

The whole 'citizen journalist' and pro/am debate is a cul de sac:
"Arguing over who may or may not be a journalist is futile. I [cannot be arrested] for pretending to be a journalist.
"We can stretch the metaphor and say in the future everyone will be a journalist for 15 mins. The pro and the am are increasingly indistinguishable able so go pick one future is hard because it has a future as a process, business and profession."

2. Future of 'good' journalism and future of 'bad' journalism

The argument of five years ago was that the future would be good for bad journalism because there would be fewer journalists doing good journalism.
It would open the opportunity of journalism to anyone who wanted to pretend to be a journalist and 'peddle lies'.
"It would strap us to a hamster wheel of live reporting, sacrificing analysis in-depth complex journalism for a torrent of live stream information. It would be dominated by technologists. We saw this as a bad thing."
But actually, she continued, these elements favour good journalism and will help render bad journalism all but irrelevant.

The idea that journalism would be picked apart by others - such as search engines, aggregators etc - is actually a benefit to journalism.
It allows journalism to learn from other fields and bring it back to improve itself. It has been in defence mode for a long time and is starting to break out of it's boundaries.
The future of journalism lies beyond its borders.
It is about having to understand tech and platforms that deliver it. Columbia University has journalism courses that run in tandem alongside computer sciences.
"These students are asking if there are better ways to do things, and to innovate how to deliver journalism well. You see lots and lots of solutions coming out of technology minded people in newsrooms and that
is no longer the preserve of technology companies."
She outlined using Storify to liveblog an event, and how exciting they found it. Soundcloud Document Cloud, Twitter etc are the students' new toolkit.

The inclusion of non journalists has been beneficial, contrary to what may have been though. Eg wikileaks cables collaboration with mainstream media, also the Japan earthquake saw a pop up blog set up
and run by students who explained what the data and metrics from the quake monitoring site meant, and it was part of the system of journalism aggregated and pointed to by other news organisations,
Core skills will be how to make the best of collaboration. Eg NYT  linking up with a local radio station.

Guardian coverage of the England riots was a social activity - relying on crowdsourcing.
There is almost no evidence to show whether David Camereon was right to say social media was behind the riots. The Guardian collected and analysed tweets and is now using its' Twitter analysis to work with Rowntree Foundation and LSE to see if that is the case.

3. "Instant journalism is bad journalism"
The most galvanising thing to happen to journalism is social web and mobile devices.
Journalists felt challenged by this. [quick observation from me: I don't think we all did!]
She used Andy Carvin as an example of working beyond platforms. Also the Watershed Post, set up by two people in the Catskills who felt they had toolittle media representation.
The livestream of journalism, the involvement people who are not journalists In the traditional sense and the technological tools we use benefit good journalism.

4. "The lack of money is good for journalism"... "Or it's the reality we live in."

There is not going to be the same level of revenue coming in to digital journalism as there was in legacy media and we will be working in reduced means.
Journalism as a working business model is fetishised. The most profitable journalism can be the worst journalism - so bad it closes a newspaper. It shows the problem when the primary focus becomes
profit. Now it is sustainability and profit is not the defining factor of why journalist go into the business.

She used the Journal Register as an example of how sustainability and a rethink has caused such a dramatic change. "We don't know how this will work or if it will, but we know that if we don't try it how the
story ends".
Propublica model has Pulitzer prizes, is one of the most advanced in data use in the world.
"Data, mobile, cms, all of these and the benefits they bring to good journalism could be discussed at length. There is a huge amount of this that is not properly understood."

5. There is no clear answer to what journalism will look like in five years time but there are clues

The future is there to be defined. We have a collective capacity to make this work but it can only be done by looking out and upwards.
Digital costs a lot less to do. It doesn't have the legacy costs. The Guardian has money to spend because it gets money from Autotrader, a purely digital product. If you understand the cost of what you are doing it helps - a lot of good journalism comes out of things that don't make money.

Updated: Robert Andrews' Paid Content article on Emily Bell's presentation is here

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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

For love not money: wise words from Cardiff Bloggers Meet

Now I’ve moved from Liverpool I miss the social meets a lot. Things like Ignite Liverpool, tweetups, Twestival, TEDxLiverpool, and Social Media Cafe turned online mates into real life friends and it was great.
Plus, there’s a kind of comfort in walking into a room and knowing you’re among people who can recognise any given Last Exit to Nowhere logo instantly.

 So although work meant I couldn’t make the first Cardiff Bloggers Meet I was able to get to last night’s - I think it was the first the second one organised sans Hannah Waldram and Ed Walker - held in Jolyons, and it was a packed house. 

Liverpool didn’t have a bloggers meet so I didn’t know what to expect from Cardiff Bloggers. The answer was a buzz of chatter, and a lot of friendly types.
I’d gone with No.1 Friend Glyn Mottershead, and we skipped the blogging surgery that preceded the meet, arriving just ahead of the first talk by Amy Davies, whose Cardiff Arcades Project chronicles the city’s fantastic Victorian and Edwardian arcades through photos and interviews with the shops and occupants.
She spoke honestly and very engagingly about the project - which recently resulted in an exhibition - and had some great tips on blogging and blog projects, around the ‘love not money’ theme.

So, some of the standout points from Amy’s talk:

Pluses: Blogging can give you confidence, you get a buzz from doing things other people are enjoying. (For Amy, it also enhanced her career as a prospective employer knew the arcades project site)

Pitfalls: Others taking your work without consent - particularly relevant for Amy’s photo project. She said: “People take the piss” (sad but true)

Use your community: When she started out Amy canvassed the idea on Twitter and got a lot of positive support from her networks. So she did it.

Cost: A big blogging project can bring losses. Amy warned that as well as being an investment of time, there are financial implications that come with buying domain names, business cards, equipment etc. On the plus side, Amy now sells her photos from her project and received donations towards staging her exhibition. But she said: Think before you start about how much time and money, because it can be demanding. Some exciting blogs start up that don't continue because of that commitment"

Traffic: The arcades project site has between 3-4k hits a month but, Amy stressed, “targets don’t matter. They did, but I don’t worry about it any more”

 One thing Amy said that struck a real chord with me: “Remember why you do it. Love what you are doing and never forget the reason why you started. As soon as anything becomes too much step back and reassess what you're doing, because if you don't love it there is no point.”

Also guest speaking at the event was Jeremy Rees, a volunteer broadcaster for the community-driven Radio Cardiff.
Now, Radio Cardiff came as a bit of a surprise to me as I’d never heard of it - Jeff explained why pretty quickly; there are parts of the city that can’t receive it, and I live in one such dead space.
“If you live in Weston-Super-Mare, you’ll get it” Jeremy said, ruefully.

From what I learned about Radio Cardiff, and it’s small but dedicated team, the theme of ‘For love, not money’ couldn’t have been more true:

Little acorns: Radio Cardiff operates out of a converted garage in Cardiff Bay and purely run by volunteers. It is the only radio station in the UK that has receives zero grant funding and survives by benefits and advertising.

Passion is everything: Jeremy has a Saturday morning show on Soul and Motown music - “I have a passion for radio; I work full-time but get up at 5am on Saturday to do the community radio, because I love it it's not a chore”.

Collaboration is vital: One of his other jobs is to coordinate the news output on the station. He said: “My dream is that people throughout the city write news and send it a central point and it gets disseminated via the radio. I would love local people to get involved”

Planning for the future: Radio Cardiff licence ends in 2012 but there will be moves to keep it going and to increase the number of people who can hear it. The volunteers are also looking into internet radio.

Social media can be a double-edged sword: “Increasingly it is how we find out what is happening, and now people find out about us” … but the Radio Cardiff Twitter feed was set up by an “inspired volunteer who left and now no one has the password” (This is a nightmare I'm familiar with; a former, enthusiastic colleague set up myriad Liverpool Echo accounts on social networks, didn’t tell anyone, forgot the passwords, left - and it took a long time to get them shut down. We didn’t manage to close all of them and just had to start again.)

Your audience is... unpredictable: Radio Cardiff was set up to broadcast music of black origin to minority groups in Cardiff but its’listener base is diverse and large, only in the evenings is it a markedly younger demographic.

Your audience is... listening: How do you know if you have an audience? "I'm reassured when I make a mistake and people get in touch no matter how early it is".

So, two very different, fascinating projects - both with messages that I took lessons from. I had a fantastic time at the meet and I did indeed meet a lot of truly nice people.
So - blog advice, interesting speakers, friendly faces and red wine... not your average blustery Monday September night at all. Thanks @cdfblogs!