Tag Archives: gatekeeping

FAQ: Data journalism and gatekeeping

The latest frequently asked questions post comes in response to a PhD student looking at data journalism and gatekeeping. Here are the questions and my answers:

How do you think the role of journalists has changed during the 21st century, especially with the data explosion and the rise of misinformation and disinformation?

Journalists and news organisations have both been forced to adapt by the increased competition, and the changing nature of the world that we report on (i.e. the fact that it is more data-driven).

Many publishers tell me they want to give their journalists data skills because they feel that they need to ‘up their game’ in order to compete with new entrants to the sector, and to create distinctive content in an environment where celebrities, politicians, sportspeople etc. all publish direct to audiences rather than via media. Continue reading

Ethics in data journalism: automation, feeds, and a world without gatekeepers

This is the last in a series of extracts from a draft book chapter on ethics in data journalismOthers have looked at how ethics of accuracy play out in data journalism projects; culture clashes, privacy, user data and collaborationmass data gathering; and protection of sources. This is a work in progress, so if you have examples of ethical dilemmas, best practice, or guidance, I’d be happy to include it with an acknowledgement.

Budget Forecasts, Compared With Reality

Budget Forecasts, Compared With Reality

The ethics of automation and feeds

Since Adrian Holovaty built ChicagoCrime.org in 2005 to automatically update a map with police crime statistics, automation has been an important element of data journalism. Few news organisations have guidelines on automation, but the BBC’s guidelines (2013) on video feeds do provide a framework. Continue reading

The 3 forces changing journalism education part 2: the education business

Yesterday, in the first part of this series, I talked about how changes in the news industry were reflected in changing journalism education. In this second part I want to look at an area which is discussed much less: how education itself is reacting to changes in information – and how educators, like journalists, are no longer gatekeepers any more.

Data, information, knowledge, wisdom - pyramid

Part 2: Education and the information environment

The internet did not play any role in my time as an undergraduate. That meant that lecturers performed a ‘gatekeeping’ role very similar to journalists: acting as the main source of feedback on work, and the people who determined what books and journals were stocked by the library.

Information on the journalist’s craft was limited to a few mass market books; a couple dozen textbooks equally limited by their potential markets; what students picked up on their own work experience; and their tutors.

Just like journalism, the information environment in which education takes place has changed utterly.

Students can read a hundred blogs by journalists in an enormous variety of roles and industries that would never catch the eye of a book editor. They can contact journalists much more easily – and read the results of other students’ contacts with journalists.

They can gain feedback on their work not only from general news reporters, but specialist correspondents, from experts in the field they are covering, community members, and anyone else with an opinion.

They don’t need to book out a camera or visit a darkroom (as it was then) to take photographs; a camcorder to film; a marantz to record audio; a studio to broadcast.

As educators we are no longer the gatekeepers to information, the gatekeepers to people in the industry, or gatekeepers to the means of production and distribution. We can provide all of these things and make all the arguments we want about the quality of that access – but, like the news industry as a whole, are no longer the only ones.

The only thing we are gatekeepers to, in fact, is accreditation of individuals’ learning.

And yet journalism education – and training too – is still framed within that gatekeeper’s offering.

More importantly, many journalism students come into higher education with the same expectation, instilled during earlier schooling: that education consists largely of having gates opened for you by experts, and clearing the hurdles to walk on through.

From gatekeepers to gatewatchers

When higher education – and information – was limited to a small part of society, that may have been a valid expectation. But as first higher education access was widened, and then information access, this has become unsustainable.

We are operating in an information-rich environment. And so, like the news industry, we need to reformulate what role we play in that: moving from gatekeeping and transmission models to one involving aggregating and curating, challenging and verifying, and providing platforms for connection and investigation.

Like the news industry, our role becomes less that of transmitting information and more one of saving time, improving accuracy and guaranteeing quality. What Axel Bruns called gatewatching.

The first step in that process involves debunking the transmission myth that students arrive with. There’s a reason why I’ve used ‘information’ throughout above, because ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ are things that higher education can act as a gatekeeper to – if you have good educators. But they are also things that the student has to play an active role in. It is not just a transmission; it is an exchange.

Multiple platforms

There’s a further change emerging that also mirrors developments in the news industry: just as journalists are having to operate across multiple platforms where once they only needed one, so educators are having to operate beyond chalk and talk and the classroom as a platform for learning.

If I look back at how my own teaching has changed over a decade I see this playing out year by year: email has become more widely used, of course, and universities have formally added VLEs (virtual learning environments) like Moodle and Blackboard. But over the years I have also started ‘delivering’ learning across an increasing number of informal platforms: student blogs; team content management systems; my own blogs; wikis; Facebook groups and pages; podcasts; and, of course, Twitter – which works particularly well as a classroom feedback system (where appropriate) as well as a way of coordinating students out in the field.

When I started running a course through distance learning it was like dropping a print edition: the week-by-week rhythm that traditional teaching (and room booking) dictates was not necessary. Structure was still needed – but it was particularly liberating to be able to advise different students to study different areas in different orders, based on the projects they were working on. It was particularly interesting to hear Howard Finberg, at the EJC anniversary, refer to research that suggested such a hybrid approach “works”.

In fact, the experience has informed my room-based teaching too: now I use each platform for what it’s best suited for – including classrooms (which are best for practice and questions, not transmission).

In the next post I tackle a final change resulting from the changes in both industries: the relationship between industry and academia. Comments welcome on how these changes are playing out where you are.

Reduced Relevance – the downside of social, mobile news

Facebook Activity Plugin

News moves so quickly that your Facebook ‘friends’ just can’t keep up.

In a guest post for OJB, Neil Thurman highlights a new research report that suggests the increased availability of news on mobile platforms, and its harnessing of social networks—like Facebook—to power recommendations, comes at a price: stories that are less relevant to readers’ interests than those recommended by editors and found on news providers’ traditional websites.

Continue reading

2 guest posts: 2012 predictions and “Social media and the evolution of the fourth estate”

Memeburn logo

I’ve written a couple of guest posts for Nieman Journalism Lab and the tech news site Memeburn. The Nieman post is part of a series looking forward to 2012. I’m never a fan of futurology so I’ve cheated a little and talked about developments already in progress: new interface conventions in news websites; the rise of collaboration; and the skilling up of journalists in data.

Memeburn asked me a few months ago to write about social media’s impact on journalism’s role as the Fourth Estate, and it took me until this month to find the time to do so. Here’s the salient passage:

“But the power of the former audience is a power that needs to be held to account too, and the rise of liveblogging is teaching reporters how to do that: reacting not just to events on the ground, but the reporting of those events by the people taking part: demonstrators and police, parents and politicians all publishing their own version of events — leaving journalists to go beyond documenting what is happening, and instead confirming or debunking the rumours surrounding that.

“So the role of journalist is moving away from that of gatekeeper and — as Axel Bruns argues — towards that of gatewatcher: amplifying the voices that need to be heard, factchecking the MPs whose blogs are 70% fiction or the Facebook users scaremongering about paedophiles.

“But while we are still adapting to this power shift, we should also recognise that that power is still being fiercely fought-over. Old laws are being used in new waysnew laws are being proposed to reaffirm previous relationships. Some of these may benefit journalists — but ultimately not journalism, nor its fourth estate role. The journalists most keenly aware of this — Heather Brooke in her pursuit of freedom of information; Charles Arthur in his campaign to ‘Free Our Data’ — recognise that journalists’ biggest role as part of the fourth estate may well be to ensure that everyone has access to information that is of public interest, that we are free to discuss it and what it means, and that — in the words of Eric S. Raymond — “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow“.”

Comments, as always, very welcome.