A guide to Slack for journalism students (and lecturers)

Slack screengrab showing channels on left

A screenshot of the Slack group for MA journalism students at Birmingham City University

For a number of years I’ve been using Slack with students on both the MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism, and the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University. As a new academic year begins, here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years – whether you are a lecturer considering integrating Slack into your teaching, or a student considering using it in a journalism project.

First things first: why Slack?

Slack is a professional chat app used widely in the media industry to organise projects. It has a number of advantages over other options for communicating between colleagues, whether that’s chat apps such as WhatsApp, or traditional email. These include:

  • The ability to take control over opting in or out of communications (rather than being endlessly ccd in on unimportant messages)
  • The ability to have ‘office hours’ and customise notifications based on your priorities and availability (rather than getting notifications for all communications)
  • A particularly powerful search functionality for finding documents or messages from previous communications
  • The ability to set yourself reminders
  • Automation of aspects of work, such as alerts

When it comes to teaching and learning there are two obvious selling points: firstly it empowers students to manage their own communication (with attendant benefits for mental health).

And secondly, it teaches them how to use an important industry tool. Continue reading

Can long-form journalism bring readers back by learning from the literary essay? (Here are 17 concepts it can use)

Long-form journalism enjoyed a resurgence when editors tried to retain readers in the early 2000s — but the rise of mobile-first publishing has presented a challenge. In a special guest post for OJB, Michael Bugeja outlines how it can draw on narrative techniques from literary essays to keep readers reading — and coming back for more.

In 2016 a Pew report looked at how readers interacted with over 74,000 articles on their mobile phones. It concluded that long-form reporting was holding its own despite the shift to mobile, boasting a higher engagement rate (123 seconds compared with 57.1 for short-form stories) and the same number of visits:

“While 123 seconds – or just over two minutes – may not seem long, and afar cry from the idealized vision of citizens settling in with the morning newspaper, two minutes is far longer than most local television news stories today.”

Tweaking the concept of long-form

But buried in the report were some problems: only 3 percent of long-form and 4 percent of short-form news returned to the content once they left it — and both types of articles had brief lifespans after content was posted, with interaction after three days dropping by 89 percent for short-form and 83 percent for long-form. Continue reading

How to search for information in data black holes: Barbara Maseda and the Inventario project

Barbara Maseda

Image from Knight Center

Ahead of a Global Investigative Journalism Conference panel on reporting in countries without press freedom, Liana Bravo spoke to Cuban data journalist Barbara Maseda about launching a data portal for journalists in an environment where no official data is published.

Bárbara Maseda has dedicated the last four years to publishing data where none exists. “In Cuba we use investigative journalism tools to search for information that elsewhere in the world would be in a press release,” she says. Other journalists’ data problems, such as receiving data in formats that are difficult to analyse, “are my highest aspirations”.

In 2018 she created Inventario’, an open data project for Cuba. “In Cuba data is treated as confidential information. The government does not give data — or when it does, they are not disaggregated,” she says. Continue reading

“This is him here”: Laura Kuenssberg and the ethics of social linking

This is him here

This week Twitter got angry.

Again.

It was angry because BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg identified the father of a sick baby who confronted the prime minister as a political activist, embedding one of his tweets in her own.

Then it was angry because people were attacking a journalist for doing her job.

Somewhere between the heated accusations and counter-accusations, however, there was an important lesson to be learned — and a reasonable discussion to be had.

It is a lesson about understanding very different online cultures, about new journalistic practices, and an emerging  dimension of journalistic ethics that few reporters have truly gotten to grips with. Continue reading

FAQ: Books to read in preparation for doing a data journalism course

This is what you’ll look like after reading all of these books… (“Study of a Man Reading” by Alphonse Legros)

This latest in the frequently asked questions series is an answer to an aspiring data journalism student who asks “Would you be able to direct me to any resources or text books that might help [prepare]?” Here are some recommendations I give to students on my MA in Data Journalism

Books on data journalism as a profession

Data journalism isn’t just the application of a practical skill, but a profession with a culture, a history, and non-technical practices.

For that reason probably the first thing to recommend is not a book, but just general reading (and listening and watching) as much data journalism, and journalism generally, as possible. These mailing lists (and these) are a good start, and following data journalists on Twitter, and the hashtag #ddj, will expose you to the debates taking place in the industry. Continue reading

Longform writing: how to avoid the ‘saggy middle’ — and end strongly

4 ways to structure a longform story

This year on my MA in Data Journalism and MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism I have been teaching students how to plan and organise a longform story. Having already written about story types that can help organise an investigation and beginnings, in this post I want to look at techniques for organising the middle of longform features — and how to wrap it all up at the end.

Middles and endings of long features are no less tricky than the beginnings you can spend so much time writing and rewriting. Often people fall back on particular habits which may not quite ‘work’ for the story being told.

Telling a story in chronological order, for example, is not always the most effective approach. Stories where the action is not equally dispersed chronologically can ‘sag’ in these cases and the momentum of a strong beginning get lost.

In those situations a storyteller with a varied toolbox might use places, or themes, or scenes, to keep that momentum going instead. Continue reading

Longform writing: how to write a beginning to hook the reader

7 ways to begin a longform story: person, place, action, detail, question, problem, revelation

Previously I’ve looked at 7 story types that can help organise an investigation and the 5 stages of a longform story. In this follow-up post (taken from a class in my MA in Data Journalism and MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism) I look in more detail at the editing process once you have a longform story laid out — specifically, how to start that long feature.

Beginnings are notoriously tricky for any writer. For news reporters the advice is simple: start with the ‘new’ thing in your story, and make sure there is a verb in there: a person has said something; a report has revealed something; authorities are looking for someone, warning about something, planning to do something; and so on.

But in longform and feature writing the approach is more subtle. Although we can choose to report that something has been ‘revealed’ right at the start, this risks removing tension from the story and leading the reader to abandon it before they have the full picture.

Instead, then, journalists use a number of techniques to keep the reader engaged across a longer format — with the important implied promise that the story is going to be worth it.

So, for anyone struggling to think of a way to start a longer story — or feel that you can improve the approach you’ve chosen — I’ve pulled together seven types of beginning that are used in longform reporting and feature writing, with some considerations to bear in mind — and plenty of examples. Continue reading