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.

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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.

Let’s get involved!

I spent a few months over the summer working as an intern at my local newspaper in South Devon. 

Something I was often told by older journalists was how the industry was changing for the worse – the most common moan of which was ‘all our interviews these days are done over the phone – there’s no more face to face.’  Which was generally followed by ‘I miss getting out and about and meeting people. Instead I spend all day sat at a desk.’

I listened with a sympathetic ear to what these hard-working journalists had to say and I didn’t realise at the time just what a pessimistic influence they were having on me. But this week – I had an epiphany. 

These aren’t sad times for journalism.

We may not be particularly trusted and distribution figures may be suffering but the development of networked journalism and user-generated-content is significantly promising.

The entire industry is changing dramatically: “professionals and amateurs (are now) working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives.” Jeff Jarvis

But – we need a balance.

Never before has online journalism been possible to such an accessible and effective extent. But what it relies on is the contribution of the reporter. Infact rely may not be the right word, perhaps depend would be more suitable. Without the acceptance of these technological advances the journalism industry will be left behind. It is now our job, as student journalists to welcome these advances with open minds, and to do everything we can to encourage them.

Thankfully, despite my epiphany, a bit of the old newsroom is establishing a stubborn hold on me. Journalism is a profession based on the real world. Not on cyberspace. We can use these online tools to our advantage but we need to listen to what the ‘old’ journalism ‘types’ have got to say. We need to juxtapose the old journalism methods with the modern ones.

Tessa Mayes (campaigning investigative journalist): “We’re in danger within journalism of losing and forgetting what it is that we do and what it is that we need journalism to do in society. Journalists are simply becoming information managers.”

I don’t want to be an information manager, I want to be a journalist.

But the key word in all this is balance. We need to balance old journalism techniques and ideas with new techniques. We need to find  balance between the utilising of user-generated-content  and the use of stories by reporters. We need to balance the time we spend sitting at our desks with the time we spend interacting with real people, not cyber people.

But, fundamentally – we have to get involved. It might be a shame newsrooms are increasingly desktop orientated but never before have we been able to interact with people on such an exciting level. 

“The future is ‘pro-am journalism’, doing things together.” Charile Beckett, Press Gazzette.

“Networked journalism is more than just another glib new media cliché, but it is not an easy option. It means we are going to have to change the way we work and treat the public as partners, not punters.” Charlie Beckett, Press Gazzette. 


Democratisation of the media?

User Generated Content (UGC) is undoubtedly having a massive impact on the journalism industry.  However, when it was suggested that UGC was democratising our media I was reluctant to wholeheartedly agree. 

Of course there are elements of ‘democracy’ in the development of UGC but it is the parallel progression of the ‘me-sphere’ that appears to be hindering what could be an effective way to give consumers a democratic voice. 

With the introduction of technological tools such as RSS feeds consumers are beginning to personalise their news bulletins – something described in lecture one as being ‘dangerous’. Could this group of very specific people be hindering the progression of the democratic media by, perhaps unintentionally, compartmentalising it?  

According to one report a democracy has four specific requirements – which include: the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life. 

But again – can a selective group of people commenting on a selective variety of news really be considered a democracy? Or is it simply freedom of speech? Or is freedom of speech a democracy? 

Freedom of speech and expression, especially about political and other public issues, is the lifeblood of any democracy. Democratic governments do not control the content of most written and verbal speech. Thus democracies are usually filled with many voices expressing different or even contrary ideas and opinions.” 

This idea coincides with the idea that user generated content is encouraging a democratisation.

Surely democracies can exist in smaller, more personal communities and if so a democratisation is certainly occurring – but on a lesser scale.

I had a look at my local paper’s website and found some amusing comments from residents against the building of a proposed ice-rink. 

Is this the voice of a democracy? 

Emu, Torbay, 14-Oct-2008 

Captain Beaky, this is for you. Keep your beak out and go and comment on another article.

Frustrated, Newton Abbot, 14-Oct-2008

Emu, how old are you? You are slagging of the young generation…you were young once, yes it would be a good idea to have an ice rink…Your probably a lot older so no it probably wouldnt benefit you and also if you dont like it in Paignton…move!!

matt, torquay 

Well done “frustrated” who cares what the oap brigade want, they are pretty well looked after with bus passes and special rates here there and everywhere, lets give the young a chance. If you dont like it then move to Bournmouth or such like. This town would benefit from an ice rink and would be a viable tourist attraction.

When I first read these comments they seemed ridiculous. But what these people are actually doing is voicing opinions that would previously have been unheard – therefore fueling this democratisation of the media.

A contributor to a blog by Vanessa Fox on the irrelevance of UGC stated: “I’d agree that most people don’t create content, and fewer create content of any quality.”

When I started thinking about this blog I would have agreed with the above quotation. I didn’t really see how an obvious compartmentalisation of the internet could be informing a democracy.

But if we reduce this idea to its basic foundations, in particular looking at the quote from the US Government above, we might say that informing individual ‘me-spheres’ will in the future make consumers more generally informed and more willing to speak up for what they believe thus feeding this media democratisation.