Category: events

New event: World News Media Hack Day, 13 April 2013 #dme13

This announcement comes via the excellent Scraperwiki (a start-up I worked with on a series of events in 2010/11). They have teamed up with WAN-IFRA to put on a hack day at Bloomberg on 13 April 2013.

footer_tractorIn April, global news media execs are gathering in London, to discuss the continuing emergence of digital media at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe 2013 (#DME13). To help launch and influence the digital-first agenda, ScraperWiki is teaming up with Wan IFRA to put together a hack day on Saturday 13th April.

We are looking for developers, information architects, journalists and data scientists, with have an open agenda covering three key themes:

  • UK and the EU: In or Out?
  • How do we tell stories without sticking to print-first assumptions?
  • Can we make advertising less annoying ?

We’ll start at 9 at Bloomberg’s offices at 39-45 Finsbury Square, EC2A 1HD. The plan is to hack all day, finishing code by 5 for prizes, beer and pizza from 6 onwards.

ScraperWiki will be looking into related datasets to have scraped, cleaned and shiny in advance (if you have any ideas for useful ‘sets, drop us a line), so there will be plenty of info available if you need raw data (and an API).

You can register here.

For more information, you can read more on ScraperWiki’s blog.

From ‘news cycle’ to ‘news spirograph’: disrupting patterns of consumption, production and distribution

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.

Also see:

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


Lorenz Lachauer /

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.

Various_Spirograph_DesignsLike 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”.



Spirographs on sale in Istanbul, 2009

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

Further reading:

•Belam, M. (2011) ‘How digital transformed the news cycle’,

•Belam, M. (2012) ‘The Guardian’s Facebook app’,

•Magee, K. (2012) ‘Beyond the 24 hr news cycle’, PR Week

•Taylor, M. (2010) ‘The 24-Hour News Spirograph’, Fishbowl NY,

•Tinworth, A. (2009) Our Real Problem: ‘The Death of the News Package‘,

•Wynne-Jones, R. (2012) ‘Enquirer: watching the hacks get hacked’,

Beyond the future of journalism

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

Judith Townend

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).

#sms2011: Small Media Initiative conference – the tweets

I’m at SOAS, London at the Small Media Symposium 2011. You can find the programme and more information here. Academics and media practitioners are presenting papers about “small media”, also known as – as the event’s site says – “alternative media”, “participatory media”, and “social movement media”. This Cover It Live should pick up some of the tweets…

Live blog at this link

Follow the Face the Future conference in Coventry

I’m at Coventry University for its annual journalism conference. You can follow on Twitter via the tag #facethefuture, or watch the video afterwards on the BBC College of Journalism (will be up tomorrow). There will also be reports on

I’m going to be speaking about Twitter and its value to journalism, although it seems Alan Rusbridger beat me to it last week…

Liveblog at this link.

Clare Sambrook shortlisted for the 2010 Paul Foot award

Last week I wrote about the tremendous efforts of journalist and author Clare Sambrook,  who has taught me so much about about acts of journalism outside journalism through the campaign to end child detention in immigration centres.

I’m so excited that she has made the shortlist for the Paul Foot Award 2010, an annual Guardian/Private Eye prize rewarding outstanding campaigning journalism.  Check out Clare’s lengthy publication list, as reported by the Guardian (my emphasis):

The shortlisted journalists are, in alphabetical order: Jonathan Calvert and Clare Newell, the Sunday Times; David Cohen, the Evening Standard; Nick Davies, the Guardian; Linda Geddes, the New Scientist; Eamonn McCann, the Irish Times, the Belfast Newsletter and the Guardian; Clare Sambrook, openDemocracy, the Observer, the Daily Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian Community Care, Big Issue in the North, Morning Star, Counterfire, Nursery World, Private Eye, Manchester Mule, Baptist Times, Cumberland Herald, Cumberland News, Quaker Asylum & Refugee Network, Independent Catholic News, New Londoners, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants Bulletin, and on other campaigning blogs.

Clare’s full media campaign can be seen on her own website and also on

Calling all hacks and hackers – upcoming events

I’ve been working with the data mining site Scraperwiki to set up Hacks and Hacker Hack days around the UK. The idea is to get programmers, designers, journalists and bloggers into the same room for one day, to mine data for quick turnaround projects that could be polished into journalistic stories and features. Best of all, with the help of kindly sponsors, these events are *free*, with food, beer and prizes provided for the best teams of the day.

So far, we’ve announced:

We are also discussing and considering a number of other locations, including: Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh (or Glasgow), Leeds, Manchester, London, Belfast and Dublin. And if I have my way, one on the south coast somewhere….

If you are based in any of these places and have venue or sponsor suggestions, please get in touch: judith [at]

For more information on Scraperwiki and what you can do with it, please have a look at Paul Bradshaw’s blog: his Online Journalism MA students recently had a play…