Monthly Archives: March 2009

Do blogs make reporting restrictions pointless?

The leaked DNA test on 13-year-old alleged dad Alfie Patten has revealed a big problem with court-ordered reporting restrictions in the internet age. (NB This is a cut down version of a much longer original post on blogging and reporting restrictions that was featured on the Guardian).

Court orders forbidding publication of certain facts apply only to people or companies who have been sent them. But this means there is nothing to stop bloggers publishing material that mainstream news organisations would risk fines and prison for publishing.

Even if a blogger knows that there is an order, and so could be considered bound by it, an absurd catch 22 means they can’t found out the details of the order – and so they risk contempt of court and prison.

Despite the obvious problem the Ministry of Justice have told me they have no plans to address the issue. Continue reading

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I’m launching an MA in Online Journalism

From September I will be running an MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. I hope it’s going to be different from any other journalism MA.

That’s because in putting it together I’ve had the luxury of a largely blank canvas, which means I’ve not had to work within the strictures and structures of linear production based courses.

The first words I put down on that blank piece of paper were: Enterprise; experimentation; community; creativity.

And then I fleshed it out:

In the Online Journalism MA’s first stage (Certificate) students will study Journalism Enterprise. This will look at business models for online journalism, from freemium to mobile, public funding to ad networks, alongside legal and ethical considerations. I’m thinking at the moment that each student will have to research a different area and present a business case for a startup.

They will also study Newsgathering, Production and Distribution. I’m not teaching them separately because, online, they are often one and the same thing. And as students should already have basic skills in these areas, I will be focusing on building and reinventing those as they run a live news website (I’ll also be involved in an MA in Social Media, so there should be some interesting overlap).

The second stage of the MA Online Journalism (Diploma) includes the module I’m most excited about: Experimentation – aka Online Journalism Labs.

This is an explicit space for students to try new things, fail well, and learn what works. They will do this in partnership with a news organisation based on a problem they both identify (e.g. not making enough revenue; poor community; etc.) – I’ve already lined up partnerships with national and regional newspapers, broadcasters and startups in the UK and internationally: effectively the student acts as a consultant, with the class as a whole sharing knowledge and experience.

Alongside that they will continue to explore more newsgathering, production and distribution, exploring areas such as computer assisted reporting, user generated content, multimedia and interactivity. They may, for example, conduct an investigation that produces particularly deep, engaging and distributed content and conversation.

The final stage is MA by Project – either individually or as a group, students make a business case for a startup or offshoot, research it, build it, run it and bid for funding.

By the time they leave the course, graduates should not be going into the industry at entry level (after all, who is recruiting these days?), but at a more senior, strategic level – or, equally likely, to establish startups themselves. I’m hoping these are the people who are going to save journalism.

At the moment all these plans are in draft form. I am hoping this will be a course without walls, responding to ideas from industry and evolving as a result. Which is why I’m asking for your input now: what would you like to see included in an MA Online Journalism? The BJTC’s Steve Harris has mentioned voice training, media law and ethics. The BBC’s Peter Horrocks has suggested programming and design skills. You may agree or disagree.

Let’s get a conversation going.

Are UK newspapers and journalists selling links?

That’s the question posed by David Naylor, who says he was told by a “UK Search Marketer” that

“they’d been offered (and had paid for) links from the website of a major UK newspaper. At £15,000 it was an expensive buy, but with the national newspaper sites being such huge authority hubs they felt it was worth the money.”

Naylor’s post doesn’t identify the newspaper or the source, but he does identify some links on a different newspaper’s site – The Telegraph – that:

“go via affiliate networks such as Tradedoubler & Affiliate Window, which will pay a commission on sales. I’m no expert but I think that’s sailing pretty close to the wind in terms of journalistic integrity, and I believe the NUJ’s code of conduct would agree with me.” 

The comments are as interesting as the post itself. Kyle, for instance, points out:

“Given that one of the links actually has ‘telegraph’ as the affiliate id through Buy.at (http://mands.at/telegraph) I would say that this isnt a rogue staffer, and in fact an active business push . And fair play to them too – we all know how much newspapers have suffered recently and that the key to their survival lies in their ability to generate revenue from their online assets. Finally wiseing up to the affiliate business model will be very good for them.”

While Daniel Mcskelly points out: “Anthony also found the same aff code in use on another site that clearly isn’t a telegraph property so I do wonder.”

I’m waiting for a response from the Telegraph. Comments invited.

UPDATE: The Telegraph have responded quite quickly. A spokesperson tells me:

“The articles you have highlighted do contain some affiliate links. This is an accepted means by which online publishers monetise their content.

“The key point is that Telegraph Media Group’s editorial teams have no involvement in the commercial side of the operation. The links that you refer to are added post-publication by our commercial department.  The use of an intermediary to track links has no impact on which websites our journalists select and this does not affect our editorial standards in any way. Our journalists are free to write whatever they like about any products, as you would expect. In this respect it is no different from the traditional journalist / advertiser relationship.”

10 women in technology you should be following (Ada Lovelace Day)

Thanks to a prompt from Jemima Kiss, I realised it’s Ada Lovelace day today. Thanks to Suw Charman-Anderson, I’ve signed a pledge to blog about a woman in technology I admire.

Well in that sentence alone I’ve already mentioned two.

I’ve already blogged about two other women in technology I admire: Jo Geary and danah boyd. So that makes 4.

How about another 6?

Aleks Krotoski, for instance, a games journalist and PhD student who has not one great Delicious feed, but two, which are both worth following. If more journalists were this well informed and transparent, more readers would be too.

Or Beth Kanter, a leader on how nonprofit organisations can use social media.

Or Alison Gow, Sarah Hartley, Angela Connor, or Amy Gahran, four more journalists using new technologies in innovative ways.

They happen to be female. I don’t think that matters. I hadn’t thought about it until now.

But I’m going to spend the next 20 minutes following links in the Twitter search for #adalovelace and a Technorati search for the same. Hope you can join me. Did you find anyone new?

Facebook, Dunblane and a 2 page apology from the Express – a lesson in online journalism ethics


2 weeks ago the Scottish Sunday Express led with this cover story (PDF) on how the survivors of the Dunblane massacre were turning 18 and – shock, horror – drinking and making rude gestures. Reporter Paula Murray, it seemed, had “managed to inveigle her way into a Facebook friendship with teenagers from the town and write a salacious piece about their “antics”, based on information culled from their profiles.” You can read it in full here (text) and also here (PDF). The original was quickly taken down.

So far, so middle market. But what happened next was an abject lesson for the Express – and Paula – in how things have changed for journalists who will do anything for a ‘story’. Continue reading

The services of the ‘semantic web’

Many of the services that are being developed as part of the ‘semantic web’ are necessarily works in progress, but they all contribute to extending the success of this burgeoning area of technology. There are plenty more popping up all the time, but for the purposes of this post I have loosely grouped some prominent sites into specialities – social networking, search and browsing – before briefly explaining their uses.

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The next step to the ‘semantic web’

There are billions of pages of unsorted and unclassified information online, which make up millions of terabytes of data with almost no organisation.  It is not necessarily true that some of this information is valuable whilst some is worthless, that’s just a judgement for who desires it.  At the moment, the most common way to access any information is through the hegemonic search engines which act as an entry point.

Yet, despite Google’s dominace of the market and culture, the methodology of search still isn’t satisfactory.  Leading technologists see the next stage of development coming, where computers will become capable of effectively analysing and understanding data rather than just presenting it to us.  Search engine optimisation will eventually be replaced by the ‘semantic web’.

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