Monthly Archives: March 2010

3 principles for reporters and bloggers in a networked era

@dinarickman to verify & contextualise what's online, digitise & make findable what's not, to empower communities & make connections between

Dina Rickman posed a question to me this week about the role of a reporter in our current networked age. I thought I’d expand on my response, shown above. Depending on your point of view, this is either a draft manifesto for networked journalists and bloggers – or a set of gaps in the market; new scarcities in an age of abundance. Here they are:

1. To verify & contextualise what’s online

  • Because finding things to publish isn’t difficult – for anyone.
  • Because the voices that stand out online are those that dig behind the statistics, or give meaning behind the headlines.
  • Because curating context is as important as curating content.

2. To digitise what’s not online & make it findable

  • Because in a networked world, information that’s not online is, to all intents and purposes, for most people hidden.
  • Because journalists have always sought to bring hidden information to a wider audience – but in the networked era that’s no longer a one-way process. SEO, tagging, linking and social media marketing are just as important as publishing.
  • Because online, information has a life of its own: adaptable, aggregatable, mashable.

3. To empower communities & make connections between

  • Because the web is a tool as much as a channel.
  • Because journalists have always been generalists whose strength is in making connections between diverse areas – in the networked era that role is reinvented as a connector.
  • Because serving communities sometimes means looking out as much as looking in.

Any more?

There may be other principles you can add (I hesitate to add ‘telling stories in new ways’, but perhaps it should be there), or other reasons. Please let me know what you think they are, and I’ll update the post accordingly.

"Follow, Then Filter": from information stream to delta

A year or two ago, as Twitter and FriendFeed in turn made headlines, much was made of how we were increasingly consuming information as a stream. Last January I blogged along those lines on why and how I followed 2,500 people on Twitter – why? I dip in and out rather than expecting to read everything. How? I used filters and groups for the bits I didn’t want to miss.

That behaviour now looks like a precursor to a broader change in my information consumption facilitated by new features in Twitter and Google Reader. And I wonder what that says about wider information consumption now and in the future.

From a stream to a delta

The features in question are Twitter lists and Google Reader bundles.

Now that lists are integrated by Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Echofon, it’s easy to switch your default view of Twitter from ‘all friends’ to ‘List X’ – and from ‘List X’ to ‘List Y’ and ‘List Z’ and so on.

I have lists for my MA Online Journalism students, for my undergraduate online journalism students, for data geeks, for people I’ve met in person, for formal news feeds – and I’m switching between them like TV channels.

Likewise, as I start to gather my Google Reader subscriptions into some sort of order, I’m moving from a default behaviour of dipping into ‘all items’, to switching between particular bundles of feeds along the same lines: data blogs, technology news, my students’ blogs, and so on.

To continue the ‘stream’ metaphor, I’m breaking that torrent into a number of smaller rivers – a delta, if you like. (Geographers: feel free to put me right on the technical inadequacy of the analogy)

Follow, Then Filter

Just as the order of things in a networked world has changed from ‘filter, then publish’ to ‘publish, then filter’, it strikes me that I’m adopting the same behaviour in the newsgathering process itself: following first, and filtering later

Why? Because it’s more efficient and – perhaps key – the primary filter is search. And you have to follow first to make something searchable.

In fact, Google itself is a prime example of ‘Follow, Then Filter’, following links across the web to add to its index which users can filter with a search. (another good example is Delicious – bookmarking articles you’ve not read in full because you may want to access them later).

When bandwidth ceases to become an issue – when storage ceases to become an issue – then we can follow as much as we like on the premise that, later, we can filter that information to suit our particular needs at that moment, for the one thing that does have a limit – our attention.

Teaching online journalism: classes as a narrative

For the last few years, I’ve had a problem. It’s a problem with deadlines, and momentum. Here’s how it goes:

Every year, students in my undergraduate Online Journalism module run a live news website – Birmingham Recycled. Six weeks into the module, students have to submit a ‘snapshot’ portfolio for the first of 2 assignment deadlines…

And this is where I hit my problem. The standard of work in that first portfolio is typically impressive – most of them have gotten to grips with a range of online platforms, are understanding their area, and appear motivated.

But once they’ve submitted, students hit a lull. Their stellar performance until that point stalls – their momentum, interrupted by the deadline, falters.

In a nutshell, I think they enter a ‘business as usual’ frame of mind.

So this year I’m trying something new. Continue reading

OK then, I'll talk about the Times paywall

Tom Whitwell of The Times: We ARE assuming that driveby traffic will fall significantly. If it doesn't, we'll make 2 billion pounds this year ;-)

I spent a bit of time talking about the Times paywall today for both BBC News 24 and their 6 o’clock news programme (on iPlayer here). One particular aspect which didn’t make the final cut concerned how paywalls challenge the commercial decisions behind the traditional news mix, so I’ve recorded it below.

UPDATE: More thoughts:


The precarization of journalism in Argentina

When Paul invited me to collaborate on OJB, I was determined to report what was going on with journalism in Spanish speaking countries. But living in Argentina inevitably means being submerged in the reality of one of many underdeveloped countries, a reality which doesn’t compare to what I have written about Spain (nonetheless suffering 25% unemployment).

The truth is that we in Argentina and throughout Latin America have been experiencing for a long time a process of precarization of labour in the newsrooms, with the complicity of power that big media corporations have to influence government policies.

That’s why many employers in the mainstream media try to have bloggers on their online sites without paying them, under the excuse that they offer the blogger “an outlet to show their work” (this happened in traditional newsrooms too and I suffered it personally in Clarín, the biggest media corporation of the country).

The latest example of this is what happened (English translation) to Alejandro Agostinelli’s blog, Magia Crítica, which was deleted without notice by the head of the digital edition of the Crítica de la Argentina journal.

What was the reason? Alejandro asked if they could pay him for writing the blog.

The journalist used to receive a salary for the work until September 2009, when he received an e-mail telling him that he would not receive it any more.

Agostinelli agreed to work for free but asked for independence to manage the blog and add his own advertising.

Obviously, that never happened. Critica’s banners continued to appear on his blog and his posts sometimes made it to the news site’s home page.

Two weeks ago, he decided to ask for his salary again, but it appears he was dismissed for merely asking.

171 posts were published in Magia Crítica over 14 months before it was closed, but luckily its content was saved and remains online in a domain.

I offered the right of reply to the head of the digital edition of Crítica de la Argentina, Nerina Sturgeon, and she said that the laboral conditions with Alejandro were clear from the beginning:

“He was paid monthly as long as the blog had good trafic, but that objective was never met. So I told him the blog would be closed but he could keep the space without pay and he agreed. He then sent me a pseudo-threatening email demanding his monthly payment, so he broke our agreement”.

Telegraph launches Debate2010

It began with some confusion, but an interested crowd filled the Telegraph’s presentation room for a pre-launch spiel on its new election application, Debate2010, last night.

Headed up by communities editor Kate Day, and in commercial partnership with Salesforce, the media group is touting the application as the first of its kind.

Telegraph deputy editor Ben Brogan said the application is an original idea with great potential.

“It will allow people to comment on issues of importance to the country in real time,” he said.

“You could call it an attempt to represent what those issues of importance are; you could call it crowd sourcing policies… or you could call it a real-time opinion poll.”

The application will allow live comments and debates on topics set editorially, but users can also suggest their own topics. The ‘hotness’ of converstaions will be monitored and will likely influence the Telegraph’s election coverage. Continue reading

The BBC and linking part 3 – the BBC respond

As promised in a comment on the first post on this topic (part 2 here), the BBC’s Steve Herrmann today responded to the debate surrounding the BBC’s linking policy (or policies).

In it Steve not only invites comments on how their linking policy should develop, but also gives a valuable insight into the guidance distributed within the corporation, which includes the following:

  • Related links matter: They are part of the value you add to your story – take them seriously and do them well; always provide the link to the source of your story when you can; if you mention or quote other publications, newspapers, websites – link to them; you can, where appropriate, deep-link; that is, link to the specific, relevant page of a website.
  • Where we have previously copied PDFs (for full versions of official reports and documents, for example) and put them on our own servers, we should now consider in each case whether to simply link to PDFs in their native location – with the proviso that if it’s likely to be a popular story, we may need to let the site know of possible increased demand.

“On linking to science papers in particular,” Steve continues,

“we don’t currently have a specific policy, but the simplest principle would seem to be that we should find and provide the most relevant and useful links at time of writing, wherever they are – whether it’s an abstract of a scientific paper, the paper itself, or a journal.

“There is some devil in the detail as far as this goes, though. First and foremost, we’re often reporting a story before the full paper has been published, so there may not yet be a full document to link to; some journals are subscription-only; some have web addresses which might expire.”

The post ends with a series of specific questions about how the BBC should link, from what types of links are most valuable, to where they should be placed, to what they should do about linking to scientific papers and information behind paywalls.

The comments so far are worth reading too, raising as they do recurring issues around ethics (do you link to a far-right political party?) and, in one case, seeing linking as part of “this internal destruction of the BBC, linking out shouldn’t be featured at all”.

It’s a debate worth having, and Steve and the BBC deserve credit for engaging in it.

The iPad magazine cover – lovely, but pointless

VIV Mag Motion Cover – iPad Demo from Alexx Henry on Vimeo.

The bit of spectacular video above is doing the rounds as I type – a mock-up/demo of how a “motion magazine cover” might work on an iPad.

It’s lovely. But pointless.

What does it prove? It proves that magazines could do spectacular things with the iPad. It is, essentially, an advert masquerading as a magazine cover.

But then, magazine covers have always been adverts for their contents – and it’s a curiously old-media approach to focus so much energy on the front cover when, online, the majority of users typically never touch your homepage (will the iPad change that? I’m sceptical).

In fact, I wonder if a user on the bus would grow impatient with such an overblown introduction to their magazine.

It reminds me of those Flash-heavy ‘splash pages‘ that websites used to employ to impress users – but which ultimately ended up frustrating them.

So it’s lovely, but it doesn’t solve any fundamental problems publishing faces right now. The iPad ain’t no silver bullet: the old problems haven’t gone away – an oversupply of information, oversupply of ad space, and a proliferation of alternatives to spend our entertainment budget on.

If anything, the iPad is a silver bullet to the head: with Apple keeping hold of user data, and insisting on the lion’s share of cover sale revenue, publishers are not going to be queueing up to join their gated paradise.