Slides and quick summary of a talk I gave at the University of Northampton’s ‘Imagine Journalism in Ten Years’ Time‘ mini-conference. Other speakers included: Professor Jay Rosen, New York University; Matt Andrews, developer, The Guardian; Andy Dickinson, lecturer, UCLAN and Teodora Beleaga, data analyst, KBM Group EU. The event was chaired by Kevin Marsh, director, OffspinMedia, and produced by John Mair, subject leader for Journalism, University of Northampton.
- Matt Andrews, with his 10 predictions, at Three Chords
- Teodora Beleaga, on how Big Data will shape newsrooms in 2023
- Andy Dickinson on Diagnosing the noble disease – how we treat journalism in the 21st century
- Martin Belam on ‘Three Views of Journalism in 2023’
Journalism in Ten Years’ Time…
I anticipate an unravelling of definitions and a repositioning of brands.
If the last ten years are an indicator in terms of pace, strange cultural legacies may live on, despite the potential for dramatic change through technological development. Nonetheless, things will shift, and one of the areas for the biggest potential change is the ‘news cycle’ and in particular, the ’24 hour news cycle’. One of the underlying confusions in the Leveson Inquiry is that the ‘press’ still plays a dominant role in setting the national news agenda, despite diminishing print readerships, and an ever-growing array of online news sources. The way they filter and select news is still highly influential.
Consumption, production and distribution are changing
However, the social sharing of news – the social distribution of news – disrupts some of the features of a typical news cycle. Key disrupters include: Google’s automated suggested search terms, aggregation sites like Reddit and boards like 4Chan, media organisations’ Facebook apps which give new life to old content and Twitter trends. Additionally, suggested search terms and the Google News’ algorithm have an increasingly influential role in setting the agenda.
The news spirograph
In ten years’ time the news cycle might have been replaced by a news ‘spirograph’, where stories loop back and re-emerge at different points in time, perhaps in a new form.
To check whether anyone else had visualised it like this first, I googled “news spirograph” and came up with one result: a Media Bistro story from 2010. The author of the piece described his sprirograph like this:
The new picture of a news story’s life cycle looks less like a tight loop that closes after 24 hours. Instead, it enters a period of dormancy only to return weeks later. The resulting chart of a story’s attention trajectory looks more like a Spirograph — a large circular pattern constructed out of smaller loops.
Mike Taylor, Fishbowl NY, Media Bistro (2010)
This is different from the idea that the news cycle reduces to minutes because of social media – as was suggested at another ‘future of journalism’ conference I was at this week:
Or from how the BBC’s head of digital communications, Sophie Brendel, described it in 2012:
Social media have changed what we talk about, who we talk about and how quickly we talk. The 24-hour news cycle is dead, now it’s 24 seconds.
Like Taylor, I see the news spirograph as lengthening rather than shortening cycles. However, perhaps I see it in a more positive light: the news spirograph could help rather than hinder originality. A spirograph’s shape can be incredibly varied (see this Flickr group, for example). A spirograph model allows for more points of entry from a variety of sources.
The full spirograph is not yet very developed: there are occasional loop backs – such as this revival of an old Guardian article from 2009 – but these type of incidents remain anomalies.
The role of the public
It seems likely that the public will have a bigger role through their consumption choices, as well as active production of content, which will help strengthen their right to receive and impart information, as set out in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.
The technological disruption of the news cycle should allow the public an enhanced right to receive and impart information and ideas, which will be a good thing – for democracy, and for education.
But there will be challenges as well: legal, ethical and economic (for example: how will it be regulated; how will it pay; what about the undesirable parts of public influence?).
Evolving news patterns
So, to re-formulate Taylor’s original definition:
The pattern of journalism in ten years’ time may include a news cycle that looks very different from a neat 24 hour loop, with a small number of influential media sources. Instead, changes in digital consumption, production and distribution may transform it into a ‘news spirograph’, with a greater number of sources, and stories that loop back at different points in time. In fact, we are likely to see transformation in the very notion of news and the ‘news story’… It’s already evolving.
In 2013, we think about how the public consumption – and occasionally public production – of media changes how the professionals do ‘news’ and set the agenda.
By 2023, advances in technology could shift the question slightly: how does the public control the news cycle, set the news agenda, and create the dominant debates?
In turn, this will throw up age-old debates about desirable characteristics of content and appropriate levels of prominence, and the defining features of journalism and news.
Two years ago, Martin Belam set out – perhaps a little flippantly – a simplified dead tree news cycle:
1. Write newspaper
2. Print newspaper
3. Wrap fish ‘n’ chips in newspaper
Which he expanded in the bullet points below, emphasising “and publish it all to the web”.
But over the next ten years it may come to look like this:
1. Produce content, drawing from more sources and across more topics
2. Publish on digital platforms, selectively and carefully with effective curation, labelling and contextulisation
3. See content gain new lease of life and inform future content
•Belam, M. (2011) ‘How digital transformed the news cycle’, currybet.net
•Belam, M. (2012) ‘The Guardian’s Facebook app’, currybet.net
•Magee, K. (2012) ‘Beyond the 24 hr news cycle’, PR Week
•Taylor, M. (2010) ‘The 24-Hour News Spirograph’, Fishbowl NY, MediaBistro.com
•Tinworth, A. (2009) Our Real Problem: ‘The Death of the News Package‘, Onemanandhisblog.com.
•Wynne-Jones, R. (2012) ‘Enquirer: watching the hacks get hacked’, Guardian.co.uk.
Cross-posted from the Online Journalism Blog.
Around this time last year I wrote on this blog about ‘Generation Audioboo’ and the opportunities for anyone entering the field of digital journalism. A year on, there are more free tools, and more editorial choice. Google Hangouts are now ‘On Air’ for all, for example.
Students on the Interactive Journalism MA course at City University London have been setting up their own live events. Yesterday’s group ran a Google Hangout, themed around social media use for journalists. It was live on air; you can view it – and the class discussion below the video – here.
Rob Grant, a student on the course, led the discussion with to Sarah Marshall, technology editor at Journalism.co.uk, Adam Tinworth, journalist and consultant (and a visiting lecturer at City) and Nick Petrie, social media and campaigns editor at The Times about journalism and social media in a Google+ Hangout.
Rob asked the panelists how to manage social media use as a student journalist: is your presence on social media platforms your CV?
“It’s not their CV but it’s part of their personal profile”, according to Sarah Marshall, who said that if she was involved in recruiting, she’d be looking closely at social media presence of potential candidates.
Adam Tinworth said he is “suspicious of people in this day and age who say they want to be journalists but show no inclination to publish on the web without an official organised channel to do it…”
It’s like a musician who says ‘I’ll play my guitar but only when I’ve got a recording contract’. I don’t buy that you’ve got a passion for this job if you don’t show an inclination to do it when the tools are available freely.
If we hadn’t started [Wannabe Hacks] I wouldn’t have [had] a job offer from the Guardian because they were looking to build niche communities around certain verticals like education and volunteering and social enterprise. If we hadn’t just spent three or four months building a niche community around wannabe journalists I wouldn’t have had any experience of that nature … and to demonstrate my skillbase.
You can watch the full hangout here, and below:
The other group have set up a community journalism themed meetup, ‘Meet the Managers’, in Islington on Wednesday 13 March 2013, also featuring Nick Petrie, along with Hannah Waldram, community coordinator at the Guardian, Sarah Drinkwater, who runs a team of community managers at Google and Tom Phillips, international editor at MSN. Places are free but are already being booked up fast, so if you’re interested, sign up here.
Cross-posted on the Online Journalism blog.
The journalism class of 2012 has a pretty enviable opportunity to get their stuff out there; the development of online platforms like Twitter, Google+, Storify, Tumblr, Posterous, AudioBoo, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, CoverItLive and Vimeo allows piecemeal dissemination of content to relevant and engaged audiences, without necessarily needing to set up a specific site.
Free technology allows them to find and do journalism outside journalism, in productive and creative ways. To adapt David Carr’s description of Brian Stelter, his browser tab-flicking colleague at the New York Times, we’re seeing the rise of the ‘robots in the basement‘.
While it’s sensible for students to craft and co-ordinate their individual – or group – blog projects, bits and pieces of journalism can be let loose into the world with technological ease – and without waiting for an email from an elusive commissioning editor. You can respond in comments, offer guest posts to relevant online publications, join live webchats – it’s all part of “interactive journalism”. (Although, like the journalists who say all journalism should be investigative, I can’t see how anyone can do journalism without being “interactive”). These tools and platforms aren’t the journalism itself but they enable journalistic research, conversation and content.
Catching the eye of a potential employer is an obvious incentive to engage online (there are the digital stars who shine their way into jobs straight from journalism school – Josh Halliday (Sunderland), Conrad Quilty-Harper (City) and Dave Lee (Lincoln) are among the best-known examples) but experimentation online also helps improve your journalism, as you get live feedback and use the tools to source new information (that doesn’t have to stop once you’ve got the certificate).
City University London launched its Interactive Journalism MA last year and the first intake can be found on Twitter here and are publishing online, across the course curriculum – on their own sites as well as professional platforms. Their newspaper and broadcast colleagues can also be found online (see, for example, this list). I have been working once a week with the Interactive group, better known as the “Interhacktives” – agreeing on the hashtag and site name was one of their first tasks. It caught the attention of OU lecturer Tony Hirst, who depicted their network here.
They have been devising community-oriented journalism, coming up and analysing existing projects, developing content and building up a portfolio of interactive work. As Rosie Niven has noted on her blog, there are potential pitfalls students need to look out for when attempting to interact in the local community and existing online forums. “As well as learning, students and their tutors need to consider legacy,” she points out.
This term, the Interactive students have divided into teams to manage the output of four projects: the Interhacktives site, which tracks social media and community management for journalists; the Data Journalism Blog, a site taken over from a previous student; Islington Now and Hackney Post. The two latter projects will be brought to life during three intensive production weeks, in collaboration with their colleagues on the newspaper course.
The Interhacktives site was particularly lively as they liveblogged, Audioboo’d, and filmed activities at Social Media Week London (#smwldn). Next a couple of them will be blogging and tweeting from the Media Briefing’s conference on paywalls. Obviously, their projects are works in progress (or in beta) – that’s the point – and I’m sure they’d like to hear feedback and suggestions. Likewise, thoughts welcomed on this.
“I still can’t get over the feeling that Brian was a robot assembled in the basement of the New York Times to come and destroy me”
The film (2011) neatly captures many of the dilemmas in the newspaper industry: laid-off journalists clearing their desks; editorial meetings about Wikileaks; the limitations of aggregated content sites (at an industry debate David Carr holds up a screenshot of Newser, with holes showing where all the content mainstream media content sat, much to founder Michael Wolff’s chagrin).
The new robots are slowly rising rank in the newsroom, slinging their notebooks and pens aside as they tweet and live blog as a matter of course.
But the new breed are not emotionless automatons: social interactions and the human touch are still at the heart of successful interactive journalism.
That’s what I tried to get across in my talk at Coventry University this week, which borrowed Carr’s description for the title and looked at the possibilities of digital interaction for the dissemination of information in the public interest (which might include what I’ve previously called journalism outside journalism).
New technology enables journalists, researchers and bloggers to challenge mainstream and tired ways of doing news, to make the process and product of journalism more diverse, and to hold powerful organisations accountable. And no, I don’t know how it will be funded.
Afterwards, Coventry lecturer John Mair asked me which five people I’d recommend them to follow. Of course, it completely depends on the students’ specialisms and interests, but five Twitterers I’d recommend for their innovative and exciting approach to journalism include:
- Andy Carvin (@acarvin), Senior strategist at NPR (US)
- Neal Mann (@fieldproducer) Digital News Editor at Sky News (UK)
- Joanna Geary (@guardianjoanna), Guardian’s Digital Development Editor (UK)
- Patrick Smith (@psmith), editor, the MediaBriefing (UK)
- Sarah Hartley (@foodiesarah) MD at Talk About Local; Community strategist at Guardian Media Group (UK)
Here are some of the links and projects I mentioned (in order of appearance):
- Recent research on regional journalists’ pay and redundancies by Francois Nel, University of Central Lancashire
- The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, funded by the Potter Foundation
- Jeff Jarvis on journalism’s myth of perfection and the strength of the blogging process
- Churnalism.com, a Media Standards Trust project
- mySociety’s admirable portfolio of civic projects
- openDemocracy’s Anthony Barnett on the changing process of journalism
Pic: Arthur40A on Flickr
[I don’t maintain this blog very regularly; check out my other site, Meeja Law, for links, posts and resources on media, law and ethics]
Predictably, the panel at last week’s Future of Journalism discussion at the Frontline Club didn’t reach any firm conclusion as to the industry’s path ahead. Mary Hamilton has a good commentary here and BBC College of Journalism has a write-up here. Raymond Snoddy discusses Twitter’s role in the profession here.
My own view is that there are many exciting futures ahead, with the development and increased recognition of digital tools. The economic question is more troubling of course, and while the big media companies may still have pots of money it isn’t always used to support quality journalism. Regional newspaper journalists are feeling that particularly keenly.
When addressing the question of building better quality content, it’s more interesting, I think, to categorise news and commentary by publishers’ aim and style, rather than their chosen media form. Good journalism may be found in things not called journalism. That is to say, a more positive vision for journalism may be seen through mySociety’s range of sites and a multiplicity of open data projects (eg openlyLocal), rather than (some) inward looking newspapers, frequently limited by traditional news formats (eg. finding the case study for the story, rather than the other way around). At a conference I attended later in the week, participants talked about ‘small media’ which helped avoid slipping into that boring and pointless blogger v journalist debate.
In my own field, media law research, I’ve heard people raises concerns with the state of newspaper court reporting and the demise of the legal correspondent. But at the same time, lawyers and legal commentators are reporting and discussing more information online than ever. Sure, legal blogs are funded differently from traditional media organisations, but they’re also part of the future of journalism. (I think all of this links to something a recent POLIS research report calls Networked Journalism).
Anyway, there’s a book out on the whole topic and I’ve written a chapter about Twitter. The book is called ‘Face the Future; Tools for the Modern Media Age’ edited by John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble (Abramis £17.95). This is an opening extract from my bit.
Battle of (t)wits? Using Twitter as a journalistic tool
Newspapers love to talk about Twitter. A search for the word Twitter in national newspapers returns over 3,000 articles for the past year, too many for the Nexis® UK database to count – 1,696 in one month alone. Twitter has appeared in 900 national newspaper headlines in the last year, while 24 articles in the same period refer to “Twitter twits” (see, for example, the Sun 2010). “Twit” may be a milder term than the one David Cameron chose to describe users of the service (Siddique and Agencies 2009), but it is an unfair label. Generalising about Twitter users is as pointless an exercise as uniformly describing all people who pick up the telephone, or appear on television. Twitter is a communication tool; it is the way it is used that defines whether it is a productive or daft activity. This chapter attempts to show the different ways Twitter is being used by journalists, both effectively and ineffectively, and argues that while Twitter does host a lot of trivial activity by “twits”, it also gives opportunity to create good journalism and enables better communication with the world outside the newsroom.
Part of the process
As Jeff Jarvis has outlined, journalism’s product is not perfect, despite the popular myth, and blogging facilitates “beta journalism” in which writers admit what they don’t know, as well as what they do, and invite collaborations that will help improve their work (Jarvis 2009a). “Online, the story, the reporting, the knowledge are never done and never perfect,” he writes. In his view, that does not mean that bloggers “revel in imperfection” or have no standards:
It just means that we do journalism differently, because we can. We have our standards, too, and they include collaboration, transparency, letting readers into the process, and trying to say what we don’t know when we publish – as caveats – rather than afterward – as corrections (ibid).
Twitter is an ideal tool to use in this “beta journalism” process: it can be used to let readers and followers know what you are looking for, to receive tip-offs and ideas and to publicise your work once it is finished. Some journalists have also experimented with conducting interviews by Twitter (Townend 2009a) although this method has its limitations. Not only is it difficult to express an idea in 140 characters, it can be difficult to co-ordinate the timing of answers and questions and involve onlooker contributions. Newspaper columnists have frequently mocked the limits and triviality of Twitter updates – sometimes before reversing their opinion of the service (cf. Knight 2008 and Johncock 2010). However, the word limit is longer than many news headlines and subheadlines and photo captions. Furthermore, the information contained within one tweet can be far more extensive because hyperlinks to additional content can be included in the message.
An extract from Face the Future; Tools for the Modern Media Age’ edited by John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble (Abramis £17.95).
Since I covered this issue on my blog at the weekend and I’ve noticed debate springing up elsewhere (Press Gazette / FSB: 1 & 2) I thought I’d post the work placement guidelines that have just arrived in my inbox from the NUJ. Here’s one part that jumped out:
Placements can be unpaid provided the individual is not a ‘worker,’ as defined by the National Minimum Wage legislation as outlined below. However, work experience placements should be time limited and should not exceed 160 hours, carried out either full-time over a four week period or part-time over a three month period. If the terms of the placement are such that the individual is performing as a ‘worker’, and the placement is not being carried out as part of a further or higher education course, then the National Minimum Wage should be adopted throughout the duration of the placement. In both cases, reasonable and pre-agreed expenses should be reimbursed.
This post marks (belatedly) the tenth year anniversary since the Titanic Express Massacre in Burundi.
Ten years have passed since the ill-fated Titanic Express bus was attacked as it travelled from Kigali in Rwanda to Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura. Twenty-one people were killed including 27 year old British aid worker Charlotte Wilson and her fiance, Richard Ndereyimana, a Burundian teacher.
Amnesty International describes what happened on 28th December 2000:
The attack took place in Bujumbura Rural, a former stronghold of the then armed opposition group, the Palipehutu-National Liberation Forces (Palipehutu-FNL). Those onboard were separated according to their ethnicity. Hutu were released, while Tutsi passengers and one British woman were killed. The Burundian authorities, diplomatic sources and some international organisations have attributed responsibility to the then Palipehutu- FNL. The FNL denies involvement. Ten years later, those responsible have not been investigated and brought to justice.
This devastating event was only one in a series of mass killings during the Burundian civil war, says the human rights organisation. Along with his family, Charlotte Wilson’s brother, Richard, a blogger, author and human rights activist, continues to campaign for justice. On the 10th anniversary of the killings he said:
“Despite repeated promises from Burundi’s government, no serious effort has been made to deliver justice for the 21 victims of the Titanic Express massacre. Tragically, those responsible for Charlotte’s murder have killed many more innocent people over the last ten years, while countless others have died in reprisal attacks, highlighting the deadly consequences of Burundi’s culture of impunity. The Burundians we know tell us that justice can help end the cycle of violence.
“In solidarity with all those who have lost loved ones in this brutal conflict, my family calls on President Nkurunziza to honour the memory of the victims, and move swiftly to establish the Special Chamber and TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Council].”
Amnesty International UK supports this call for the Burundian government to establish the Special Tribunal, and stipulates that such a body should be “mandated to independently investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations without prior referral from the TRC”.
Richard Wilson is also campaigning for the release of journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu. He writes on his blog:
Tragically, while the war criminals remain free, one of the Burundian journalists who has done most to highlight the Titanic Express massacre, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, has been languishing in prison since July. He is facing a criminal trial for “defamation” and “treason” after making critical comments about Burundi’s army.
The Amnesty appeal for Kavumbagu’s release can be found here.
To mark the anniversary of the massacre Richard Wilson conducted a 24 hour ‘Twitterthon’, using Twitter to post messages about Burundi and its recent history every 15 minutes from 1.30pm on the 28th (the time that the attack began) to 1.30pm on December 29th 2010. His Twitter feed can be found here, @dontgetfooled. His aim was to detail human rights reports, expose the ongoing activity of the FNL and call for press freedom in Burundi.