Recently in Journalism Category
March 5, 2014
Today, I taught my last formal class for this year's class of Interhacktives at City University. The two terms I teach them in have gone astonishingly quickly, but I've enjoyed it very much. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with what they've learned, both in their final assessed piece of work and in their careers to come.
And as something of a parting gift, I wanted to leave them with five general pieces of advice for their no-doubt brilliant future careers:
1. Know your kit
Android versus iOS, Mac versus PC, Canon versus Nikon. None of this matters. All of them are perfectly good bits of kit that will allow you to do you job. Just make sure that you're familiar enough with them that they effectively disappear, leaving you to focus on the journalism. Don't rely on your work IT department to provide you with what you need - they're always behind the curve and are working to different agendas. Make the right kit choices for you, and put the time in to make sure you know how it works. It'll pay off in spades, because it gives you the time and the skills to produce really good work. Which leads us to...
2. Invest time to save time
Digital journalism is about working clever, so you can work hard but effectively. The best time investment I've put in during the last few years is learning Markdown. This is a "language" for writing web copy fluidly, without having to hard code the HTML and without the time delay of constantly going up to click on the formatting buttons. So far I've written this post - links, crossheads and all, without touching the trackpad once. All the formatting has been done using Markdown, and it'll be translated to HTML when I publish. WordPress supports it. Medium supports it. SquareSpace supports it. Great skill to learn, because it makes me faster. Find things like this. Take the time to learn them.
@adders you gotta add an addendum to 2. Learn to touchtype & learn to type **really** fast on a touchscreen. D'you like the Markdown there!— ilicco (@ilicco) March 5, 2014
3. Never be afraid to experiment
People who tell you what the "right" way to use an online service are usually wrong. Why? Because these things change over time. Like any social system, the dynamics are constantly changing, and the evolving technology beneath them - and around them - just accelerates that process. IGNORE any article that tells you how to use a new social platform within the first month or so of that platform's life - maybe the first six months. Behaviour patterns take a while to emerge, and even longer to settle down. The people who create the service are often atrociously bad at understanding how it will eventually be used. Learn by experimenting - and by watching the experiments of others.
4. Find your peers
I've had a cohort of friends and colleagues around me as long as I've been doing digital journalism. The likes of Kevin Anderson, Robin Hamman, Joanna Geary, Alison Gow, Sarah Hartley, Andy Dickinson, Graham Holliday, Martin Stabe, Glyn Mottershead and Paul Bradshaw have been influencing my thinking for over a decade, and way too many others to list have joined that on-going conversation about digital journalism in the time since. We've shared experiences, knowledge, failures and successes, and through that driven the field forwards. This field is moving too fast for any one person to keep up with on their own - so find people you trust, and continue sharing your experiences with them. If those are your classmates, so much the better.
5. Don't obsess about journalism
Many of the things that will change journalism won't come from within journalism. Pay attention to what your peers all over the world are doing, sure. But cast your net wider. Many of the disasters we've seem in media's attempt to develop online community have happened because the people behind it haven't looked outside the media frame of reference. There's experience, learning and methodology that's been developed over two decades that's been ignored or missed simply because the discussion about the future of news has turned inwards. Disruption comes from the outside: if you want to see it coming, you need to be looking the right way.
This is the fifth in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.
March 3, 2014
So, I knew there would be at least one day in this idiotic project of mine when it would be really hard to get it done.
I wasn't expecting it to be day three.
For various reasons - that pretty much come down to a tube strike - I've just delivered a full day's training for a publisher client of eConsultancy, and then gone on to do two and a half hours with one cohort of students at City University. That, gentle reader, is one long and cognitively intense day.
So, I'm sat on a train rattling its way back to the coast, sat just across from a grumpy man watching video on his iPad, and trying to see if I can think of anything coherent to say this evening. Here's one thing:
I love niche journalists.
Loving the niche reporter
There's something in me that loves working with really good journalists who have drilled down into a reporting specialisation and can ride the wave of their readers' enthusiasm for a subject. It doesn't matter how dull some of these subjects might seem at first glance; if you really roll up your neuro-sleeves and get stuck in, you can find what's fascinating and exciting in any subject at all - and that's an incredibly valuable skill to have right now.
All of us who are connected to this here internet thing have one thing in common: we're suffering from information overload. There's a reflexive viewpoint that suggests that things would be better if we went back to just having a few selective gatekeepers publish for us, but that very clearly isn't going to happen. Genies have an almost pathological aversion to going back into the bottle, whatever fairy-tales tell you. The there's the Shirky position of "we need better filters". But I distrust constant algorithmic filtering of what I see - filter bubble ahoy! - and rather enjoy the idiosyncrasies of good old human selection.
Attention crisis journalism
The common response of people seems to be flight into speciality. When presented with overwhelming levels of information, you look for tools or processes to just narrow down to the subjects that are most important to you. For example: how many national or international news stories did you really car about today? The only one that's actively crossed my radar (on an admittedly busy day) has been the developing situation in the Ukraine, that tickles away in the back of my brain, making me feel nervous that, if we're not very careful this could turn into something bigger and nastier than we expected.
How many stories in the worlds of journalism, publishing and tech have a paid attention to? I've read about a dozen or so, and saved a similar number into my "read later" apps of choice.
The glut of national news
Here's the thing: I think the news business is the wrong way around. I think we have way too many people producing the general news and opinion that most people have only a snacking interest in, and way too few working in the real niches of information and interest that people have an almost unlimited appetite for. The disruption we're going through right now is that imbalance of supply and demand starting to work its way through the system.
National newspapers are getting ever more desperate in their search for sustainable business models now the bundling effect of the printed package has gone, while the under-supply in the niche sector has largely, in the consumer space at least, been met by the rise of the enthusiast blogger in the space. This is amateur in the true sense of the word - someone who does it for love, not money.
This is why consumer mags are having such a torrid time transitioning to the web - why pay to read slightly distant journalists writing about your passion, when you can read the words of passionate participants for free? I suspect the collapse of the consumer magazine will happen sector by sector - how many computer games mags are left on the shelf? - and will lead to the destruction of many well-know brands, simply because the publishers have left it too late to start answering the question of their role in this changed world.
The new consumer publishing ecosystem
But that's OK - as we've seen in the gaming sector, new professional entities hiring journalists have emerged, who explicitly exist in that diverse ecosystem of amateur and professional. They interact with - and recruit from - the passionate bloggers. That trend will only accelerate.
Right now, it feels like a great time to be a niche journalist - because as our existing institutions crumble, we can seen new ones rising. I'd feel a lot more uneasy if I was committed to generalist reporting - because we're not seeing similar new institutions launch in that space.
Learn to love the niche, my friends. It's where the hot publishing actions is in the attention crisis age.
This is the third in a series of one-a-day substantive posts I'm going to try to write through March.
February 27, 2014
What happens if you mix the geo-data embedded in photos with some data about where our listed buildings are in London?
Higher graded buildings were more likely to have photographs taken near them: 88% of Grade Is had at least one photograph falling within 25m of their centre (as defined by the coordinates given in their list description) as opposed to 76% of Grade II*s and 61% of Grade IIs).
The average number of photographs for those that had photographs within this distance was also highest for Grade Is (168 photographs on average), followed by Grade II*s (58) and Grade IIs (42).
Some interesting work from John Davies at Nesta, using the Flickr API. Just proving what's intuiting, perhaps, but a nice illustration of how you can use a big public dataset like Flickr to test assumptions.
February 26, 2014
Politico examines how badly wrong newspaper experiments with video have gone:
News organizations have learned that the traditional television model doesn't pay online. It costs too much to shoot and produce, and requires too much from their reporters, who didn't get into the business to be TV stars. More important, readers aren't interested, which means advertisers aren't satisfied.
My goodness. Taking a format from an entirely different medium, adding a high cost base and assuming it'll all work isn't a recipe for success? Who knew?
This is a really interesting development: Reddit is working to facilitate journalistic liveblogging activity on the site.
[Reddit has...] become a place where new forms of journalism occur, such as the reporting on breaking news events like a shooting or the war in Syria. To help make that even easier, Reddit has launched a "live blogging"-style feature that will eventually allow anyone to function as a kind of Reddit-based news reporter.
Reddit is quietly becoming a powerhouse for in-the-moment journalism. Not bad for the site that everyone wrote off as "the one that lost to Digg" seven years ago...
February 19, 2014
Really nice intiative from the Interactive Journalism MA students at City. They run the digital jouralism website Interhacktives as part of their course, as have the two generations that precdeeded them. This year's cohort have added a neat e-mail newsletter to the line-up, summarising the most recent posts and addition additional material of interest to digital journalists.
February 18, 2014
This is an interesting insight into learning:
If I was to rank the ways in which I actually learn it would look a little like this:
- Having a go myself
- Having it demonstrated
- The internet
The first three are, in some way or another, conversations.
I've spent a lot of the last nine months delivering training. The vast majority of it is stuff I learned through 1 and 3, delivered via 2 with as many encouragements to use 1 as I can.
When it comes to digital skills - in journalism and elsewhere - the ability to learn by having a good old go at it is incredibly valuable. Why? Because the environment around us is constantly changing. A good training course can get you up to speed - but without some ability to self-teach, you'll slip behind again.
And the key skill to doing that is assessing what went well and what went badly, and having another go…
February 17, 2014
Remember the magazine students from last week? Here, by way of comparison, is the equivalent board from the financial journalism students:
February 12, 2014
I'm at City University all today, working with the Magazine and Interactive Journalism MAs. At one of the workshops that follow Paul's lectures, the students have to put up ideas for short talks on a white board. Usually, I get a neat list of names and subjects. This bunch of students? Not so much.
And this is one reason why I love magazine journalists... :)
February 6, 2014
Years ago, I was obsessed with the fact that journalists focus on kit quality over content quality when it comes to doing multimedia work. Nothing I've done in the last couple of years has suggested to me that this has become any better as an issue. The quality you can get out of your mobile phone is astonishing compared to what mid-range dedicated cameras were doing a decade ago. Concentrate on doing great work with your phone, and upgrade when you hit its limitations.
And when I say "concentrate", think about how you can do better work with it.
Here's a wonderful example from Apple of what the iPhone can achieve when used cleverly:
What's even more interesting is that there's a behind the scenes video showing how it was all done:
Now there's some serious kit in there - some of it to allow it all to be shot in one day, yet directed by one guy (Jake Scott - the son of Ridley Scott, who directed the first ever Mac ad, fact fans). But the majority of it is just dedicated to helping keep the phone more steady - or to allow it to move more smoothly. You can get a bunch of the way there with just a Glif and a GorillaPod. But there's also hand-holding, but thoughtful, two-handed hand-holding.
For a touch more inspiration, they've also done a behind the scenes on a Burberry fashion show captured with an iPhone 5s:
Stop worrying about the kit. It's all about the content quality.
February 5, 2014
So, of course, some of them are liveblogging the tube strike...