Tag Archives: community

Letter to Govt. pt1: “The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information”

The following is the first in a series of responses to the government inquiry into the future of local and regional media. We will be submitting the whole – along with blog comments – to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. This post, by Alex Lockwood, looks at the first:

“The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information”

The final views of the committee will depend on how much the inquiry sees local newspapers responsible for local journalism – a little, a lot, or completely.

Writing in the Observer on Sunday, Henry Porter pretty much called them the same thing. For many who work there, the death of newspapers is disastrous for access to local information, not least due to the historical positions those papers have held.

The closures of the Glasgow East News and Ayrshire Extra, the Black Country Mail Extra, Wolverhampton AdNews, Daventry Post and Ashby Herald, the Lincoln Chronicle, the Northallerton, Thirsk and Bedale Times, and dozens of others that have either closed or felt the swingeing impact of mergers and office cuts, are devastating for their communities. These papers have been the homes for ‘hard’ journalism – reporting of the essential court and council stories that really matter to local lives.

Los Angeles Times reporter, Joe Matthews, quoted widely on this, has made clear the dire implications for democracy of the loss of quality journalism. Matthews wrote: “Much of the carnage of the ongoing media industry can’t be measured or seen: corruption undiscovered, events not witnessed, tips about problems that never reach anyone’s ears because those ears have left the newsroom.”

Those trained ears may have left the newsroom – but are they the only ears open to the whispers of local corruption? Continue reading

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.

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.

Continue reading

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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3 weeks in: launching a Midlands environmental news site

3 weeks ago my class of online journalism students were introduced to the website they were going to be working on: BirminghamRecycled.co.uk – environmental news for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The site has been built by final year journalism degree student Kasper Sorensen, who studied the online journalism module last year.

In building and running the service Kasper has done a number of clever, networked things I thought I should highlight. They include:

  • Creating a Delicious network for the site – every journalist in the team has a Delicious account; this gathers together all of the useful webpages that journalists are bookmarking
  • Tweetgrid of all journalists’ tweets – again, every journalist has a Twitter account. This pulls them all together.
  • Twitter account @bhamrecycled
  • Kasper sent the whole team an OPML file of subscriptions to RSS feeds of searches for every Midlands area and environmentally related keywords. In other words, journalists could import this into their Google Reader and at a stroke be monitoring any mention of certain key words (e.g. ‘pollution’, ‘recycling’) in Birmingham areas.
  • He also shared a Google calendar of relevant events

The site itself is clever too.

  • The About page has a list of all contributing journalists with individual RSS feeds.
  • In addition, each author has a link to their own profile page which not only displays their articles but pulls Twitter tweets, Delicious bookmarks and blog posts.

Kasper wanted to explicitly follow a Mashable-style model rather than a traditional news service: he felt an overly formal appearance would undermine his attempts to build a community around the site.

And community is key. When unveiling the site to the journalists Kasper made the following presentation – a wonderful distillation of how journalists need to approach news in a networked world:

External links: the 8 stages of linking out denial

Do you have a link problem? You can handle linking. It’s just one post/article/page without a link. You can link whenever you want to. Or can you?

Where are you on this scale …? (Originally posted here.)

1 Don’t link to anyone

Link to other sites? But people will leave my site. They won’t click on my ads. They won’t read other pages. I’ll leak page rank. No way.

2 Add URLs but don’t make them hyperlinks

OK, that’s a bit ridiculous. If I’m talking about other organisations, I can’t pretend they don’t have a website. I know, I’ll put web addresses in. But i won’t make them hyperlinks. Brilliant, yes?

3 Add an ‘external links’ box

Even I’m finding that no hyperlink thing annoying when I go back to an old page and have to copy and paste the damn things.

I suppose I should have some links on my page. I’ll put them in a box. Over there (down a bit …). I’m going to use some sort of internal redirect or annoying javascript, though, to make sure I don’t pass any page rank. Mwah, hah hah.

4 Put some links in the copy

I don’t seem to be getting many inbound links. I guess I’m not playing fair. I know, I’ll sort out my workflow so that it’s possible to add links easily inside the actual copy. But I’m still not passing any pagerank. I’m going to put “rel=nofollow” on every link.

5 Give my users some google juice

Commenters seem thin on the ground. Maybe I’ll let them link to their own sites. I’ll use some annoying javascript to hide the links from google though. Most of my commenters are probably spammers, and I can’t trust them to police their own community, after all.

6 Link when I have to. And remove nofollow and any other annoying tricks

That seemed to make everyone happier. There are a few proper links on my pages. And people seem to want to link to me now that I’m playing fair with my links.

7 Acknowledge my sources

Oops. Spoke to soon. Been outed as pinching someone else’s idea and not attributing it. From now on, I’m going to make sure I always link to everyone I should.

8 Enlightenment: Make linking part & parcel of what I do

Internet. Inter as in inter-connected. Net as in network.

I get it now. I’m going to become a trusted source for information and advice, AND of what else people should read elsewhere on the internet. Blimey, more and more people are visiting my site and linking to it. Continue reading

Lessons in community from community editors #11: Chris Deary, Hearst Digital

Chris Deary, Community Editor at Hearst Digital, adds his 3 things he’s learned about community management to this ongoing series.

1. Know your audience

Understand your audience and give them community tools that are designed to meet their needs.

There is a tendency to want to throw as many community tools as possible on to a site without considering what your users are actually going to do with them or giving them a reason to use them.

It’s the “If we build it, they will come” attitude. But why should they? What is it about your discussion forums or blogs that is different to the millions of other sites offering the same functionality? This is where the role of the Community Editor is really important in terms of setting the tone of the community and figuring out ways of encouraging interaction and participation.

2. Expect the unexpected

This isn’t a negative point. Often what you get from your users will far exceed what you expected, both in terms of quality and quantity. But there has to be an understanding with any user generated content that you cannot have 100 per cent control over what the community will do with an idea or with a tool.

Once you invite user participation you have to relinquish a certain amount of control, but the important thing to emphasise is that most of the time, what you get back will be worth it. You only have to look at Twitter to see how a community can take a tool and use it in ways its original creators would never have imagined.

3. Pay attention to the detail

It’s easy to come up with big, headline-grabbing initiatives that lead to short term, one-off spikes in traffic and look impressive to others within your organisation. But the key to building a community in the long term is doing lots and lots of little things really well.

They are the kind of things that your colleagues in other departments probably don’t even know you do, like helping a user who can’t log in or dealing with a moderation issue when everyone else is eating their Christmas dinner.

NewsCred founder Shafqat Islam about startups and the future of media

While everybody in journalism is wondering how the future of media looks like, entrepreneurs try to shape it. They develop new products and services that maybe could be the next big thing in journalism. OJB asks those entrepreneurs three simple questions in a series of interviews. First up: Shafqat Islam from NewsCred.

For everyone who has never heard of NewsCred: it’s an online platform that aggregates articles from lots of media – newspapers, magazines, blogs. NewsCred users can build a personalised online newspaper by selecting media and topics they want to read from and about. Continue reading

Writing/producing for the web: BASIC principles of online journalism (Online journalism lesson #3)

Here’s the 3rd in my series of classes in online journalism. Having already set up an RSS readers and Delicious account, a Twitter account and a blog, this week they start the news website, and learn about writing and producing for the web:

Lessons in community from community editors #10: Craig Elder, the Conservative Party

In the latest in this ongoing series, I spoke to Craig Elder, The Conservative Party’s Online Communities Editor, about the 3 things he’s learned about community management:

1. Be a real person

Use your own name when blogging, tweeting, commenting etc. Giving people a proper touchpoint within the organisation adds real value – people are far more likely to be constructive or helpful when they know they’re communicating with a human being rather than a faceless webmaster@ e-mail address.

Getting involved in the conversation (again, using your own name) definitely reaps rewards. A real person responding openly to a critical comment will get much better results than the moderator deleting it.

Exchange information

The community is a great place to collaborate and exchange information. Try sending out a tweet asking for help on a particular subject and watch the replies roll in – it’s not unusual to for people to go one step further and volunteer to be part of the project.

Of course, it’s got to be a two-way process – so make sure you share what you know with others when they’re looking for advice!

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Sitting on your hands and waiting for the conditions to be “just right” before you try something out is going to leave you standing by as the conversation (and opportunity to innovate) moves on.

Being willing to experiment with new tools is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from the community – everyone prefers something rough around the edges but interesting, rather than something that’s been 6 months in the making and past its sell-by date.