Tag Archives: gatewatching

An online journalism reading list

It’s the start of a new academic year so I thought I’d compile a list of the latest reading I would recommend for any students looking at online journalism. (If you have suggestions for additions please let me know!):

Theoretical, historical and conceptual background

  • Digital Journalism by Jones & Lee (Sage, 2011) is very comprehensive and worth reading in full.
  • Gatewatching by Axel Bruns (Peter Lang, 2005) covers areas that tend to be overlooked by journalism books, such as new media methods and startups from outside traditional media. Read: Chapter 4: Making News Open Source
  • The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler (Yale University Press, 2007) provides a wider context and is available free online. Read: Chapter 4: The Economics of Social Production.
  • We The Media by Dan Gillmor (O’Reilly, 2006) is a seminal book on citizen journalism which is also available free online.

Practical online journalism – general

  • Clearly I’m going to say my own book, the Online Journalism Handbook (2017, Routledge), [UPDATE: now in its second edition], which covers blogging and web writing, data journalism, online audio and video, interactivity, community management and law. Continue reading
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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.

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.

Gatewatching for local news

Among the many good things about Internet news consumption is the fact that audiences can seek any sort of information to suit their interests and inclinations. No longer stifled by editorial, corporate or advertiser monopoly, readers browse everything from obscure blogs to mainstream news sites to get the information they want.

Ever since Internet media started going mainstream, however, many have raised the question of whether this vast and tolerant space is causing people to replace news that informs and educates with that which merely entertains. One has only to look at the slew of sensational Internet videos that go viral, or the latest online reiteration of Jessica Simpson’s gaffe to accept that this is a legitimate concern. In addition, people have more options than ever before to confine themselves to fragmented communities and echo chambers to get the news they want in lieu of what they need.

As Charlie Beckett points out in Supermedia, while the diversity provided by the Internet with regard to information dissemination is important, it also tends to further the divide between those looking for real, relevant information and those who merely want instant gratification through the latest celebrity gossip.

Of course, blaming new media for its endless possibilities would be sort of like blaming that decadent chocolate cake for existing. Just because it is there, doesn’t mean you need to seek it.

This has been a more major concern with regard to local news. Citizens might tend to focus on the latest iPhone application released by Apple at the expense of important news happening at home – information that would be vital to them as contributors to a democracy.

But while lack of reader interest is a problem, it is often spurred on by scarcity of engaging content from news organizations – if all a local paper can provide is a string of wire service accounts and press releases, how do they expect to keep readers motivated? This was hard enough to accept in an age where the newspaper or the evening news broadcast was the only source of information. It is simply untenable in the Web 2.0 world, where readers can get actual, eyewitness accounts from their Twitter followers and view firsthand pictures through Flickr groups. In other words, in this age of social media and online networks, local journalists seem almost out of touch with the community they live in.

The question then is, can residents of a community do well as their own gatewatchers?

The New York-based site NYC.is, which functions as a “Digg” for the city and its surrounding areas is trying to do just that. “Our goal is to connect bloggers, independent reporters and activists in different parts of the five boroughs, rewarding the best work by sending it traffic and increasing potential for impact,” reads the mission statement.

I got a chance to talk to Susannah Vila, a graduate student at Columbia University, who launched the site. “The inspiration behind the concept is [it provides] ways of democratizing the Web.  This was part of what excited me about making the site,” she says.

Readers themselves direct attention to local news that they deem important, while also channeling traffic to independent bloggers, regional Web sites and mainstream sites. Anything from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s job approval ratings to rising prices of a pizza slice in Brooklyn can turn up on the front page.  “The point is, it is not just one type of story that gets popular. There is a lot of range,” says Vila. The common thread is relevance to people of the community. In true Digg fashion, the top contributors get a mention on the home page, as do the most popular stories.

Can this go one step further, and actually motivate people to do original reporting or garner data for a new story? “Once I get more of a community on the site with more engaged readers there is definitely a possibility to prompt them to investigate certain things or to [urge them] to go to community board meetings,” Vila says. ““It would also be cool to let people vote on ideas for stories.”

A gatewatching site at a local community level may not be sufficient to provide all the information residents need, but it certainly allows a comprehensive look at what readers are looking for, and what is important to them as residents, and as citizens: it can sometimes be an aspiring young band, or the New York Mets’ dismal season, but more often than not, it is about hard issues, such as the annual decline in household incomes, grassroots candidates for City Council, and governmental oversight of local schools.