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]