Author Archives: Paul Bradshaw

From passion to disillusionment and back again — developing the 7th habit of successful journalists

Most journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts on the world, the imperfections in people and places. . . . gloom is their game, the spectacle their passion, normality their nemesis.

Image: A-Z Quotes

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the habits of successful journalists that are often described as being “innate” or “unteachable”: from curiosity and scepticismpersistence and empathy, to creativity and discipline. In this final post I look at a quality underpinning them all: passion.

Are journalists only ever born with a passion for their craft — or is it something that can be taught?

Of all the seven habits that have been explored in this series, passion is perhaps the one that seems most innate — a quality that you “either have or don’t have”.

Can we teach passion? Well, we can provide the reasons why someone might be passionate about their craft — we can inspire passion and we can create opportunities to experience the things that have stimulated passion in others. Continue reading

Why discipline is one of the 7 habits of successful journalists

"A nose for news, a plausible manner and an ability to write and deliver concise, accurate copy to deadline" - description of the qualities needed by journalists, from Ethics & Journalism by Karen Sanders

In a previous post I wrote about the central role of creativity in journalism training — in this penultimate post in a series on the seven habits of successful journalists, I explore how discipline is equally important in directing that creativity towards a professional end — and how it can actually help create the conditions for creativity. You can also read the posts on curiosity, scepticismpersistence and empathy.

While many are attracted to journalism because of its opportunities for creative expression, few are attracted by its various constraints. But it is those particular contraints which make journalism distinctive, and separate from other creative work such as art or fiction.

In fact you might argue that it is constraints that make journalism more similar to creative fields such as design, where the functionality and user of the work must be considered, leading to increasing cross-pollenation between them (e.g. the rise of design thinking in journalism).

These constraints can be broadly classed as aspects of the work that require self-control, or discipline. For example:

  • We must consider the audience in the selection and treatment of stories
  • We must hit regular deadlines
  • We must write within a particular word count or to particular timings
  • We must remain impartial and objective in our reporting (in most genres)

These aspects of discipline are reflected in some of the most common feedback given to trainee journalists: Continue reading

Here’s how we teach creativity in journalism (and why it’s the 5th habit of successful journalists)

In the fifth in a series of posts on the seven habits of successful journalists, I explore how creativity can be developed in trainee journalists. You can read the posts on curiosity, scepticism, persistence and empathy here.

Describing journalism as a creative profession can cause discomfort for some reporters: we portray journalism as a neutral activity — “Just the facts” — different to fiction or arts that appear to ‘create something from nothing’.

But journalism is absolutely a creative endeavour: we must choose how to tell our stories: where to point the camera (literally or metaphorically), how to frame the shot, where to cut and what to retain and discard, and how to combine the results to tell a story succinctly, accurately and fairly (not always the story we set out to tell).

We must use creativity to solve problems that might prevent us getting the ‘camera’ in that position in the first place, to find the people with newsworthy stories to tell, to adapt when we can’t find the information we want, or it doesn’t say what we expected (in fact, factual storytelling requires an extra level of creativity given that we can only work with the truth).

All of those are creative decisions.

And before all of that, we must come up with ideas for stories too. The journalist who relies entirely on press releases is rightly sneered at: it is a sign of a lack of imagination when a reporter cannot generate their own ideas about where to look for news leads, or how to pursue those. Continue reading

How to develop empathy as a core tool in successful journalism

The Design Thinking Process - empathy is the first stage

Empathy is the first stage of design thinking. Image: Mike Boyson

In the fourth of a series of post on seven habits often associated with good journalism I look at a quality which is much less talked about, and often misunderstood — and why I believe it should be just as central as qualities such as persistence or curiosity.

Empathy — specifically cognitive empathy — is the ability to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.

It is one of the more underrated qualities of good journalists, perhaps because people often confuse it with sympathy, or with emotional empathy.

The difference is important: it is possible to imagine what it is like to be a particular person (cognitive empathy), including criminals and corrupt officials, without feeling sorry for them (sympathy) or feeling the same way (emotional empathy). Continue reading

Developing persistence and tenacity as a journalist (7 habits of successful journalists part 3)

Apple alone on bare tree. Image by Rodger Evans
Tenacity image by Rodger Evans

In the third of a series of post on seven habits often associated with good journalism I look at how persistence and tenacity can be taught in journalism training — and why it should be.

One of the earliest skills that broadcast journalists learn is how to conduct a vox pop. The vox pop is an attempt to ‘take the pulse’ of the public on a topical issue: the journalist will stand in a busy public place and ask passers-by to share their thoughts on the issue of the day.

The results will typically be used as part of a news package (not, it should be pointed out, as a standalone story), particularly when the news story in question doesn’t have many other interviews or visuals to draw on. Most are quickly forgotten. Continue reading

The 7 habits of successful journalists: how do you develop scepticism?

In a previous post I outlined seven habits often associated with good journalism that are often talked about (wrongly) as ‘innate’ or ‘unteachable’. In this second post I look at scepticism: why it’s so important in journalism, and how it can be taught.

On its own the first habit of a successful journalist — curiosity — can only take us so far as a journalist: as we ask questions of our sources, we cannot merely report what people tell us — especially if two different sources say contrasting things.

Scepticism is important in journalism because it moves us from merely repeating what people have said, to establishing the factual basis that puts that information into context — whether those facts support or contradict those statements, or do not exist at all.

This has become particularly important in a modern information age when most public bodies can communicate with the public directly, without that accountability.

Scepticism as the voice of the audience

If curiosity represents the journalist acting as the eyes and ears of the audience, scepticism is where we act as the mouth of the audience.

More specifically, it is the way in which we give a voice to an audience which isn’t able to ask questions itself. Continue reading

The 7 habits of successful journalists — starting with curiosity

Curiosity scepticism persistence empathy creativity discipline passion

Are good reporters born — or made? Can you teach the curiosity that all good journalists possess? The persistence of the best reporting? The creativity of the most compelling stories? Every so often I hear a journalist say that you can’t — that those quaities are ‘innate’ or “can’t be taught”…

This line of thought — a line which lacks the very curiosity and persistence that journalists are expected to aspire to — bothers me.

And it’s bothered me for some time.

Over the last year I’ve been thinking about these qualities a lot, what they might be, how educators teach them, and how they could be developed in journalism students and trainees more explicitly.

Today, then, I’m publishing the first in a series of posts exploring 7 habits that we often attribute to the best journalism, and to good journalists — and identifying ways that those habits are and can be encouraged and developed.

The 7 qualities are: Continue reading

Ergodic education: how to avoid “shovelware” when we teach online

A classroom and a zoom call

Death by Zoom: are we mistakenly trying to recreate the classroom instead of making something web-native?

A few weeks ago I was invited to talk at an online mini-fest about a ‘big idea’ for the future of online learning. I decided to talk about what I called ergodic education — how concepts from interactivity can be used to inform teaching as learners move online. In this post I talk about some of those concepts and how they can be adopted to a lockdown-era classroom.
Continue reading

3 more angles most often used to tell data stories: explorers, relationships and bad data stories

Scale: 'This is how big an issue is' Change/stasis: ‘This is going up/down/not improving’ Outliers/ranking: ‘The best/worst/where we rank’ Variation: "Postcode lotteries" and distributions Exploration: Tools, simulators, analysis — and art Relationships/debunking: ‘Things are connected’ — or not, networks and flows of power and money Problems & solutions: ‘Concerns over data’, ‘Missing data’, ‘Get the data’

Yesterday I wrote the first of a two-part series on the 7 angles that are used to tell stories about data. In this second part I finish the list with a look at the three less common angles: those stories focusing on relationships; angles that focus on the data itself — its absence, poor quality, or existence — and exploratory stories that often provide an opportunity to get to the grips with the data itself.

Data angle 5. ‘Explore’: tools, interactivity — and art

How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk

This New York Times interactive became one of their most-read stories of all time

Exploratory angles are largely web-native. Its selling point is often characterised by a ‘call to action’  like “explore”, “play” or “Take the quiz”. Alternatively, it might sell the comprehensiveness of the analysis in the way that it is “Mapped” or documents “Every X that ever happened”, or simply answers the question “Who/how/where”. Continue reading

Here are the angles journalists use most often to tell the stories in data

7 common angles for data storie: scale, change, ranking, variation, explore, relationships, bad data, leads

In my data journalism teaching and training I often talk about common types of stories that can be found in datasets — so I thought I would take 100 pieces of data journalism and analyse them to see if it was possible to identify how often each of those story angles is used.

I found that there are actually broadly seven core data story angles. Many incorporate other angles as secondary dimensions in the storytelling (a change story might go on to talk about the scale of something, for example), but all the data journalism stories I looked at took one of these as its lead.

In the first of a two-part series I walk through how the four most common angles can help you identify story ideas, the variety of their execution, and the considerations to bear in mind. Continue reading