Category: online journalism

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’,

Generation AudioBoo: how journalism students are interacting online

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.

Judith Townend is a journalist, researcher and visiting lecturer at City (@jtownend on Twitter).

‘Robots in the basement’: How interactive media is changing journalism (and research)

“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”

New York Times’ David Carr (@carr2n), affectionately describing his browser-flicking colleague Brian Stelter (@brianstelter), ‘Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times’.

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
  • Jeff Jarvis on journalism’s myth of perfection and the strength of the blogging process

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]

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

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…