Archive for November 2008

The Situation About the Conversation

November 28, 2008

Apparently people in Northern Ireland say ‘situation’ a lot. Not that I’ve ever noticed, but just ask Dublin’s 98FM’s Toll Trolls and they’ll tell you. In fact if you’d like to hear the Toll Trolls give “people from da nort” a bashing then click on the video (warning, this might be offensive to some people and incoherent to most).

Well in the same way, I am starting to think all on-line enthusiasts say conversation a lot. In fact, I wish I’d counted how many times the word conversation has been uttered in our lectures since the beginning.

I can now add Shane Richmond to the list, after he told us during his lecture, The What, Why and How of Newspaper Communities, that journalism is now a conversation.

Blogs allow the writer to have a conversation with his or her readers, in turn allowing the readers to have a conversation with each other. This is the beauty of going on-line. If you’re either a) too lazy to blog, b) too busy, c) don’t know how to or d) wouldn’t know what to write about, then you can ride on the bandwagon of other bloggers and talk to their audience (there’s another word we’ve been hearing quite often).

Imagine walking around your work, your university, your local or even your city and listening to other people’s conversations, deciding which ones you are interested in and then joining in, without being invited. Obviously, you would either get a smack in the face or the police would be called, at the very least you’d get some funny looks. Well this is what the web, and more specifically, blogging allows you to do.

You can shop around, reading bits of this and bits of that, until you finally settle on something you like. The topic, or blogger, you like is more than likely going to have followers with similar interests to you, and this is when the conversation starts.

So the Internet gives people a voice (there’s another phrase we have definitely all heard before). Although is this always a good thing? Most of the time I think it is, freedom of speech is something we are all advocates of after all. But it’s the people who take this and run with it as far as they possibly can that give blogging, and commenting on people’s blogs, a bad name. From insulting the writer, to insulting other commentators, to using it as a personal space in which to vent their personal frustrations.

Here is a good example of this from former referee Jeff Winter’s website.

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Shane Richmond said blogs work best when they are opinionated, and gave Damian Thompson’s Catholic blog, Holy Smoke, as an example. My first thought was, how many readers of the The Daily Telegraph, a British broadsheet, are going to be Catholics? The answer is, probably not very many. But this is the beauty of the Internet and of The Daily Telegraph’s website specifically.

The Daily Telegraph could not have put Holy Smoke into their paper. Instead, they are able to put this opinionated and widely-read piece of journalism on the Internet so that people who want to read it, can.

And read it they do. One of his blogs on homosexuality, for example, had almost 400 comments.

I absolutely love the way his readers get so passionate about their opinions and those of the other commentators and address each other directly. This enables them to really say what they think. Most of the time, most people don’t seem to hold back.

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Would someone be so brutally honest, direct, and sometimes, downright rude if they were talking to that person face to face? Of course not. And this is the beauty of the Internet.

Talking ‘Bout a (Media) Revolution

November 14, 2008

“People who are in a revolution never know they are part of one until it is over”. So said Antony Mayfield, Head of Content and Media at iCrossing UK, in his lecture, Journalism in the Age of Networks. I never really considered this before, but now I know, how could I not have realised it?

As I think back over my time spent in this media revolution we are supposedly part of, the pace of change can be mapped by certain objects I obtained over the years.

I remember getting my first typewriter from Santa, my hours spent happily typing away and the frustration I felt when I made a mistake and I couldn’t just press the delete button.

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Some years later my dad arrived with the biggest PC you have ever seen. It took two people to carry it up the stairs and four or five to install it. The only thing we played on it was Pacman and Lemmings. I thought it was the best invention ever, even though it was really only a bunch of shapes moving around the screen.

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After that I got a Gameboy, which I definitely thought was the best invention ever. My books were discarded to the bottom of my wardrobe, my parents didn’t mind and it never occurred to them I might develop RSI in later life (an increasing worry of mine due to my constant texting).

During this time my sisters replaced their walkmans with portable CD players, my dad got a brand new DVD player.

I never had a Super Nintendo Entertainment System or a Sega Mega Drive, but my friends did, and yeah, I thought they were the best invention ever. Then came Playstations, mobile phones, PSPs, IPods, SkyPlus etc etc. When I lived in Japan, even the toilets were computerised.

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So are we in a media revolution?

Wikipedia says a revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time. Their results include major changes in culture, economy, and socio-political institutions. I think it is safe to say we have witnessed this, ever since the dawn of the digital age. The question is, what will this revolution look like in five, ten or twenty years?

In an age where we can now skip through ads, read our news online, make ourselves worldwide video stars, talk to people we have never met thousands of miles away, edit the world’s biggest encyclopaedia, challenge journalists and even become journalists ourselves, all at the click of a button – what will they think of next?

I imagine children will read eBooks in bed, everything will be voice activated, nothing will be manual, cars will drive themselves, food will cook itself, everything will become smaller, only people will become bigger. Weapons will become more powerful, governments less so. Intelligence and national security will be stepped up, yet the average person will be watched twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

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Mao Zedong once said: “A revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, and modestly. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

In an age where Google dominates the web, with an 80 percent market share of search engines and daily tracking a trillion web pages, you could safely say they are the dominant class of the World Wide Web. With technology advancing as fast as it is, will we see a power bigger than Google emerge and overthrow it? I think we will, it is merely a question of how and when.

Beyond the Blog Standard Part 2

November 13, 2008

I take back everything I said. I love online journalism. I will gladly embrace everything technological with open arms. Twitter, Mento, Delicious and other such webby bloggy thingies I previously thought were brands of sweets are now part of my everyday life.

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Why the sudden change of heart I hear you say? Well after attending the Society of Editors conference in Bristol this week, I now realise it is do or die. The buzz word from the conference seemed to be convergence, with most media panels stressing the importance of combining new skills (video skills, writing for multi-platforms and search engines etc) with core skills (shorthand, media law, public admin etc.)

I knew all this already of course, Glyn’s work hasn’t completely gone to waste over the last six weeks. But the defining moment came whilst networking with some media big wigs and Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian asked me “Do you have a blog?”

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I was able to tell him that yes, I do have a blog (cheers Glyn) and he then went on to stress the importance of blogging, especially for trainee journalists trying to secure that all important first job.

This blog isn’t the first encounter I have ever had with online journalism.

When I worked for my local newspaper, I was enlisted to do a blog on “whatever I wanted”. Being the young, inexperienced blogger I was, this filled me with instant dread. What exactly would I write about? Who exactly would read it? Would anyone read it?

But I set to work, realising my audience would primarily be people from my hometown and maybe a few of my friends I had sent the link to. Things didn’t start off too badly. I had a few members of the public using my blog as a way to let off steam about a controversial article I wrote in the paper that week, which then went on to a scathing attack on myself. I found it quite amusing.

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This was my first encounter of the “conversation”(in reality it was more like a slagging match).

After a while I began to grow quite fond of my contributors as I noticed the same names would pop up week after week – I had my own little fan base.

Not wanting to let my public down, I struggled to find an interesting and engaging topic with which to amuse my new web friends as they logged on to my blog every Thursday – it was surely the highlight of their week. And struggle I did.

I started to judge the success of my blog on how much feedback I was getting. I had my high points and my very low points. Until slowly but surely, as my readers grew disinterested, so did I, and my first encounter with online journalism slowly ground to a halt.

Now I am much more experienced in the world of the web, and after Adam Tinworth’s lecture, I realise what I had done wrong.

A good blog should be inquisitive, communicative, honest, enthusiastic, social and informed. Was my blog any of these? My blog was not informed. It was sometimes inquisitive and communicative, and always honest, enthusiastic and social. However, my blog often bordered on ranting. Somewhere I could vent my frustrations about certain things, and this is perhaps where my failure lay.

What it lacked was subjectivity, pictures, links, videos and all those other things we are constantly being told make good blogs.

I would like to think my blog has come along in leaps and bounds since then, even since the first posting of this blog. As the weeks go by, hopefully it will go from strength to strength and people (including Alan Rusbridger) might actually start to read it!

The Evolution of Journalists

November 5, 2008

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Once upon a time there was a dear little chicken named Chicken Licken. One morning as she was scratching in her garden, a pebble fell off the roof and hit her on the head.  “Oh, dear me!” she cried, “The sky is falling. I must go and tell the King,” and away she ran down the road.

Once upon a time there was a reporter for the New York Times named David Carr. One morning as he was scratching his head at his computer, a weekly paper called Christian Science Monitor ceased publishing after a century in business. “Oh, dear me!” he cried, “The sky is falling. I must go and tell the world.”

Now whether or not this is exactly how events unfolded in the New York Times office on October 28, I’m not sure. But I imagine it was something along these lines.

When guest lecturer, Matthew Yeomans stood in front of a room full of trainee journalists and told them print journalism is dying, at least two thirds of those journalists groaned. Just what we all needed to (once again) hear.

Yet Yeomans was there with a smile on his face telling us not to worry, as long as we all become like the Archaeopteryx, we’ll be fine. Yep you heard correctly, in order to stay in the journalism game we have to go from being dinosaurs to birds.

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Well, maybe I don’t want to evolve into a bird, maybe I’m happy to be a dinosaur forever, what happens then? What will happen is, dinosaurs like me will become extinct and all the birds will be flying straight to Fleet Street. So like it or not, I have to embrace this change, evolve into a bird and fly into the sun like the rest of the archaeopteryx.

OK enough of the bird/dinosaur analogies. Media is changing, and we all have to change with it. If I don’t embrace my (deeply) hidden technology-loving self, then I’m going to have to pursue another career.

Carolyn McCall announced at the Cardiff Business Club Annual Dinner that regional news is dying. Everything is pointing to online and if we want to make a career out of the news, online is where the future lies. Now I always had a sneaking suspicion that Glyn was slightly exaggerating the whole “future of journalism is online” thing (or at least was secretly hoping), but after hearing it from the horse’s mouth so to speak, I realise I have to stop being anti-online, and get with the programme (literally).

Matthew Yeomans believes the internet has revolutionised journalism in three ways. Now everyone has the power to publish, participate and choose. A perfect storm has been created and the world has more power at its fingertips than ever before. Our audience is talking back, they have the power – but is this necessarily a good thing? Traditional journalists may not like it, but many people argue this is essential for democracy.

Jeff Jarvis is one of these people. He warns “the world is watching, we’re the bosses now.” His Dell Hell blog is the perfect example of this.

One unsatisfied customer’s experience led not only to comments and links on his blog but press coverage from newspapers and magazines. Dell sustained long-term damage to its brand image after Jarvis’s blog, which in turn led to a white paper proving bloggers have an influence on corporate reputation. All of this perfectly illustrates Yeoman’s 1:10:100 principle – that one person can have an effect on a world-wide audience. Now the media has to sit up and take notice, the world has been given a voice and this, apparently, is the key to the future of journalism.

On more than one occasion I have been told that this media revolution we are in is either the best or worst time to be a trainee journalist. But the question is, which is it? What will my future hold as a journalist? If I can’t get to grips with online journalism, will I have to look for another career? These are the worries that constantly consume me yet what is the point worrying about the future?

Each day we, as human beings, change and evolve into the person we are. We might not make such a drastic change as the archaeopteryx does but we do change. In the same way, journalists change and evolve every day, be it from a new news story, new news room, new editor, new job role or new media. We might not know what the future of journalism will look like, but as Jarvis himself effectively puts it, we’ll know what to call it when we see it. And we will evolve and change in whatever way is necessary to welcome this new journalism into our lives.