Monthly Archives: October 2013

Should journalists learn how to code? They already do. (And yes, they should)

Shorthand - and you think coding is bad?

Shorthand image by Mike Atherton

So Olga Khazan had a bad experience with learning how to code (more on that later) and Steve Buttry can think of 6 reasons why journalists should learn how to do just that. The zombie debate ‘Should journalists learn to code?’ stiffens and groans once more, so I thought I’d prod it a little.

Journalists already learn to code. In the UK they learn shorthand – possibly the most esoteric code there ever was. We also learn a particular coding language: English. This language is taught in schools and involves using a series of 26 characters to encode objects, actions, and descriptions. You may have a similar language you have to learn in your own country. What a drag.

Why do we learn these languages? To save time, and to improve accuracy – two things that should be important to every journalist. Continue reading

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Welcome to journalism. Now delete your history.

Yesterday an 18-year-old journalism student told me he’d deleted his entire Twitter history using TweetDelete. The same day I noticed that another had changed his Twitter username to remove a reference to Newcastle United.

I was not an innocent bystander – I have to admit: I’d sort of advised them to do this…

Full circle in five years

Some history: I’ve been training journalists and student journalists to use Twitter for almost five years now, and have seen an enormous shift in that time.

In those early classes – between 2008 and 2010 – the difficulty was getting people to write more informally: almost no one had a Twitter account, so they approached it as a professional tool, with professionalism very much in mind.

By the third year, however, things were starting to change. By then around half would typically have pre-existing Twitter accounts, and many were using them in a personal capacity. The problem was not using Twitter in the first place, but how to combine the professional with the personal. “Should I have a different account for personal use?” Yes, I used to say.

Now I don’t.

There’s no such thing as a personal Twitter account

I no longer suggest having separate professional and personal accounts because, aside from the difficulty of running two accounts, frankly there is no such thing as a truly personal, even private, account if you are a journalist.

Some manage the balance: Joanna Geary, who maintains @guardianJoanna and @joannaGeary, springs to mind. But Joanna is able to do that because her ‘personal’ account is barely distinguishable from her ‘work’ account: she acts professionally; she talks about things that interest many of the same people who follow her ‘professionally’.

Joanna, in other words, is the exception.

In the movement from one audience (close friends) to another (strangers who may be judging our credibility as reporters) the harsh truth is that we will be judged unfairly against a standard we never anticipated.

And so I ended up showing TweetDelete to a class of 18-year-olds.

And I only had to mention SnapChat, and sexting for them to get it.

Welcome to the world of permanence. Please keep an eye on your past. For the sake of convenience, you may want to delete it (at least TweetDelete will give you an archived copy).

Note: Ross Hawkes has a fascinating exercise on the same subject: he will find tweets by members of the class and present them back to the class with the name removed. What would they think? “But it’s out of context!” Exactly.

Related: Why you might not ever get a job again… if you swear a lot on the internet

That free online data journalism course I’m involved in

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be part of the delivery team for a free data journalism course online early next year that is being hosted by The European Journalism Centre. Continue reading

“I’m rubbish with technology” – an excuse that doesn’t cut it any more

Wall Mural in Yellow Springs, Ohio - image by UGArdener

Rubbish with *which* technology? Image by UGArdener

Last week when I wrote about things you should never say in a newsroom I really wanted to add this one. But I decided it deserved a whole post of its own. I’m talking about people who say…

“I’m rubbish with technology”?

People actually do say this in newsrooms – particularly when they want someone else to do something for them.

But that old excuse is wearing a bit thin now. And it’s time to put a stop to it. Continue reading

It’s not just journalism that has to add more value now – advertising does too

Newspaper ad revenue has gone into a precipitous free fall - image from AEIdeas

image from AEIdeas

There’s a growing awareness in journalism that simply reprocessing content from elsewhere – whether press releases or newswires – isn’t going to be viable in a world where publishers are no longer gatekeepers. ‘Do what you do best and link to the rest‘.

Now advertising seems, finally, to be waking up to the same reality. Continue reading

New ebook now ready! Learn basic spreadsheet skills with Data Journalism Heist

Data journalism book Data Journalism Heist

I’ve written a short ebook for people who are looking to get started with data journalism but need some help.

Data Journalism Heist covers two simple techniques for finding story leads in spreadsheets: pivot tables and advanced filters.

Neither technique requires any formulae, and there are dozens of local datasets (and one international one) to use them on.

In addition the book covers how to follow leads from data, and tell the resulting story, with tips on visualisation and plenty of recommendations for next steps.

You can buy it from Leanpub here. Comments welcome as always.

What things should you never say in a newsroom?

No tecknolegy by Sammy0716

No tecknolegy by Sammy0716

There are certain things an aspiring journalist should never say. Here are three for starters – but what others are there?

1. “I don’t read the news”

Whether you mean newspapers, or listening to radio or TV, this is heard as “I don’t care about anything much. I have no interest in my profession. I have no understanding of the current news agenda.”

The listener doesn’t care if you’re the best writer in the world, or have a world exclusive on the back burner – they just scratched your name off a list somewhere.

2. “I can’t spell!”

“…” That… is the sound of tumbleweed. Whether you say this half-jokingly or even totally-jokingly, what an editor actually hears is:

“Everything I write will take up someone else’s time to sub-edit. At some point, some bad copy will get through and make this organisation look like a bunch of illiterate fools. PS: Don’t let me near Twitter.”

Editors don’t joke about spelling.

3. “I hate using the phone.”

Most other journalists do, too: it’s annoying, having to speak to human beings when we could be spending hours honing a killer intro. But no one says it because this is the one part of the role that distinguishes them from everyone else.

So rest assured you’re not alone. Then shut up and pick up the phone.

…And here are some others suggested in comments and on Twitter:

4. “I’m waiting for them to reply to my email”

…Because of course your email went straight to the top of their list. See 3. above.

sun email front cover

An exception to the rule: The Sun lead their front page on an ‘out of office’ auto reply – although the full story draws more on an interview with a friend.

5. “I forgot to ask”

5. “What’s a blog?”

6. “They never got back to me.”

From Cliff in the comments: You are responsible for following it up. Say “They are being evasive. I’ll keep trying.”

7. “I’ve done my shift.”

8. “Where is this running?”

Also from Cliff in the comments: “Whether it’s on the front page or on page five of the TV guide, treat is just as professionally. Where it’s running isn’t your job.”

9. “Do you have the contact number for..?”

From John Thompson in the comments.

10. “There’s no news”

Reply: “Look harder.”

11. “Well, it’s gotta be… “/“Everybody knows that it’s…”

From Jack Rosenberry in the comments: Saying things such as this equate to “I’m too lazy to do enough fact checking/verification”, which is a slippery slope to errors that will clobber you.

12. “I wrote a piece about [blank] instead.”

From paperguydavies in the comments: “Did you ask ahead of time if you could write a piece about (blank) instead? Because if you did, you don’t need to say that, and if you didn’t, you shouldn’t have written a piece about (blank) instead.”

13. “We ran that story last year”

That doesn’t mean nothing new has happened since. Even the annual ‘A levels getting easier’ debate deserves coverage (because a trend has continued, and people are talking about it again), and in some cases ‘no news’ is news – if something was revealed a year ago and nothing has been done about it, for example.From Bart Brouwers.

14. “We can wait – it’s an exclusive”

…Until someone else gets it. Also from Bart Brouwers.

15. “That’s how it was written in the press release”

16. “Well that’s what he told me. I didn’t understand it either.”

If you didn’t understand it, why do you think your readers will? From Deputy Editor of Devon Life Owen Jones.

17. “It’s not news – everyone [in our circle] knows about it”

After a while of working in news you can start to believe ‘new’ means ‘new to me and my friends’. It doesn’t – it means new to your audience. Stories can be new in the specialist or local press one day, new in the national press the next day, and new on TV the day after. But more than that, people in different circles know different things at different times. What matters is whether your audience knows about it.

Can you think of others?

UPDATE: Here’s a list of things to avoid in a job application too…