Results tagged “journalism”

I really enjoyed this profile of Rurik Bradbury, the man behind the amusing Jeff Jarvis parody account @ProfJeffJarvis:

A main target of Bradbury’s satire is the Orwellian lengths to which major tech players go to distort language. […] Bradbury’s semantic umbrage is not limited to big platforms like Facebook or Google. He also takes issue with “meme hustlers” who try to fill the Web with their deep thoughts so they can sell books and charge high consulting fees. He thinks the sharing economy espoused by Uber and Airbnb should actually be called “poor persons as a service.”

To give you a taste of his medicine, here's a typical tweet:

And another:

Is satire trolling?

I've always enjoyed his work, because it does nicely capture the inherent ridiculousness of the outer edges of the field I work in. Jeff Jarvis himself has been less amused:

Now I tried to talk to my imposter-troll earlier in his two-and-a-half-year and 17,500-tweet campaign against me. He didn’t have the balls. After he affected my reputation with someone I’ve met, I sent him another message, saying he’d crossed the line. He still doesn’t have sufficient balls or the decency or the mere maturity and civility to talk to me. Hasn’t he had his fun already? But there’s no reasoning with trolls; indeed, that’s the definition of a troll.

I struggle a little with this - satire and trolling are distinctly different things, although exploiting someone's failure to recognise that it's a parody account, not the real one, does come perilously close to trolling (even if the victim in this case clearly takes himself far too seriously).

Still, satire is a valid part of our intellectual life, and I'm uncomfortable with dismissing it as trolling this easily.

Age of Twitter accounts in #gamergate

I thought that yesterday's brief post on #gamergate would be all I had to say on the subject - but two really interesting posts caught my attention, that I want to bring to yours.

First up, some serious data work. Andy Baio has done the hard work of scraping 3 days of #gamergate and #notyourshield tweets, and done some analysis on them. His central finding is this:

Two massive, impenetrable hairballs of people that want little to do with one another, only listening to their side and firing volleys across the chasm.

And that's visualised beautifully.

He also points out that the average age of the Twitter accounts used by #gamergate supporters skews very, very recent, as the graph at the top of this post clearly shows. Baio's careful to not suggest that it's the result of sock puppetry - but it's another data point to suggest that there's some of that at work.

My friend Kevin Anderson weighs in on the subject of sock puppets and false flag campaigns:

When you look at the techniques being used by some of these groups, such as creating sockpuppet social media accounts and using feminist critiques as a weapon against Brianna Wu (to demonstrate that her games were “anti-feminist”), you quickly get a sense of how the next partisan political scorched earth campaign will be fought. Sockpuppets will become the weaponised drones of popular opinion, amplifying marginal views so that they swamp mainstream opinion

And he raises a spectre of this becoming standard operating procedure for fringe groups wanting to persuade the media that they're more numerous than they really are:

Who needs robo-callers push-polling voters when you’ve got an army of AI-driven Twitter and Facebook accounts all spewing your line and endlessly quoted by cable TV show hosts who don’t care if the accounts are real, only if they reinforce their own talking points? They’ll be found out eventually, but it will be too late.

It's really beholden on us as journalists to develop a sophisticated enough understanding of social media and how it operates, and the data skills to analyse behaviours in the way that Baio did, to counteract this. If we take one thing away from #gamergate, it's that a minority can magnify their voices through smart use of technology. (It's arguable that ISIS is another example of this.)

Social media and data journalism aren't quirky digital add-ons - they're essential tools in our journalistic arsenal to understand, interrogate and report on the world around us. If we don't equip ourselves with these tools, we'll be used by those who have done so.

Bing it on!

I am something of an accidental SEO trainer. It all came about because of a phone call from Sarah Marshall, a little over two years ago - but it has been an unexpected and fascinating voyage. I don't think there's been a single SEO course I've run that I haven't enjoyed, and I've got to meet a great range of journalists from different parts of the industry.

I do love journalist. They're great people.

How did I get here? I've been publishing on the web for over 15 years now, and I've kept up with SEO, because, well, I rather like being read. It's a handy thing, that makes the time committed seem like time well spent. It always surprises me how bad this industry is - structurally - at keeping up with this. A significant chunk of the people who come on the course are there because either they're not being given any SEO support in their jobs, or because the messages they're getting about SEO have no context. Given how crucial search traffic remains - even in this social media age - that's a good decision. What fascinated me is the patterns that emerge from the stories they tell.

Here, then, are the three original SEO sins of the news publishing business:

SEO Sin #1: old information

This is the most common one. Someone in the publishing company did SEO training (or took SEO advice) seven or eight years ago, and that's still being held as gospel. And so, poor journalists are left carefully crafting meta keywords - which haven't been used by Google since 1998.

I've had to make four major changes to the SEO course since I started teaching it two years ago. That's how fast this area is changing. The SEO advice of seven years ago is not useless - it's worse than that. It can be actively damaging.

The waves of Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates have changed the world of search considerably, and in a manner that is not very friendly to clumsy attempts at SEO. We're certainly at a stage where bad or old-fashioned SEO can be worse than no SEO at all. And that's where some publishers are right now.

SEO Sin #2: all tactics, all the time

This is most often seen when there's an SEO department within the company, or they have one person keeping an eye on the SEO blogs. Edicts come down from on high about keywords, or URL patterns, but without any context or explanation. This is problematic, as it leaves journalists chasing SEO pixie dust, rather than making good content decisions through understanding what's attractive in search.

Journalists do not like operating in the dark. It gives then the sense that something is being hidden from them. They do care about being read - and widely read - so why not trust them with the strategy behind the tactics? Good SEO is built up over time, and that's a strategic move, not a tactical one.

There's a whole issue lurking here about strategic content planning - and how badly we've adjusted to doing that in digital - but that's fodder for another post.

SEO Sin #3: SEO as science

Somewhat connected with the previous point - there's a lurking assumption that big publishers can:

  1. Follow an SEO "checklist" and get results
  2. Expect to place well by virtue simply of being a big publisher.

Now both of these are true - to a degree. But that degree is not as large as they think it is. There's a strong human element of SEO - putting yourself in the mindset of a searcher - and a strong competitive one, as well. You are quite literally competing from ranking with everyone else writing about the same topic. And the "advantage" a large but unenthusiastic publisher has over (say) a small, but highly expert blogger is not as great as you might think.

The key point, though, is that this is not an exact science, as you're working with an ever-changing algorithm designed by humans. And you're trying to match yourself to the ways a human searcher's brain behaves. Losing sight of the human side of this has all sorts of consequences, not least failing to get the click-thought from a good search placement.

In conclusion…

…I'm not really sure what the conclusion is, honestly. Partially that many publishers are neglecting a key digital skill. Partially, that a lot of good journalists out there have a good sense that something's wrong and the drive to correct it.

I suppose, fundamentally, I worry that we're trying to build digital businesses on skill foundations that are so much weaker than we had in the print era - and that concerns me. And it should concern everyone who care about the future of professional journalism.

Journalism needs better tools

Om Malik:

If technology has upended the media ecosystem, then it should also be the solution for that ecosystem to adapt to the new hyper-speed reality of news and information. What we need is a set of tools that basically are a way to help the information-gathering process at network speed. Instead of reporters asking questions — if you don’t have historical context you can’t really ask some key questions — we need tools that help augment the process.

Right now, we're not even good at the publishing end tools, let alone the research end ones. That has to change.

Maria Popova

Here's a fascinating interview with Maria Popova, curator of the truly excellent Brain Pickings blog.

Some choice highlights:

I can’t speak for others, but I’ve found in myself a tendency to retreat deeper and deeper into my existing interests as a form of self-defense against the abundance of demands for my time and attention. Again, it takes a certain discipline not to do that and to continually expand one’s ideological comfort zone, as it does not to scatter oneself too chaotically across a multitude of diversion.

And, on journalism, this:

Every nonfiction writer is essentially a curator of ideas – whether this means the selection of academic and clinical studies to be cited in a Malcolm Gladwell-style pop psychology book or the snippets of articles highlighted and contextualized in a day’s worth of Andrew Sullivan’s blog. At their best, journalists – writers, editors, “curators”, or whatever we choose to label them – help people figure out what matters in the world and why. The label under which they do it is irrelevant.

One of the most thought-provoking interviews I've read in a while.

Photo by Ryan Lash for TED conferences, and used under a Creative Commons licence

Fascinating account from Storyful about their social media verification work around the downing of flight MH17:

In the aftermath of the attack, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal affairs released the video below, described as showing a ‘Buk’ anti-aircraft missile system being transported in eastern Ukraine, en route to the Russian border. The footage is not the original, however we believe that the first instance of this footage was removed by the uploader and the version below is the earliest we can find. Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, made early claims that the video was filmed in the Ukrainian town of Krasnodon near the Russian border, however collaborative geo-location was able to place the footage in southwestern Luhansk.

This really is one of the new frontiers of serious journalism, and one that's only growing in importance.

(Which is, of course, why we teach it as part of the Interactive Journalism MA at City…)

Twitter's UK in-house journalism expert and friend of the blog Joanna Geary has crowd-sourced a great list of 30 Twitter tools that are useful for journalists:

Some are familiar and essential, but some are brand new to me. Well worth a little time.

From blogger to Bloomberg

Josh t

Bloomberg has a new hire:

Josh Topolsky, the co-founder of the technology website The Verge, will join Bloomberg as the editor of a series of online ventures it is introducing as part of a revamped journalism strategy.

He'll be running a range of new online initiatives for them as "Editor of Bloomberg Digital, and Bloomberg Media’s Chief Digital Content Officer".

Interesting to see people who have risen through the "blog" ranks of online media transitioning into senior positions in more traditional publishers…

Matt Nevarra hosting

Panel:

Bella Hurrell

Bella Hurrell

"Tell me something I don't know" is a basic journalistic premise. Over 50% of traffic to the BBC website is coming from mobile devices now - so everything has to be responsive. It ha to adapt to different screen sizes.

They're expiring ways of spreading their stories beyond the site. Flat info graphics, simple, but to the point, have been one focus, They're optimised for Twitter and Facebook and link back to a main story. They need an element of wit, and certainly of interest. Respond to comments - and make improvements if the suggestions are good.

Interactives - like budget calculators, or "which athlete are you most like?" - are another good way of telling the story. The latter used scatter plots which was too "maths-y" for the mainstream audience - and it didn't work on tablet. they'd do it differently today.

They've just published a Commonwealth Games one, that looks at which event you are more suited to. And it was built mobile-first. But even before that, before you write a line of code, you need to figure out what the audience will take away from this - and that's what will bring them back.

Coffee in Tom Foolery

Four good reads that I think are worth your coffee time this morning:

  • Looking for a job in journalism? Kevin Anderson, who recently landed a great one, has some really excellent advice for preparing for the journalism job interview. His point about researching the community the title serves is very well-made, and all too often neglected by job hunters.

  • Meanwhile, Paul Bradshaw has some excellent advice for journalists looking to the security of their work, their online presence and their sources. You're not paranoid if they're out to get you, and given the nasty piece of legislation that was pushed through yesterday, I think we can assume that no online communication is secure, unless completely encrypted.

  • An interesting look at the media consumption habits of the under-24s. Consume with caution because we know that people habits change with age, but that's more than balanced by the fact that they're starting from a very different place that earlier generations.

  • Google has finally given up on its "real names only" policy for Google+. I'm not going to make the standard joke about G+ being a ghost town - as I can see clearly from my feed over there that it isn't. However, the activity there is limited to select communities - but that was the case for Twitter and Facebook at the same stage (time-wise) in their evolution.

Enjoy your coffee.

Burger bites journalist

A burger

I'm not entirely sure if this is journalists going above and beyond the call of duty, or just bloody stupid:

Assistant news editor Arron Hendy, and trainee reporter Ruari Barratt were taken by ambulance to the Royal Sussex County Hospital after taking one bite each of an XXX Hot Chilli Burger from Burger Off, in Brunswick Street West, Hove. Mr Hendy agreed to try the burger after the takeaway came in the top ten of burger restaurants in the country – as rated on the Trip Advisor website.

Sounds like a delightful experience:

Mr Barratt took a bite and minutes later suffered severe stomach pains which increased. He lost the feeling in his hands, his legs were shaking and his eyes rolled back in his head.

Verification is so very hard

Google Concept (not)

Take a look at this video:

Pretty clearly a concept video done by some students, right? That information's all there, including the account name on Vimeo. Even the most cursory of verification checks would show that up.

So, it's not like anyone would publish it as a real Google concept without doing the 60 seconds of checking needed, right?

Wrong.

Grabbing a paper at the station

Merciless attack on print nostalgists from Clay Shirky:

The most important fight in journalism today isn’t between short vs. long-form publications, or fast vs. thorough newsrooms, or even incumbents vs. start-ups. The most important fight is between realists and nostalgists.

He builds a compelling argument that the media convering the media downplay the likely demise of print, and that too many people - including those teaching in universities - lie to young journalists about the future:

If you want to cry in your beer about the good old days, go ahead. Just stay the hell away from the kids while you’re reminiscing; pretending that dumb business models might suddenly start working has crossed over from sentimentality to child abuse.

I think he misses one key point: some student journalists come in wanting to work in print. They come pre-equipped with nostalgia, and sometimes find a cozy welcome amongst academic staff who left the coalface of journalism before the digital shift happened in a big way. These sorts of students dislike being given the hard realities of life about the shift to digital - right until they see that all the jobs for young journalists being advertised seek digital skills.

For would-be journalism students interested in those emerging journalism jobs in digital, I lead the social media and community module on the Interactive Journalism MA at City University in London - well worth a look.

LiveblogreportWP.jpg

Some time ago I was interviewed by Karin O’Mahony about liveblogging and its use in a journalistic context. The report was published a little over a month ago, and I've finally had the chance to dive in.

First of all - a caveat. It focuses exclusively on the journalistic rolling liveblogs that are commonly used by media organisations, rather than other forms of liveblogging, some of which pre-dated the media use. This irks me a little - these forms do not develop in isolation within journalism, but are informed by both the tools and practices that emerge on the web, none of which is really acknowledged within the research. But I'm slowly reconciling myself to this - the long-running time-stamped format has become the primary journalist use of the concept, and that largely emerged within journalism.

That said, I think the report does an excellent job in capturing the core elements and challenges in creating a viable live blog, with a creditable amount of time give to the practicalities. There's a useful 10 point guide, partially derived from my own contributions:

Liveblogging in 10 steps

  1. Write quickly
  2. Be human, not opinionated, in your tone of voice.
  3. Be extra aware of sensitive information, conflicting information and unverified information.
  4. Be social: take in readers’ comments and contributions and use social media for sourcing – but be aware that social skills are built up over a longer period of time and treat these sources as any other sources. Get to know your audience.
  5. Be transparent about when you cannot verify – but also when you are sure: link to sources and interesting material. Open up the journalistic process to your readers.
  6. Do not lose the overall perspective on the bigger story – summarise from time to time.
  7. Do not be mentally locked into the first narrative that emerges – be able to construct an emerging narrative from the emerging facts over time.
  8. Make sure you are totally familiar with the technical tools so that you can focus entirely on the writing and research
  9. If possible (for scheduled events), be prepared and read up on the subject.
  10. Be creative with ways to fill the gaps when no information is coming through.

There's some interesting discussion about restructuring sites around livblogging for news-centric organisations, and well as the challenges around verification, with the emerge of determined hoaxers as a significant problem.

It's a useful piece of work, and a good contribution to the on-going discussion about new forms of journalism. Grab yourself a copy - it's free - and dig in.

Download As It Happens: How live blogs work and their future

bw-blogging.jpg

You might have noted a lack of long form stuff on here in recent weeks. That's partially because it's marking season and I'm very busy right now, and partially because I've actually been publishing some long form stuff elsewhere.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a long think piece for journalism.co.uk about the rise of explainer journalism, why we'll see more evergreen content, and the concept of stock and flow content.

It was a nice example of my teaching at City converging with my consultancy, and the need to start developing a vocabulary of terms to pass on those ideas to students and clients.

It was also very well received, with plenty of hot, hot Twitter action around it.

The digital transformation ghetto

Earlier today, I wrote a follow-up, looking at the three stages of digital transformation that traditional publishing businesses go through as they try to adapt to today's online environment for journalism, in the light of the leaking of the New York Times innovation report.

I'd be very interested to hear what you think of them…

Thumbnail image for Evening Standard Erection

An e-mail from the Ada Lovelace Day folks dropped into my in-box the other day, mentioning that Roma Agrawal would be speaking at Ada Lovelace Day Live. That set a little alarm ringing in my head that I'd seen her name before recently, and meant to write about it.

You see, I was reading a profile of her in the Evening Standard, after picking up a copy left on a train, and after getting slightly annoyed at the "Gosh! An attractive female engineer!" tone of the piece, nearly choked on my coffee when I got to this line:

This softly spoken 30-year-old in a yellow dress is the woman who made sure the biggest erection in Western Europe didn’t fall down.

Seriously?

Did we really need to go there - connecting her dress and the word "erection"? Do we really have to focus on this talented and successful engineer's sex appeal?

Honestly, I expected to see that the author was a man - but no, it was Susannah Butter, evidently a woman. And I was shocked enough that I ended up grabbing a photo, intending to write about it.

Am I reading too much into this - or is this a gratuitous and unnecessary sexualisation of a feature about an engineer? Would we ever consider commenting on the dress and sex appeal of an equivalent male engineer?

UPDATE: As it turns out, Roma has already written a response:

This one sentence contradicts the core message of the article: that women can excel in engineering and other male dominated industries on their merit. I believe women should be judged on their skills and contribution in the workplace and shouldn't have to fear being sexualised.

Declan Curry

The above photo was circulating Twitter yesterday, and at least two media outlets - Romenesko and FishbowlNY - ran it as an example of a BBC captioner having a bad day.

They found the image and they ran with it. They didn't contact Declan or the BBC. And today, they're both apologising.

As it happens, I was at university with Declan - we worked on Imperial College's student newspaper Felix together. I'd seen the photo before - when he posted it to Facebook, sharing a joke he'd written himself. Yup, the caption was by him - and was the best part of a year old:

click on the comments link to see the discussion

And there we have it. Two media outlets turned their journalistic instincts off when presented with something fun on social media, and made fools of themselves.

You don't get to stop applying the basic techniques of journalism just because you found something on social media. Verify, check, double-source. Or you'll be apologising to your readers - or your editor - pretty quickly.

Data journalism at work

Allison Schrager has a problem with data journalism:

But I worry that data give commentary a false sense of authority since data analysis is inherently prone to bias. The author's priors, what he believes or wants to be true before looking at the data, often taint results that might appear pure and scientific. Even data-backed journalism is opinion journalism. So as we embark on this new wave of journalism, we should be aware of what we are getting and what we should trust.

How, though, is this different from traditional journalism? Inevitably, a journalist brings her bias to any story - and however hard we strive to eliminate that, it will find expression, whether we like it or not.

There's some very useful advice towards the end of her post about how to avoid distorting the data too much, and how to make sure that you're looking at the whole story, but she doesn't address that central question hinted at my her use of "a false sense of authority".

My gut instinct is that people are more wary of bias in data journalism, because there's a tendency to believe that the "numbers don't lie". And they might not. But how you chose to present them has a very big impact on the message a particular truth tells...

That's art, my friend, not science

Tim Hartford wrote about how misinformation can be beautiful for the FT a little while back:

Data visualisation creates powerful, elegant images from complex data. It's like good prose: a pleasure to experience and a force for good in the right hands, but also seductive and potentially deceptive. Because we have less experience of data visualisation than of rhetoric, we are naive, and allow ourselves to be dazzled. Too much data visualisation is the statistical equivalent of dazzle camouflage: striking looks grab our attention but either fail to convey useful information or actively misdirect us.

Visualisation, in particular, is in danger of dressing art up as science. You need to be very careful that the data tells the story it actually claims it does, and that you don't distort things for the sake of a more compelling "angle" or aesthetic representation.

And, y'know, check your own assumptions at the door when you dive into this. But this is all good, standard journalism practice anyway - not something new or unique to data journalism.

The fox knows his pivot tables, that's what...

Of course, this whole discussionon has been triggered by various interviews that Nate Silver has given around the launch of FiveThirtyEight. Matthew Ingram sums up the discussion pretty well:

When it comes to using data of any kind in the creation of journalism, Silver says that traditional journalists are quite good at the first two steps of the process -- namely, the collection of data and the organization of it into a news story or other format. However, they often fail to do as good a job at the next two steps, he says, which include the explanation or analysis of the data and some kind of generalization about its future implications.

Lurking in this is an explanation for the current obsession with data journalism: traditionally, we've only had very limited access to significant datasets. The arrival of digital technology has made collecting, sharing and analysing datasets significantly more simple, and so has opened up a whole new field of journalism, that we've only scratched the surface of before. It's difficult to complain about this (although some people try...), because more sources of stories is pretty much always a good thing.

But for an industry which tends to bend liberal in its politics, journalism can be very small "c" conservative in its outlook. There's an inherent suspicion of the new that anyone who has been working in online digital development will be familiar with. Coupled with the mistrust of journalists that the last few years of revelations has engendered, it's not a surprise that people are slightly suspicious of what we're doing with the numbers.

An oasis of fact in a desert of opinion

However, I think that the Economist's robust defence of Silver and his approach to journalism actually gets to the heart of the matter. Right now, we have far, far too much opinion-based journalism and not nearly enough fact-based reporting.

As the piece concludes:

There is, and always will be, a place for bullshit--or if you prefer a more dignified construction, a place for arguments driven by ideas, belief and feeling rather than data. Positivism is in no danger of sweeping such journalism away in toto; American newspapers and airwaves are full, far too full, of shouters, table-bangers, aspersion-casters and heartstring-tuggers. They drive ratings and traffic (and inspire blogposts). But to the extent that Mr Silver's mission is to shrink bullshit's share of our national conversation, I can only wish him Godspeed.

Who can argue with that? I meet more journalism students interested in becoming opinion columnists than I do those interested in data journalism. I've talked to managing editors at our national papers who despair of finding graduates keen to get on a do reporting, rather than writing leader-type columns.

Data journalism is actually a form of back-to-the-roots movement, of focusing our journalism back on finding facts and the stories within them. We're just using different tools to do that.

Talking of team diversity (as we were), how about age?

For all but a very small minority of people at the top, the corporate world is a cult of youth. The 'up or out' mentality favours younger employees, if only because they have more rungs of the corporate ladder before them, have fewer competing responsibilities, and are cheaper. But as a communicator I know that messages that resonate well with one audience (in this case, shareholders), don't necessarily meet the needs of others (such as society, local communities, employees), or indeed benefit the company itself in the long-term. That's why some enlightened companies are adapting to the challenges and even benefits of an aging workforce.

This seems to be particularly common in journalism businesses, where the number of 40-plus people in the companies is often significantly lower than the 20 to 40 bracket. Some of them take the PR shilling, some of them go freelance (hello!). But what happens to the rest of them?