Category Archives: First Semester Blogs

Twitter – join the debate

I’m not sure about twitter.

From what I’ve heard, I’m reckoning the new journalistic tool is creating a bit of a ‘love it or hate it’ marmite-esque debate throughout the industry.

As Jessica Elgot explained in her blog this week, Nick Curtis of the Evening Standard has openly admitted he doesn’t see the appeal of Twitter. In his own words, “I can’t find any celebrities, or any breaking news, just endless prattle from people with too much time and too little imagination.”

But there are others who swear by the new journalistic tool and see it as a refreshing improvement for the new age of journalism.

There are several reasons why I am not rushing to be one of them.

Let’s start with Facebook status updates. There are two types of people out there – those who update their status regularly and those who don’t. I myself fit into the non-status update category. Which I fear has subconsciously influenced my Twitter life – in that I never really tweet.

But despite my lack of Twitter involvement I am always interested to hear what others are saying and in that sense it is an effective communicative tool.

I would be interested to know how frequently Twitter’s 1.05 million users indeed ‘tweet’ – and how many of them are journalists.

I am currently more likely to log on to a dedicated news website to check what’s going on in the world rather than sift through various peoples tweets.

Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent for the BBC, showed us an example of Twitter doing its thing in our lecture last week. He was intending to show us just how efficiently Twitter broke the news about the Mumbai terror attacks but instead showed us how effectively the site relayed information twitters had heard from other news sources – such as the BBC.

Twitter of course cannot offer anything other than short bulletins. Pictures, real stories and other multimedia tools are a no go but as Jeff Jarvis infamously says – “what you can’t do best link to the rest.” For this, twitter and its pal tiny URL are ideal!

Rory Cellan-Jones also had a valid point when he said. “Crazy’s very quickly develop in the news,” can we trust what people on twitter are saying to us? They might appear to be working for a news institution but how do we actually know that is indeed who they are? In this case Twitter could become a dangerous tool of mis-communication.

Though it might be an effective way of issuing information quickly I don’t see it ever developing beyond that. Whether it will prove to be a sustainable news source and/or journalistic tool therefore remains to be seen.

While I might remain sceptical about twitters use as a journalistic tool I do agree its communicative ability is revolutionary. And I shall try and make a conscious effort to use it from now on – then I might have a more informed argument to join in the great Twitter debate.

Regional papers – a downward spiral?

Over the last week I have taken part in two conversations with people about the death of the local paper industry. Neither of them are associated with journalism in any way, but both expressed sincere disbelief – even shock – at the thought of regional papers dying a slow death. 

One of those people was a doctor in his 60’s and the other a 23-year-old man. Both insisted regional papers would be just fine because ‘people will always want to sit down with a cup of tea and flick through the paper’. And, ironically, the younger of the pair stated he ‘would not read the news if he had to do so on the internet’.

I think I must have just assumed that the general public (not those listening to weekly or even daily lectures on how journalism is changing) would still have a fair idea of what was going on with the decline of the regionals. But the fact that they didn’t made me think – what if it’s not all bad? 

Then I came across this article. Hold the front page are talking about my home town’s local paper and the serious job cuts being faced by employees there – and my moment of regional paper orientated optimism was over. It is dying a death. So they need to keep up with the changes – and fast.

As Rick Waghorn mentioned in our lecture last week: “Local papers have thrived on local monopolies. One thing the web does not do is local monopolies.” Which is a bit of a shame really.

So the solution – most definitely backed by Rick Waghorn is – get it on the net. And as was suggested by Jeff Jarvis, ‘what you don’t do best – link to the rest.’

Seems logical enough – but will that really prove to be a successful way of attracting readers, and perhaps more importantly – keeping them? Do readers want all their news and information spread about or do they want it in one easily accessible chunk? I suppose only time will tell.

But what I do completely agree with is the importance of user generated content. Communications Editor for The Telegraph,Shane Richmond proved its importance when talking about the blog centre ‘My Telegraph’ which is proving to be a not only successful, but revolutionary, piece of technological and socialogical journalistic engineering.

But it’s probably easier for ‘My Telegraph’ to attract thousands of users to its blogosphere than it is for Torquay’s Herald Express, and here lies the problem of making any sort of money from a local online journalism industry attempting to attract readers using user generated content.

Rick Waghorn, creator of myfootballwriter.com firmly believes in the production of ‘mylocalwriter.com’ websites. Sites that potentially could deliver all the local news to its audience straight from one reporter and one computer.

But why should we listen one ‘localwriter’ over anyone else? Is it too simple to be appealing?

A facebook message was sent to me from my local paper (the aforementioned Herald Express) on Tuesday regarding an incident involving an old woman and a lorry. I then read the following 13 comments left under the note and got pretty much all  the information I needed from them.

This is what I was sent by the paper – a generic facebook note.

——————————————————————————————————–

Torquay HeraldExpress wrote a new note.

Paignton ‘serious accident’

PALACE Avenue in Paignton town centre was closed just before midday on Monday after reports of a serious accident involving a lorry and a pedestrian.

Police said they expected the road to be closed for some time.

——————————————————————————————————–

Then the comments started flooding in – steadily exposing the story. All from user generated content posted as comments on facebook:

 

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– Debbie Da’silva-Dias at 1:15pm December 1

ohno, hope no one is too badly hurt

– Lee Hayward at 2:05pm December 1

Police were originally saying it was a fatal.

– Caron Neal at 2:19pm December 1I’ve just heard on Palm 105.5 it looks if Palace Avenue is going to be closed for quiet sometime if that is the case it must be something very serious.

– Nikki Bickerton ‘was Howe’ at 2:37pm December 1

as far as i know it is a fatal…..friend walked past and they had a blanket totally covering her 😦

– Amanda Hassall at 2:46pm December 1

just come out of work and heard from someone who was there at the time and said its a fatal and the big issue man covered her over with his blanket it was really ugly apparently

– Caron Neal at 3:02pm December 1

Palm 105.5 said that the Police are keeping Palace Avenue closed till 7.30pm. apparently the woman who was injuried in the accident is in a serious condition at Torbay Hospital it has just been reported.

– Dianne Bradley at 3:16pm December 1

poor thing, from what my son inlaw saw, he dont think she will make it, he was comforting some one that saw it happen, he is a bit shaken up by it too,

– Jemma Stacey at 3:47pm December 1

My sister was walking past earlier todaythere was police ambulance and fire there. she heard some one talking about it they said it was quite some time after it had happend and there was a big blue tarpolen put up. the fire men were still trying to clean up the mess aparently, the lorry ran right over her. it is such a shock. 

i havent heard anything since but by the sounds of the clear up i dont expect the elderly lady servived. 

my heart goes out to everyone involved.

xxxx

– Caron Neal at 4:42pm December 1

As an ex A & E nurse I know the doctors & nurses at Torbay Hospital will be doing their utter most best to save the elderly lady if she’s in good health she might pull through but it depends on her internal injuries.

my heart goes out to her family

– Lee Hayward at 4:42pm December 1

This was a particularly nasty collision. The area is still closed and will stay that way for a while yet. The elderly lady did not survive.

– Naomi Williams at 6:49pm December 1

the lady has died!

– Debbie Da’silva-Dias at 8:13pm December 1

Awful, they were still all there clearing up at 5 oclock.

– Vanessa Claire Grimston at 10:10pm December 1

Yeah unfort the old lady didnt survive my thoughts go out to her family x

– Amanda Hassall at 10:28pm December 1

they didnt clear away till 8.15

 

——————————————————————————————————–

 

Ok so here we’ve been given pretty much all the information any reader would need – who? what? where? why? when?  Yep it’s all covered. All we’re missing are a couple of pictures and a few quotes.

But are they needed? I would suggest the facts in this story and the facebook style exposition makes it unusually compelling. Plus it was free. 

Now when I saw first saw these comments I thought – wow what a fantastic example of how user generated content is working –  then I got a little concerned about the role of the journalist in all this. Because other than the prompting ‘note’ there is absolutely no need for a journalist to be involved at all. Of course not all stories could work like this but it did drill home the idea that journalists are becoming facilitators as much as they are reporters – and adds to my now very real concern for local papers.

So perhaps mylocalwriter is the way forward – but I have to agree with the two people I spoke to about the decline of the regional. It just won’t be the same. 

Keep blogging….keep safe

Emphasis is increasingly being placed on the creation of personal journalist brands. These brands are centred around a journalist’s specific opinions  and views – but is there a level of risk in this necessary personalisation?

On googling this idea I found a forum on which various online contributors discuss the dangers of blogging, one of whom says: “Is blogging inherently safe? No. Anytime you express controversial opinions in a public forum you are subjecting yourself to some level of risk.”

New Computer desk by karindalziel

New Computer desk by karindalziel

 

This idea of safety through internet publication is one I began considering after reading the Media Guardian this week – the front page of which was dedicated to the brutal beating of Mikhail Beketov.

Beketov may not have been widely using the internet for his publication but the general idea that journalists are being targetted more than ever for broadcasting controversial opinions on a worldwide scale is one that cannot go unmentioned.

Speaking for the Christian Science Monitor, Alexandra Marks suggested journalists are no longer objective communicators but have become representatives of nations and cultures: “To some attackers, who are accustomed to a government controlled press, foreign journalists are symbols of their home governments rather than independent, objective news gatherers – targets or political pawns rather than information providers,” – a potentially life threatening position to be in.

Harrowing tales of attacks on journalists in the field are not uncommon so perhaps now is the time to offer safety guidance to those increasingly relying on the internet to publish sometimes controversial and strong-willed opinions.

And let’s not forget hobbiest-writers are as likely to get into strife for publishing opinions as professional journalists. Blogs are subject to no professional hierarchy – if it’s good, it’s read.

Raja Petra Kamarudin, for example – has been detained in Malaysia indefinitely for what were seen as defamatory comments about Islam. 

User Generated Content has given people worldwide a platform to express opinions – and behind the safety of a screen. 

But I fear it is sometimes too easy to forget that what is being written by one solitary person is capable of being read by vast numbers of people on a global scale. 

There are, of course, people who use the security of the internet to their advantage – take the recent online revelation of the Baby P case names, or the leaked names of the BNP members. Two instances in just the last month where people have used the safety and protection of the internet to publish the unpublishable.

As was stated by Communications Editor of The Telegraph, Shane Richmond,  contempt of court laws will not survive the web. They are simply being discarded by internet lobbiers. 

So while the world adjusts to web based journalism and considers what the unpredictable development of it will bring, what we also have to remember is that laws and safety measures are changing to a potentially dangerous extent.

Keeping it simple

Is it wrong I felt relieved (and ever so slightly smug) when I heard the statement: “no one really understands the Internet” by Anthony Mayfield last week?

I couldn’t really help it – largely because having an insight into the future of journalism can at times seem a bit overwhelming. I know we have no choice but to get to grips with it but it’s nice to hear we are all as clueless as one another as to where it’s going ey?!

I mean, the whole Internet ideal could be considered a bit of a mess really – it’s fantastic -but it’s a mess. These diagrams are designed to show us how networking on the internet works??? Could they be any more complicated???

A diagram displaying social networking trends.

A diagram displaying social networking trends.

With all this in mind maybe what we really need for the development of the online journalism world is simplicity.

But is simplicity a good thing? Take search engine optimisation (soe). It is imperative that headlines are constructed using soe friendly vocab – but in doing that are we losing a bit of the traditional newspaper generic.

Effective headlines and use of aesthetics have always been important in the print industry and are now may be even more so on the Internet. Photo supplied by B.A.Sykes.

Effective headlines and use of aesthetics have always been important in the print industry and are now may be even more so on the Internet. Photo supplied by B.A.Sykes.

As Elinor Mills says, “Pithy, witty and provocative headlines–the pride of many an editor–are often useless and even counterproductive in getting the Web page ranked high in search engines.”

The key to headlines nowadays is simplicity. They don’t need to be fancy, clever, pun-tastic jewels of journalism anymore they are simply required to do one thing – tell the story in the most concise, soe-friendly way.

This simplifying of all things dot com-orientated is being echoed all over the Internet in a much broader sense.

Maybe because we are the first cyber generation trying to get to grips with the online world the majority of us our happy to stick with what we know – which means keeping everything that little bit simpler. If we want to use a search engine – Google it is. If we want to do some social networking – head for Facebook. It’s a given. 

What we feel comfortable with is simple, accessible, online information and tools. Which is something I think needs to be remembered as the Internet and as online journalism develops.

As was stated in a presentation by Steve Klein, “The web is sinking in bs, and users are not impressed.”

What he goes on to say is that articles on the web are driven by impatient readers – and what is needed is simplicity in language. No more than 60 words a line, justified to the left or right but definitely not in the centre and certainly as short a piece as possible – which is a shame – but what we need to combat the baffling vastness of web space is an element of simplicity.

Surely, therefore, the key to the success of online journalism is tech-savvy journalists? Journalists who are capable of writing for the Internet in terms of blogs, immediacy and style but who can also simplify accessibility to the vast number of journalistic tools out there. 

And maybe just, if not more important, is the role of the web designer. News sites need to be clear, concise displays of information. Jeff Jarvis suggests, “What you can’t do best link to the rest,” maybe that is an effective way of using the Internet’s vastness to our advantage. But what could also work is simply displaying that information on one website. Make it simple and make it accessible.

Take a look at any of the big news websites and you’ll see what I mean – they are attractive and accessible. Clarity in aesthetics may never have been more important. 

Are we catering to communities??

Blogs are not creating communities they are providing services for communities that already exist.

 

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Probably the first thing we were taught as a welcome to this journalism course was….. 

 WHO ARE YOU WRITING FOR ?? (And yes it was capitalised and highlighted in red.)

In short, communities and audiences are fundamental to the journalism industry, without them there would be no journalism industry.

Authors of an international journal on the community requirements of the magazine industry remarked: “the community concept offers opportunities to further bridge the gap between a product and the needs of the consumer.”

 So – first and foremost – we must put the audience’s needs before anyone else’s.

But is that easier said that done?

As the online world continues to develop, hordes of communities and ‘micro communities’ are forming daily. People can personalise their internet more than they ever have before. As I have discussed in previous posts, this is somewhat compartmentalising audiences. 

So is it ok to rely on the idea that communities are already there to target – or do we need to create new ones?

Is it becoming harder now than ever to write for audiences and communities? Or – is this great segregation simply providing more opportunity to target more particular groups of people within society as a whole. In which case are bloggers and online journalism resources facing a losing battle by trying to provide services for ever more individualised audiences? So many questions!

Perhaps what is important to consider is the point mentioned by blogger enthusiast Adam Tinworth who suggests how important it is to attract and link other web pages to your own site and blog. In this respect bloggers might not be creating communities, but they do have to put in some hard grind to attract already established communities to their sites.

Essentially however, what we are left with, is the necessity of a community to the journalism industry and the vastness of the online world – which could prove to be a pretty challenging combination.

But hasn’t catering for the media community been incessantly and forcefully challenging since the very beginnings of the industry?

The more I consider it – the more I think the idea that we are catering to already established communities rather than creating new ones is a bit of a ‘chicken and the egg’ situation. 

Communities of people with particular interests already exist. But even without taking the online journalism world into account their are hundreds of print institutions all competing for communities of readers. 

Take, for example, the travel magazine profession. There are dozens of travel magazines on offer in the UK alone. Each periodical needs to attract its own community by selecting a particular niche of an audience and in that sense they are building – or creating – a new community.

So do we need to cater to already existant communities? Or do we need to attract communities by creating niches they will fit into?

Perhaps it is a combination of the two we need. But one thing is certain. With the constant development of the online world comes a greater urgency than ever to attract – and keep – our audiences.

Are we seeing the death of the scoop?

Out of all the talk of printed journalism dying a death and online journalism being the only (formidably uncertain) way forward there is one point that has been particularly resonating with me – and that is the idea newspaper scoops are dying a death.

Pakula’s 1976 movie All the President’s Men has been used in our lectures as an example of what journalism is not anymore – or at least will not be in the future. The plot follows two intrepid reporters as they report the Watergate break-in story which ultimately resulted in the resignation of President Nixon – it is basically all about the power of the scoop.

In the light of this clip I was going to attempt to be a bit more optimistic about the currently supposed ‘death of the scoop’ and perhaps even offer an argument against it, but I don’t think I can – because I fear the dawning of online journalism is indeed killing the ‘scoop’, or, at the very least, changing it dramatically.

Take, for example, the events of this week. In the early hours of Wednesday morning Barack Obama made U.S. presidential history and the lead story gracing the front of The Guardian on that exact morning was that Barack was ‘on course’ for victory. Online and television news reports spoke only of his confirmed victory. The print industry simply could not compete with the level of immediacy provided by the live journalism mediums. Immediacy which is stubbornly required by today’s news consumers. Newspapers were quite simply telling yesterday’s news.

One post by communicative blogger Digi Dave suggests that scoops are now alienating audiences who not only need the news as it happens, but who need, or want, to be involved in it – to have their say. What was written was this, “Kill the idea of scoops. Don’t develop a project in secret or stealth. Hoarding your idea just means you won’t build community.”

So if we do use scoops we are alienating our audiences – but if we don’t use them, why should people tune in, or turn on, or read on? People want to know what’s going on in the world –  they want to know what the ‘news’ is. But aren’t they also attracted to the drama of news? To the soap-opera-esque (as I once heard it described) entertainment which is news? 

But maybe they can still have this. They will just have it online rather than in newspapers. The scoop may be dying in print but surely it can survive on the Internet – if anywhere.

 Mike Shannon, managing editor of the United States’ Oklahoman, suggested recently that, “Breaking news (is suitable for) the Internet while project-type stories are the true exclusives and should go first into the paper.”

Maybe there is hope yet for the traditional newspaper scoops. Would following Shannon’s proposed trend in fact allow the print industry to develop its own news niche? This in turn could help attract readers, who are increasingly turning to the Internet for their source of news, back to print.

As Donna Shaw of the American Journalism Review concludes, “Definitions of ‘scoop’ and ‘exclusive’ are evolving in the era of convergence. The Internet makes it much more dicey to hold a news story until your next edition; chances are greater than ever that someone will beat you to it. So investigative, enterprise and project stories have become the primary exclusives to be held for the print version.”

The development of the journalism industry is yet again issuing us new challenges. This time in the form of scoops.  

As was suggested by Matthew Yeomans, “Stay flexible – we are all flying blind.”

Story vs Article?

Our most recent lecture by photographer Daniel Meadows was awe-inspiringly beautiful.

Daniel spoke about the projects he does with the people of Wales. Projects which give ordinary people a chance to tell their stories through a very personalised mutli-media narrative. 

Such as the lady whose sole ambition was to play rugby for Wales – an ambition which was realised, and then emotionally documented for our entertainment, through a series of photographs which now make up her own multi-media story. 

Whilst the lecture’s refreshing uniqueness was captivating it did raise one issue in particular, an issue I have been considering ever since.

The issue involves the idea of fiction and reality – the latter of which is the basis of all journalism, which requires an honest representation of the world.

So what similarities are there between fiction and reality – can stories grounded by reality really be classified as ‘stories’?

Well according the to The Guardian’s recent guide to being a journalist, stories certainly can, “Journalists usually refer to what they write as stories. Not articles or reports, occasionally pieces, but stories.

“Stories sound interesting; reports sound dull. To some, stories mean fiction.

“The crucial thing about a story is that other people want to hear it, because it is interesting or entertaining.”

This is a very valid point. Documented experiences and occurrences – be them fictional or real – are fundamentally grounded by the same thing. They must entertain the reader, consume them, and most importantly from an online journalism point of view – involve them. Therefore they are both ‘stories.’

It is this involvement that is key to the contemporary journalism consumer. Growing numbers of consumers now want to have their say – just as they were given a say in Daniel’s stories. As Daniel says, people want to tell their story – it’s in our nature as humans.

And with the expansion of online communities people are learning to do just that. You only have to look at discussion boards on the BBC’s website, or even on localised news sites, to see what an impact allowing people to have their say is having.  

So if the online journalism world is encouraging this growth and involvement how does that compare to the idea of fiction and escapism. If what our audience are now after is a transparency to such an extent that every move of a journalists story development is documented online should we really be able to consider the words written as ‘stories.’

Newspapers have forever provided entertaining stories for their readers. Photo supplied by Pingu1963.

Newspapers have forever provided entertaining stories for their readers. Photo supplied by Pingu1963.

I think the answer may be yes – more than ever. Yes they engage, yes they involve, yes they consume their audience to a huge extent.

According to good old dictionary.com a story is described as being,  “A narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.”

Which is now true more than ever about fiction and reality-based stories. Despite their differences both share similar aims.

I think Daniel proves in his work that ‘stories’ are unlimited and unhindered in content, style and source. Now more so than ever. We can tell stories in so many ways – through audio, pictures, moving pictures and in the written word. The possibilities are expanding more and more everyday and so scope for journalists to project their own stories onto the online community is expanding daily – as is the scope for consumers to tell theirs.