Category: Tools and technology

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In ten years’ time the news cycle might have been replaced by a news ‘spirograph’, where stories loop back and re-emerge at different points in time, perhaps in a new form.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]

Programming, not coding, is key for journalists, says Hirst

I wasn’t convinced that this Guardian post really added much to the ‘should journalists code’ debate (something we didn’t really discuss at news:rewired) but I thought Tony Hirst’s contribution was worth pulling out from the comments:

I was also at at the news:rewired event where Hadfield made his announcement, getting a feeling for the extent to which technology is driving innovation in news gathering and reporting, and it seems to me that it’s not CODING that journalists should be able to do, it’s PROGRAMMING and being able to think in a computational way.

Coding can play a part of this, but it might only be a tiny part. Just knowing what’s possible is a start. Using visual programming tools that minimise the need for remembering syntax is one approach which is why I use Yahoo Pipes a lot; being able to grab, manipulate, clean and visualise data is also useful, and need not require classical CODING skills: an increasing number of tools provide graphical interfaces for constructing interactive visualisations if the data is represented in a particular way.

By wiring different applications together that each, automagically, perform certain representation transforming steps, it’s possible to wire up a series of applications that act on a particular set of data, transform it,manipulate it, query it, filter it, i.e. “wire a programme together” without having to write a line of classical computer software/code. But it is programming; it is about manipulating representations in a particular sequence. That’s what people need to learn to do – start appreciating the power of algorithms and representations, and start learning how to use them as everyday information skills.


Where are the women in tech?

Last weekend’s OpenTech was great. Bill Thompson on two cultures. Ben Goldacre on Dore and his dream of some kind of auto-wiki thing. Sessions on government data, monitoring energy digitally, and geo-data privacy were also illuminating. BEST OF ALL: no bloody queues for the ladies’ loos. Because there were only about three of us in the building. Obviously that’s exaggeration but I’d guess (emphasis on guess as I didn’t do a head-count) women accounted for somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent of the audience (maybe the organisers could fill me in without an exact number? See update). Anyway, when it came to discussing the issue, the room swiftly emptied leaving a few stoic men and most of the women in attendance with about ten chairs each.

In the panel…

  • Suw Charman-Anderson – Ada Lovelace Day: what happened, why, etc.
  • Janet Parkinson – Marketing to the Digital Woman – Women in Tech
  • Sue Black – Setting up an online women in tech network – 10 years on, and how a supportive community and role models are really important for women to succeed
  • Kathryn Corrick – interactive brainstorm with the audience to find some women who they think are a modern Ada Lovelace

… the point was made that most of the female tech role models discussed for Ada Lovelace Day were dead. So they challenged us to come up with some live ones… Kathryn has posted the results here. It’s pretty hard to come up with a good range of inspirational female tech figures, but I plan to find out more about the names that were new to me.

So here’s my part in waving the female tech flag:

  • If you can afford time/money get yourself to Bletchley Park on July 26.
  • Follow: @suw, @kcorrick, @dr_black, @janetparkinson on Twitter.
  • Keep an eye on @findingada /
  • One good bit of practical advice from the panel: if you spot a tech conference with an all-male line-up then raise it with the organisers. That should stop it happening the next year.

More philosophically, I’m curious – though I don’t think it warrants endless discussion space at conferences – why such a disparity occurs. Why are men’s voices louder? Why are women less prominent in tech when the normal factors (child-rearing / traditional working patterns) should hold less significance for getting ahead?

Update: Some info kindly sent by the organisers:

“Signups clearly from women were about 8% (by counting names/email addresses likely to be women, but excluding ones where we can’t tell e.g. Chris). That also excludes speakers and people who just showed up on the day.”

So my guess wasn’t bad! They also said they’d take all help they can get to help correct the balance for next year… Given that there was a whole session (in the main hall) addressing the issue, and more female speakers than at most events, the OpenTech team can hardly be blamed for the imbalance. Participation level comes back to the title of the blogpost: where are the women in tech? Bill Thompson made the point in his speech that education is key in improving coding literacy, and programming skills need to be taught early: that approach is equally suited to the women issue. How to encourage more girls to experiment with technology at a younger age? And how to get them to boast about what they’re doing?

Historical Tweets: if Twitter had been born earlier…

Historical Tweets. Oh very nice! If only Twitter had been born earlier this would have been the result… 

(am posting this via Press This application – can’t believe I hadn’t spotted it till now! I’m just trying to move over to but this might keep me on for a little bit longer…)