Home » Archives for August 2011

Month: August 2011

A small plea (on behalf of my brother…)

My brother's just giving page
A small request to both of OM&HB’s loyal readers. My younger brother, Mark, is setting off tomorrow to cycle from London to Paris, to raise money for The Royal British Legion (Help for Heroes before that existed…) If this is the sort of cause you feel you can support, or if the thought of a city boy torturing himself with a major physical challenge amuses you, feel free to sponsor him. 
At this point, the brave pair are around £1000 off their fund-raising target, so any donations would be appreciated

Riots = Hyperlocal Traffic

Brockley Central traffic graph

The London riots sent traffic through the roof, with 35,000 visitors on the Monday, when riots in Lewisham took place and 45,000 visitors on the Tuesday, when Brockley Kate provided coverage of the aftermath and we provided a live report, during which mostly nothing happened. On a good day, the site normally gets 2,000 visitors.
I’m not surprised – as someone who was monitoring the situation in Lewisham very closely, Brockley Central was the only reliable source of information when the national media was largely ignoring what was happening in Lewisham. 

Journalism Myopia on display

A guest poster on Fleet Street Blues:

What perhaps we need is for all the warring media factions to lay down their arms. Instead of The Times vainly pursuing online subscribers while its competitors watch it haemorrhage the kind of money only the Murdochs of this world have, why don’t the media bosses agree to simultaneously put up paywalls or micropayment systems? Picture the scene: 1 January 2012 and the country wakes up in a collective hangover, makes its way online to find pictures of Boris Johnson drunkenly swimming in the Trafalgar Square fountains from the night before. Sixty million muggy-headed readers scrabble for their credit cards and a new media landscape emerges.

  1. Look up the word “cartel”
  2. Believe it or not, the traditional media aren’t the only people publishing on the web

Why do so many journalists find it hard to see the world beyond the traditional media?

Birth of the Author(ship)

Ah, a tenuous Barthes joke. It must be the Friday before a bank holiday…

Pretty well, as it turns out:
Google Authorship for my blog
Within a few hours of adding authorship mark-up to my blog, the home URL was showing up as authored by me, with a user avatar pulled from my Google+ profile. Now how about articles?
Google Authorship on an article
While it’s not yet showing for older articles, everything I’ve published since I added the authorship tagging is showing up in Google search rather nicely. It’s also interesting to note that Google has already revamped the “user pic on the far right” design it started with to one that’s more integrated with the article snippet. 
Oh, and this grab illustrates why it’s a positive thing:
Authorship versus aggregation
My blogs posts often get aggregated by places like The Media Briefing, Mediagazer and (occasionally) AllThingsD. The nice thing about the authorship markup is that my original post stands out much more clearly in the search result because of the combination of the userpic and the byline. I have no problem with people aggregating and linking through to what I write, but I’d rather I got the search traffic in the first instance.
So, far, I’ve mainly seen individual bloggers getting their markup sorted for this. I can imagine that there’s a degree of discomfort within many publishers about allowing their staff to “claim” content in this way. I can’t see the harm in it myself – you don’t have to anchor the author link straight to the Google+ profile as I’ve done; there’s a method which uses your site’s author pages as an intermediary, with the article linking to the profile and the profile linking to Google+. But my gut tells me that many publisher would much rather that their brand log was there as an author – and with brands not supported in Google+ just yet, I can’t see that happening in the short term. 

Sex, Lies and the Tools of the Trade

Last night, in the downstairs of a pub on the fringes of the city, two groups of people met. One group builds tools, the other uses them. They came to learn from one another, to swap and ideas and secrets, and to help define the way we see the world…

They came from many different organisations, some of them notionally competitive. Some were old hands at this, meeting regularly over the course of the last year. Others were taking their first steps into a new world. One key organiser works for an organisation that has come under considerable public scrutiny in recent months for its illicit activities. Another, a speaker, in fact, was from the very organisation that has done so much to expose those activities. With a crowd like this, the talk was bound to be of paranoia, of safety and privacy, and of wresting control from the moribund hands of those who fail to understand the reality of today.

Hacks and Hackers London

Who were these shadowy denizens of London? What brought them together?

They are hacks. And they are hackers. And this was Hacks/Hackers London.

Hacks and Coders in a bar

So, yes, it was just a bunch of journos and coders sat together in the downstairs bar of a pub, drinking painfully expensive beer and talking about security and the perpetual digital revolution we’re in right now. But you know what? They all had something in common: a desire to learn, and an excitement about the future. (And slightly lighter wallets by the end of the evening)

The hackers are the real techies. They are the people who play with code and consider it fun. The journalists? They’re just users of tools, not builders of them, looking for new ways of plying their trades with those new tools the hackers are creating. Most people in that room who are working journalists can’t code their way out of a wet paper bag – myself included. But they are the sort of people who want journalism to keep moving forward, to keep pace with the digital revolution and find new ways of expressing itself.

In fact, this gathering was the the antithesis of the kerfuffle about what editors think about web skills that we’ve seen over the last couple of days. Too much of the commentary around that much-discussed report reflected the attitudes of people who are unwilling to move out of their comfort zone, who like things very much they way they are thankyouverymuch, and who are quite willing to denigrate anyone with a more open mind as “techies” or, as the editor of Press Gazette quite memorably tweeted “new media blowhards“.

Thanks, Dominic. Nice to know that our trade title is so respectful of its whole constituency. This was a gathering of people who care enough about their profession to give up their evening to learn new things, and to share with others. I know which group I’d rather be part of. 

Pragmatic optimism

And it wasn’t an exercise in starry-eyed optimism, either. This was not a gathering of true believers, come to hear a familiar sermon and sign familiar hymns. No, the first presentation was exploring the idea that protecting the identities of sources gets ever harder in the digital age. Stick your head in the sand about digital skills, and you run the risk of failing to protect your sources. 

Live tweeting Hacks and Hackers London

Mary Hamilton and Sarah Booker have both already published detailed accounts of the night:

(I’m spotting a theme in the naming… How can I resist following their lead?) There’s much to learn in there, and it won’t even cost you a £4 pint. 😉

And there are plenty of future meetings planned. So, come along, drink over-priced beer and help us find new ways of making the news matter. 

Nostalgia is not a viable approach to journalism (part 267)

Journalistic nostalgia

Yesterday, a rather depressing story about journalism training appeared on the Press Gazette site. It wasn’t depressing because of the headline finding:

The top four most important skills cited by editors were: writing, finding news stories, interviewing and legal knowledge

As Joanna Geary pointed out in the comments, that has a definite “Pope revealed to be Catholic” element. No, it was this addendum:

at the bottom of the list came social media, web skills and interaction with readers

Oh, goodness. The fact that interaction with readers is so low would have horrified me, even if the rest wasn’t in there. Building a relationship with the readers is fundamental to supporting the long-term success of any journalism enterprise of whatever type, and showing that level of disdain for the people who support your business is alarming to say the least. The platonic ideal of journalism may be a wonderful thing to strive for, but that and a couple of quid will buy you a cup of coffee if you fail to serve and understand your readers.

Now, there’s something to be said for separating the core skills of journalism – which are pretty much the four things outlined in the first quote above – from specific means of expression. If you teach journalists those, you prepare them to work in any medium: print, digital, broadcast, whatever. I was certainly big on the idea of unpicking the core skills of journalism from the specific elements that were a product of print’s workflow (350 word inverted pyramid, I’m looking at you…) But that, in a very real sense, is 2008’s argument, if only because that last time that was even in question was last decade. The world has moved on since then, as Alison Gow nails in her response to the piece:

I wholeheartedly agree that finding stories, interviewing, local knowledge, are fundamental skills for anyone who wants to report (whether that’s in msm or otherwise). But here’s the thing; why would any editor say these were more important than social media, web skills and interaction? Why would any editor not understand that these are intrinsic to finding stories, interviewing and local knowledge?

Trying to separate working a beat from social networking and the web is pretty much like trying to separate it from using the telephone: ridiculous. But the problem is that anything new has this vague sheen of “techie” that people seem to use as an excuse not to move beyond their comfort zone – and there’s plenty of evidence of that in the comments on the original post.

This discussion has to move on. We have to stop seeing the web and the tools it offers as something “new-fangled” and “for techies”, but just as a new set of tools that allows us to find, research and publish stories. The web makes journalism bigger, not smaller. And we should be celebrating that, not hiding from it.

Update: Andy Dickinson identifies another reason editors de-prioitise web skills:

Because they are seen as a way of getting content out there not getting content in or helping with the journalistic process. They will always be less important than getting the paper/programme out.

And that’s a good point. People are still missing that the web can be a conversational medium as much as an broadcast one.

Got to love this job sometimes…

http://t.co/sgyYTFF latest coal analysis from our new coal editor Manca Vitorinoless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Sorry, Katie, but it made me chuckle when I saw it. 😉

Actually, joking aside, if you actually click through and read the link, you’ll find the sort of in-depth analysis and reporting of something that actually matters – our power supplies – that make it clear why people are prepared to pay online for the work that the ICIS team do.

Knowledge, research, insight, analysis: these things makes paywalls work.