Finding journalism outside journalism

Since ‘journalist’ no longer features in my full-time job title, I’m enjoying collecting and participating in random acts of journalism outside the traditional model and that disobey the so-called rules.

On Saturday afternoon, for example, I left the Brighton Future of News Empty Shop project in Shoreham feeling inspired about new ways of multimedia storytelling (more about that below) and buzzing from the ideas discussed with participants and BFONG members.

Journalist Adam Oxford interviews Peter in the Agora shop, Shoreham.

One thought that stayed with me came from Adam Tinworth, serial event blogger and RBI editorial development manager (ie. plays with social media a lot), who said that he was finding his ideas outside journalism of late, and found the journalism conversation stifling at times. Since I didn’t have pen and paper to hand, I’ve asked him to elaborate by email and I thought I’d share his excellent answers here.

What other industries / areas are you looking to for ideas?
[AT] Well, my job has always been about looking at new technologies and thinking about how they could be used in our business. My irritation is that so much of journalism blogging does that sort of thing at one remove – it looks at new technologies as people start using for them journalistic-style activities and then meditate on how much it is/isn’t like traditional methods.

I’d much rather go straight to the original sources, as it were. For example, I first learnt about Flip video cameras from a personal blogger in the US, who has a big following. For a while, she intersected with an online gaming community I’m part of, and she was singing the Flip’s praises in an online space I hung out in for  a while. And the more I thought about it, the more potential I could see – for £100, pretty much any journalist could have a web-ready video camera in their bag. That’s powerful.

We started experimenting with them as soon as they hit the UK, and they’ve become a significant part of our video work. Too much of the thinking around tools like this falls into the trap of going “well, there’s no external microphone and the low light quality is poor – can’t replace traditional cameras” while missing the fact that what it does is open up video journalism to a whole new section of the journalism world.

I find more “juice” for my job in web and social media conferences, in looking at the tools and methods pure digital players are using, at the ways online communities forms, change, spread and inform themselves than in traditional journalism discourse.

I just went through a week’s work of posts in my Journalism RSS reader, and opened one post that really interested me. I go through four or five posts that really inspire me a day from my non-journalism RSS feeds.

What’s wrong/right about the ‘journalism conversation’?

[AT] It’s too navel-gazing right now. Journalists talking to journalists about journalism.

It needs to go beyond that – to look at the vastly expanded world of information and opinion and image-recording and videoing and data and reporting and all the other things that we do on this amazing new information distribution system we’ve invented, and figure our what the role of journalism, as a cultural construct and as a full time occupation, is amongst this deluge of publishing.

If we just talk to ourselves, we delude ourselves into thinking that we still occupy a central role in this new information ecology. We don’t. We occupy an ever smaller part in the new publishing landscape. And unless we get out there and look at that new landscape, we’re never going to understand it.

Adam’s kit on Saturday:

New territory
So how does that new landscape that Adam mentioned look? It’s about content as well as technology. In my view, it should include greater agency of subjects in telling their stories and better collaboration between journalists and other types of organisations. That’s already happening in many places. Here are two examples that I’ve been involved with, but can take no credit for!

First, up: Adam Westbrook’s recent short film about the cuts in legal aid for refugees and ayslum seekers. Esme Madill from Refugee Action York, who I know through the End Child Detention campaign, and I had been discussing ways of presenting asylum stories that give more agency to the subjects. I put her in touch with Adam and in the summer we got together for a coffee, along with Luljeta Nuzi from the fantastic Shpresa Programme.

I was thrilled when an actual project emerged from that brief meeting (my only part was to drink my Americano and leave them to it!). It’s this, a film about the devastating effects of Refugee and Migrant Justice going into administration, leaving over 10,000 asylum seekers without legal assistance (click through image to watch):

I like that Adam produced the film for VJ Movement, an organisation with a central principle that journalists often don’t acknowledge: “There is more than one truth“.

But that’s not to say that what other people present as truth should not be challenged. VJ Movement says that allowing multiple truths “means offering different perspectives on a story and letting you, the user, decide,” which brings me to my next act of journalism.

Not really random, because it has been very calculated and well-planned. Clare Sambrook, pro bono co-ordinator of the End Child Dentention Now citizen campaign has been persistently and doggedly fighting to end the detention of children in immigration centres (from recent government claims you might think it’s all over – it’s not) showing how good journalism provides a strong foundation for a social campaign.

[Photo: Jo Hunt] Clare’s inspirational investigative work has been recognised by a national award: she is on the shortlist for the 2010 Bevins prize for her reports on openDemocracy, as reported by Press Gazette here. She’s the first non-newspaper journalist to be up for the prize, which was won by the Guardian’s Paul Lewis in 2009 for his investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests.

And back to where I started this post for my third example: on Saturday 16th October, the Brighton Future News Group gathered in an empty shop to collect multimedia stories in Shoreham-on-Sea, the results of which can be seen on this blog:

We collected so much you will need to click through to page 2 as well! We didn’t just stay in the shop, there was plenty of good old-fashioned out-and-about too (although no vox pops, as far I’m aware).

I enjoyed the chance encounters it enabled: bringing us into contact with people we would never have had opportunity to meet otherwise. I’d love to see similar projects launch off the back of this one. I’ve already got an idea for something refugee and asylum related and a blogger in Sierra Leone has told me she is inspired by the same concept, so watch this space…



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