Tag Archives: Carnival of Journalism

We’re not just teaching journalists any more – we’re teaching citizens #Jcarn

Kathy Gill has written a rather wonderful post about the public service responsibilities of journalists educated with public money. It’s worth reading in full (that summary doesn’t do it justice) – and I wanted to add my own experiences around a change in journalism education which I only realised a few years ago.

It is often overlooked when people talk about journalism and media degrees that many students realise during the course of their studies that the journalism profession is not for them.

It might be the pay (it often is the pay), the culture, the conflict between perception and reality, or simply that they discover something else they enjoy even more.

For others, the decision is a forced one: circumstances take them into another career – often, again, because the pay in journalism is not enough, either to raise a family on, or to persuade them to switch from the job they got ‘until I break into the media industry’.

All of those people may not be professional journalists, but they remain citizens, and the skills they learned in their studies are there, waiting to be activated.

When they become parents, and they have concerns about the way their child’s school is governed.

When they or their loved ones become ill, and they want to ask why they were not treated with dignity.

When their local community is under threat from development – or the lack of it.

When they or their loved ones are subject to power exercised without responsibility.

It is easy as a lecturer to mentally write off students who ‘will never make it’ in journalism as a profession. But that ignores a broader responsibility: they will always be citizens.

As a society we rely on those people to tell us their stories, to scrutinise power, to suggest the questions that might be asked, and to raise the alarm.

Martin Hirst touches on these issues in his response to my own Carnival of Journalism post, and he’s right: the have a duty of care to teach not only journalists, but citizens too.

There’s no such thing as a ‘student journalist’

Learner plate image by Michael Summers

Learner plate image by Michael Summers

The Carnival of Journalism is back, and this month is looking at student media. That gives me an excuse to talk about something I seem to find myself ranting every year: “You are not student journalists”.

It’s on Twitter profiles, blog ‘about’ pages, LinkedIn profiles and business cards. And it’s an anachronism.

There is no such thing as a ‘student journalist’.

Students of journalism no longer practise their work in the seclusion of a classroom. They do not write solely for lecturers, or even for each other.

Any student on a course with some awareness of the modern media world publishes their own blogs; their student media is accessible around the world. They contribute to networks, and build communities.

Even if their course provides no opportunities to do any of these things, they will have Twitter accounts, or Facebook accounts.

All of which means that they are publishers.

Ignorance is bliss?

Describing yourself as a student journalist suggests that you haven’t noticed this.

But worse, it reinforces a similar ignorance in the people you talk to as you go about your business.

These are the press officers that say “We don’t deal with student journalists” and the election officers who stop you at the doors of the count – but also the sources who say “I didn’t realise what I said was going to be published.”

Journalism students need to be honest with the latter and forceful with the former. A large part of that means making a mental shift from ‘this is just an exercise’ to ‘this is a real story with real implications’. In other words that move from ‘I am a student’ to ‘I am a journalist-publisher’.

Not just an exercise

For a start, as a publisher you have to be aware of contempt of court, libel, and copyright. This is not an option – and the number one reason you can never think your work is ‘just an exercise’.

You also have to think about syndication: who you might supply your content to. I encourage my students to work as freelancers, and often put them in touch with different news organisations depending on the story.

I set up the Birmingham Datablog as just one way of facilitating that, but the ‘teaching hospital’ model of journalism schooling can be misleading: wherever students publish they are part of the same content ecosystem as traditional publishers.

So there is no such thing as a student journalist. There are only publishers, and non-publishers. Your story can be seen by a million people, or only one – but you should always prepare for the former. As should the press officers. And your sources.

So change that Twitter biography; that About page. And take your job seriously: because if you don’t, no one else will.

UPDATE: Martin Hirst replies in a guest cross-post here.

“In my view, if we do not acknowledge the student status of our students (no, that’s not a tautology), we are not being diligent in our duty of care (the pastoral role of all teachers at all levels) to ensure that we “first do no harm”. Yes, we have to, as Paul rightly points out, engage our students in the daily routines and socialisation of newsroom practice and we have to move beyond the newsroom model too; but in doing so, we have to be constantly mindful that our pupils must be kept safe.”

 

This prompted Victoria Baranetsky to publish a response of her own:

“Student journalists who are not afforded the rights of citizens nor the rights of journalists must be given some protection.  Thus, it is important we acknowledge their actions may transcend their status – whatever it may be.”

Tools or Tales?

Christmas gifts image by Michael Wyszomierski

Christmas gifts image by Michael Wyszomierski

This month’s Carnival of Journalism asks what journalists want for Christmas from programmers, and vice versa. Here’s my take.

Programmers and developers have already given journalists enough presents to last a century of Christmases. Programmers created content management systems and blogging platforms; they wrapped up networks of contacts in social networks, and parcelled up fast-moving updates on Twitter and SMS. They tied media in ribbons of metadata, making it easier to verify. They digitised content, making it possible to mix it with other content.

But I think it’s time for journalists to start giving back.

All of these gifts have made it easier for journalists to report stories. But that’s only part of publishing.

Technology’s place in journalism

Traditionally, journalism’s technology came after the story: sub-editors or designers laid the story out in the way they judged to be the most effective; printers gave it physical form; and distributors made sure it reached people.

Each stage in that process considers the next person. The inverted pyramid, for example, helps subs trim copy to fit available space. Subs talk to printers. Printers work with distributors. Processes are designed to reduce friction. The journalist’s work – whether they realise it or not – is a compromise reached over decades between different parties. An exchange of gifts, if you like.

But when it comes to publishing online, there’s been very little Christmas spirit.

Stories as a vehicle

Stories help us connect with current issues; they act as a vehicle for information that allows us to participate in society, whether that’s politically, socially, or economically.

The job of a journalist is to find stories in current events.

But those stories do not have to be told in one particular way. And if we were to try to tell them in some different ways (adding important metadata; publishing raw data; linking to supporting material; flagging false information), we could be giving a gift much desired by developers.

Here are some things that they could do with that gift – it is, if you like, my own fantasy Christmas list:

They’re just ideas – and will remain so as long as journalists assume they’re only writing for newspapers, and newspaper readers.

The newspaper is a tool: a way for groups of people to exchange information. In the 19th century those groups might have been political activists, or merchants who needed to know the latest trading conditions.

The web is a tool too – a different tool. We can use it to ask information to come to us, or to seek out supplementary information; we can use it to draw connections; and we can act on what we find in the same space. Stories need to adapt to the possibilities of the new tool they sit in.

This year, put a developer on your Christmas list. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

How I hacked my journalism workflow (#jcarn)

I’ve been meaning to write a post for some time breaking down all the habits and hacks I’ve acquired over the years – so this month’s Carnival of Journalism question on ‘Hacking your journalism workflow’ gave me the perfect nudge.

Picking those habits apart is akin to an act of archaeology. What might on the surface look very complicated is simply the accumulation of small acts over several years. Those acts range from the habits themselves to creating simple shortcuts and automated systems, and learning from experience. So that’s how I’ve broken it down:

1. Shortcuts

Shortcuts are such a basic part of my way of working that it’s easy to forget they’re there: bookmarks in the browser bar, for example. Or using the Chrome browser because its address bar also acts as a search bar for previous pages.

I realise I use Twitter lists as a shortcut of sorts – to zoom in on particular groups of people I’m interested in at a particular time, such as experts in a particular area, or a group of people I’m working with. Likewise, I use folders in Google Reader to periodically check on a particular field – such as data journalism – or group – such as UK journalists. Continue reading

Quicker, smaller, more transparent: What Knight should do next? #JCARN

This month’s Carnival of Journalism is about “driving innovation” – in the wake of the end of the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge five year run, among other things. Here’s my take:

Driving innovation needs to be quick

Any innovative idea needs to be able to deploy and iterate quickly – and any scheme to fund innovation needs to support that.

Having been through the Knight News Challenge three times, and reached the final shortlist twice, I was struck each time by how much changed in the online world between the initial submission and final award: If an internet year is worth 4.7 normal years, this process was taking over 3 ‘years’ in internet time. So much changed during that period that by the time I had reached the second or third stage, I wanted to re-write the whole thing.

In contrast, when I entered Channel 4’s 4iP fund (far from perfect, but certainly faster), the time from application to approval was swift. This allowed us to spend a few months working with the funders in addressing the issues the project raised (in Help Me Investigate’s case, largely legal ones) and still being able to start work before the Knight awards had even been shortlisted.

Why the difference? Perhaps because of the next point. Continue reading

Universities without walls

@majohns Economist believes in future their distinguished and knowledgable audience is as important as their editors #smart_2011

This post forms part of the Carnival of Journalism, whose theme this month is universities’ roles in their local community.

In traditional journalism the concept of community is a broad one, typically used when the speaker really means ‘audience’, or ‘market’.

In a networked age, however, a community is an asset: it is a much more significant source of information than in other media; an active producer of content; and, perhaps most importantly, at the heart of any online distribution system.

You can see this at work in some of the most successful content startups of the internet era – Boing Boing, The Huffington Post, Slashdot – and even in mainstream outlets such as The Guardian, with, for example, its productive community around the Data Blog.

Any fledgling online journalism operation which is not based on a distinct community is, to my thinking, simply inefficient – and any journalism course that features an online element should be built on communities – should be linking in to the communities that surround it.

Teaching community-driven journalism

My own experience is that leaving the walls of academia behind and hosting classes wherever the community meets can make an enormous difference. In my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, for example, the very first week is not about newsgathering or blogging or anything to do with content: it’s about community, and identifying which one the students are going to serve.

To that end students spend their induction week attending the local Social Media Cafe, meeting local bloggers and understanding that particular community (one of whom this year suggested the idea that led to Birmingham Budget Cuts). We hold open classes in a city centre coffee shop so that people from Birmingham can drop in: when we talked about online journalism and the law, there were bloggers, former newspaper editors, and a photographer whose contributions turned the event into something unlike anything you’d see in a classroom.

And students are sent out to explore the community as part of learning about blogging, or encouraged to base themselves physically in the communities they serve. Andy Brightwell and Jon Hickman’s hyperlocal Grounds blog is a good example, run out of another city centre coffee shop in their patch.

In my online journalism classes at City University in London, meanwhile (which are sadly too big to fit in a coffee shop) I ask students to put together a community strategy as one of their two assignments. The idea is to get them to think about how they can produce better journalism – that is also more widely read – by thinking explicitly about how to involve a community in its production.

Community isn’t a postcode

But I’ve also come to believe that we should be as flexible as possible about what we mean by community. The traditional approach has been to assign students to geographical patches – a relic of the commercial imperatives behind print production. Some courses are adapting this to smaller, hyperlocal, patches for their online assessment to keep up with contemporary developments. This is great – but I think it risks missing something else.

One moment that brought this home to me was when – in that very first week – I asked the students what they thought made a community. The response that stuck in my mind most was Alex Gamela‘s: “An enemy”. It illustrates how communities are created by so many things other than location (You could also add “a cause”, “a shared experience”, “a profession”, “a hobby” and others which are listed and explored in the Community part of the BASIC Principles of Online Journalism).

As journalism departments we are particularly weak in seeing community in those terms. One of the reasons Birmingham Budget Cuts is such a great example of community-driven journalism is that it addresses a community of various types: one of location, of profession, and of shared experience and – for the thousands facing redundancy – cause too. It is not your typical hyperlocal blog, but who would argue it does not have a strong proposition at its core?

There’s a further step, too, which requires particular boldness on the part of journalism schools, and innovativeness in assessment methods: we need to be prepared for students to create sites where they don’t create any journalism themselves at all. Instead, they facilitate its production, and host the platform that enables it to happen. In online journalism we might call this a community manager role – which will raise the inevitable questions of ‘Is It Journalism?’ But in traditional journalism, with the journalism being produced by reporters, a very similar role would simply be called being an editor.

PS: I spoke about this theme in Amsterdam last September as part of a presentation on ‘A Journalism Curriculum for the 21st Century’ at the PICNIC festival, organised by the European Journalism Centre. This is embedded below:

Slides can be found below:

Carnival of journalism: How do you financially support journalism online?

Gather round, gather round for this month’s Carnival of Journalism, which addresses the timely question of ‘How do you financially support journalism online?’. I’ll be updating this post as the carnival performers put on their outsized business heads and add their peacock-like contributions.