Daily mail student media awards?

Yeah, wouldn’t happen. But should it?

The always interesting Wannabehacks posted yesterday stating that The industry isn’t doing enough to support student journalists. The post really should have been titled The Guardian isn’t doing enough to support student journalists as it takes a pop at the frankly risible prize the Guardian is offering for its Guardian student media award:

[T]he quality of prizes has diminished year on year: “Seven weeks of placement with expenses paid (offered 2003-2006) is a good way to spend the summer. Two weeks of self-funded work experience is an insult to supposedly the best student journalists in Britain.”

It’s a fair point. Just how good you have to be to actually be paid to work at the Guardian?

Maybe we are being unfair to the Guardian though. Why do they need to carry this stuff? I know plenty of students who don’t want to work for the Guardian. So why don’t more papers step up? If it’s about spotting talent then shouldn’t every media org have a media award?

Truth is there is a bit of black hole out there when it comes to awards. Aspiring journos could be forgiven for thinking that there is very little on offer between that letter writing competition the local paper runs for schoolkids and the Guardian awards. There are actually quite a few – the NUS student awards for example. But none with the direct association of the Guardian awards.

But maybe it’s not about the award. The wannabe hacks post (and the letter it references) suggests that there is more a problem of expectation here.

The Guardian is a very attractive proposition to many aspiring journos. In a lot of respects it plays on that strength; it presents itself as a like the paper where things are happening. But there is a danger that things like competitions exploit that aspiration and begin to suggest a slightly dysfunctional relationship – aspiring journos trying their best to please the indifferent and aloof object of their affection.

Show them the money.

This isn’t just a print problem. The truth is the industry has a bit of problem of putting its money where it’s mouth is when it comes to student journos.

As an academic I see more offers of valuable experience than paid opportunities in my inbox. They tend to coincide with large events where industry doesn’t have the manpower to match their plans for coverage. In that sense there is no secret here, the industry is living beyond its means and it’s increasingly relying on low and no paid input to keep newsrooms running. But student journo’s bear the brunt of that. Yes, they get experience, but not much else.

No return on investment

Of course the flip-side to that argument is that many of those who enter the competitions would happily benefit from the association but don’t put back in. I wonder how many people who enter the Guardian student media awards have regularly bought the paper rather than accessing the (free) website?  You could argue the same when talking about work experience. How many students actually buy the product they aspire to work on?

But the reality is that, regardless of how much is put in, if you court an audience, you have to live up to their expectations – unreasonable or otherwise.

This is happening at a time when those same newsrooms are reporting on the commercial realities of education and how students need to demand value from their investment. As someone trying to respond to those expectations, perhaps I can offer some advice.  Perhaps the industry need to reflect on their advice to prospective students the next time they reach out or connect with student journalists.  Just how much are you expecting them to invest in your newsroom and what’s the return?


The value of a journalism degree

Recently I came across an interesting new blog called Wannabe Hacks. (@wannabehacks) It’s a group blog from three people all taking a different route in to journalism. It’s an interesting idea and one worth watching.

So it was a nice coincidence to see my name, along with Paul Bradshaw in one of their tweets.

@digidickinson @paulbradshaw Can anyone tell us the perceived perks of an undergrad journo course over doing non-journo degree? skills etc
Wannabe Hacks

An interesting question. Any answer I give is bound to be viewed as biased. After all teaching undergrads is what pays my mortgage. But I’m going to give it a go.

Any discussion about the ‘value’ or ‘perks’ of a degree in general will always stray in to the area of the inherent value of a university education.

I enjoyed David Mitchells take on this in the Observer. I liked this summing up in particular.

Except in the case of a few very vocational degrees, university isn’t about what you learn on the course, it’s about how that learning, how living and studying somewhere new, changes the way you think and who you are. Instead of forcing kids to make binding career choices at 17,higher education is supposed to give students who would benefit from further academic development a bit of space in which to find themselves. People who are allowed to do that, statisticians have noted, tend to earn more than those who aren’t.

There is so much I agree with there. But I found myself nodding at the line “students who would benefit from further academic development”.

University is not for everyone. Not because some people are not capable or intelligent enough. It should be just one of the environments that are available to encourage and develop people. Of course the shame of it is that for a good while a University has become one of the only environments to develop. No more apprenticeships or on the job training any more – especially in journalism. Worse still they seem to have been steadily belittled and undervalued in recent times.

That means good journalism degrees have found themselves in that ‘few’ that Mitchell talked about. They are vocational courses, training people to work in journalism because, increasingly journalism orgs won’t.

That is one of their greatest ‘perks’.

I won’t go as far as to say that journalism undergraduate courses are the ‘best of both worlds’. But a good course will give you all the skills you need and the time to experiment with them in an environment that is geared towards your experience. A chance to find yourself, yes. But also a chance to develop skills and find your voice.

But (and this is a big but) there is cost to a degree. It’s not just in the very real and important issue of money. It’s in the amount of time and effort you put in.

Given three years in which to establish yourself and prepare for work, you have to keep an eye on where you want to go. At some point university is going to finish, so what are you doing to give yourself some ‘exit velocity’

Perhaps you are starting a hyperlocal news site or blog about your experiences. Maybe you have joined journalism.co.uk’s young journalism group TNTJ. Perhaps you write for your local newspaper or do shifts at the local radio station. Maybe you even work on the student media at your uni. All of that takes time. Time you could be in the bar finding yourself. But that’s journalism.

So, given my biased position, I think the perk of a journalism degree is time. You have three years and if you are outward looking and engaged nothing you do will be wasted.

The other side
In saying all of that I don’t want to give the impression that I see Journalism degrees as the only way to become a journalist. The idea of taking a first degree in a subject like economics or law and then doing a postgraduate in journalism is one I think has a huge amount of merit. As does going through the front door and getting a job with a media organisation or even starting your own blog/publication/podcast and building an audience. Plenty of people would advocate the university of life route over a journalism degree
. But then the it always suprises me what skip-loads of extraneous horse-droppings get talked about the whole issue these days 🙂


The wannabe hacks (who seem to have spawned a fourth member since I last looked) have a very nice post about journalism degrees with some great input via twitter and the comments. Peter Moore also pointed me to a post asking if journalism degrees were a failed experiment. 

 Those posts and the comments highlight an interesting area that I think can be best summed up as ‘the difference between value and value for money’.  It’s an area I touched on but my main point was that time was a valuable aspect of a degree. That doesn’t mean I don’t think that value for money is a valid area to explore. I just think the two are not necessarily connected beyond my feeling that getting value for money does depend on how you use what you pay for – pay for a degree, use the time you payed for.

I do think it’s important to say that the issue the cost (as apposed to value or value for money) of education/training is a real worry. But it’s not just education that costs (and some think is a waste of money). If you go the none-academic route then you still pay. How much in unearned salary are you ‘subbing’ employers for when you do that “all important” unpaid internship? If you do a first degree and then a journalism PG you still pay. All of that is investment you are making.

I think it’s right and proper that students should ask universities why their investment in education is worthwhile. But let’s be fair. Shouldn’t we also be asking what employers are doing to make your investment (whatever and wherever you made it ) worthwhile?

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Digital job hunting

Last week I gave a short lecture to broadcast (and a smattering of magazine) students about using the web to help find a job.

I tried to sum the whole thing up in a pithy slide:

It was really about fitting digital in to an already well established pattern for job hunting – traditional ad’s with a good slice of what and who you know.

That’s why I started with a list of job sites offering a digital way of doing that long slog of working through the job ad’s.  No surprise there then.

But I made the point that looking for work in a converged world mean’t a bit of a change of perspective.

Even though you may come from a broadcast tradition and your target job may be in a traditional environment (radio newsroom for example) the market is increasingly varied. (as my highly technical diagram shows) Your skills carry across boundaries in a converging world. You could end up as a radio producer at a newspaper working on their podcasts or working for an online only publication working on video.

Increasingly that converged mindset is what you have to cultivate to get work. But I think it’s also  the mindset to apply for job hunting. Don’t limit yourself to one sector. Instead of starting in one of the circles, position yourself in the middle and aim at all of them. You never know what might crop up. So my tip around searching for jobs also included searching for jobs.

By searching for something like radio OR broadcast jobs UK you get a rich and broad pot that you can then start to refine and filter. To develop your searches, think laterally. Add phrases that are specific to your area of interest or that would be unique to a job : radio OR broadcast ~job +salary +enps uk.

Remember the aim here is not to get Google to simply churn out job ads; the jobs sites will do that. It’s also to introduce an element of serendipity in to the mix that will richen your understanding of the market.

Of course the introduction of a broader range of sites means more content to wade through so you’ll also need to consider ways to manage the flow. Simple things like setting up a Google Alert based on the search terms you enter can help. But you may also want to get your RSS reader working for you to pull all your job related feeds in to one place that you can search and filter.

If a speculative google search throws up an interesting company (who don’t have jobs but you might want to keep an eye on) then search for an RSS feed to subscribe to. Then when a job comes up you know what they have been up to.

When the orginal slides went up in a post on  journalism.co.uk, John Thompson pointed out a way to get custom RSS feeds based on custom searches.

In the top left-hand column on most of the pages on Journalism.co.uk, you will see a panel headed “Job of the week”. About half-way down there is a dropdown menu that allows you to search by job type. For this example, select “editorial assistants and trainees” and click “go”.

On the subsequent search results page, you will see at the top of the central column an advanced search form. This allows you to make a more detailed search based on sectors, categories, salary and location. You will also see an option under format to “return search results as RSS feed”. Select that and also tick “editorial assistants and trainees” under the “categories” section.

Click the search button and, voila, you will be presented with a customised RSS feed containing only editorial assistant and trainee vacancies.

Josh Halliday got in touch via twitter so say he has put together a combined RSS feed of popular job sites that you can subscribe to. (thanks Josh)

I’ve put together an RSS bundle of just five of the UK’s most comprehensive media jobs listings sites: GorkanaGuardian JobsJournalism.co.uk JobsHold The Front Page and the Editorial Jobs Twitter feed (it’s RSS is borked).

And don’t forget that there are other ‘oldschool’ ways. Sign up for email newsletters like the Gorkana alert

The Shmoozing bit.
In the media people will often tell you that it’s about who you know rather than what. So whilst the broad searching will tell you what jobs are available and give a broad view of what’s going on we need to get next to some real people.

At this point it’s worth stressing that this is not about using digital to replace the process. You still need to get out there and meet people. But we can build our own networks online that help us connect and experience the churn or views and news from the industry. It could be eavesdropping on the latest gossip to build up ‘intelligence’ or even using the community to help you get a job.

But if it’s about who you know, how do we know who to connect with?

This is where social networking sites like Twitter come in to their own. They offer an easy way to find and connect with people in your community. Take a look at MediaUK’s twitter page (@mediauk). Obviously a popular follow and the kind of thing that a lot of people in the industry would look at. Now we could go through the list of people that follow and are followed by @mediauk to find useful people; use their contacts if you like. But notice their lists

Mediauk's twitter lists

They are nicely split in to sections and make following a glut of people in your area easy. If you find someone on the list who really resonates with you or fits right in to your area then look at their lists (if they have them) and build your network.

The same logic (if not the same mechanics) work for other social networking sites. Take a look at LinkedIn or even Facebook. Connect with one person or join a Facebook group and you’ll open yourself up to more connections.

Of course, the key to success in social networks is to be an active part; Share, listen, help, participate. All of these things will build your profile. And profile is important as it doesn’t just build your recognition within the community (the most valuable part) but it also makes you more visible online.

The lists from mediaUK are actually generated from user submissions – you can go to their site and add yourself. That’s an easy way to be pro-active about building visibility. For some this might fall in to the ‘rampant self promotion’ section but it’s a way of getting your name out there.

That’s why I think a blog is still a valuable tool in your job searching kit.

Many people are leaving blogs behind in favour of the more dynamic ‘statusphere’ of twitter and social networks. But a blog offers something a little more stable, a more permanent place for you online. It offers you a chance to reinforce and expand your online identity. (I will always look at the link that people put in their twitter profile to get more information about a person.) To start with you could use it simply as a static CV/Portfolio site that you can point people to when applying for jobs. But it could soon expand to offer more. More active posting about your experiences and interests attract audience.

The most popular blogs within the journalism community tend to be the ones that share experiences – Think about Josh sharing that list of RSS feeds. It’s journalists trying things and showing their working out. Thats valuable to the community and people remember you for that (you’re playing an active role). That’s one of the reasons I linked to Adam Westbrook in the presentation. Like Josh, he’s a great example of someone who plays an active part in the community.

You could ask ‘why a blog and not a static website?’ My first response is that blogging is one of those things that you should have experience of in a converged world (back to my point earlier). But there are some, more practical reasons.

There are lots of great website builders out there (I’d add Jimdo to that list ), but blogs offer a lot of under the bonnet stuff that helps promote your stuff and make it easy to share. Built in notification of search engines and automatic RSS feeds are just two of the things that will help spread yourself around the web. They may be the thing that gets you popping up in a search engine when a prospective employer searches your name and it will link them to something that sells you appropriately.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet telling you how you can tweak a wordpress.com blog to start showing static pages rather than the more dynamic posts. You can change it later on when you are ready to go down the more dynamic posting route.

Given that this presentation was to broadcast students I also looked at the problems associated with multimedia on free sites and blogs. I’ve listed a number of third party hosts that you can try to get round some of those restrictions. Using a third party site also has the benefit of getting your work out there on another platform to another audience.

So, there it is. Use the web to sign up to job sites but don’t stop there. Use it to broaden your horizons, think multiplatform in where you look. Be part of and visible in the community and your profile will grow and that can only be a good thing.

I hope it made sense and if you have any questions then drop me a line.

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A quick look at charts

Most of my teaching today has been about the basics of online presentation – online writing etc. As an exercise I pulled some council news from the web to give us something to work with.  It was a simple story, a local council by-election. But it had some nice angles to explore – turnout etc – and it was on a patch I was interested in as part of the Bespoke project running out of the University.

I was really pleased to see some of the third year print students immediately looking at tables and graphs as a way of displaying the result. They were using Word to hack out the copy and used the Chart generator to make pie charts. A few things tripped them up.

The first was the generic colour scheme for the charts. The election results included Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates. But you can see that the biggest result was formatted as blue – a bit of a problem when it was a Labour win.

A win for Blue?
A win for Blue?

Changing the colour of the data is pretty easy in Word 2007. Just right-click the segment and pick Format Data point. Pick Fill from the list then check Solid fill. Pick and colour and click close it’s done.

That's better. A win for Labour.
That's better. A win for Labour.

But then comes the next problem. You have to get the image out of Word.

In principle this is not too hard. Simply highlight the image, copy it and then paste it in to an image editing package to save it for the web. Of course it’s that last bit that is the pain – especially if you don’t have a decent editor to hand. And often the image is squashed or distorted.

Using online services

As an alternative solution to using Word or needing an image editor, I suggested using Google docs. The spreadsheet option allows you to create a chart which you can then share or export as an image. Easy to do

  • Enter the data
  • Select the data you want to work with
  • Use the Wizard to make the chart
Easy to use but limited
Easy to use but limited

When the image is saved there is a neat option to export the image

Getting an image out of Google docs
Getting an image out of Google docs Google spreadsheet chart

The image it chucks out looks pretty good but you can see that we have the same problem with colour, that we had with Word. Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about that.

The Chart API

One option is to delve a little deeper in to the thing that helps make the google charts – the Google Charts Api. Unfortunately the code is a little arcane and often needs a little more effort to understand the construction of the chart than a visual hack around.  Luckily there are plenty of third party sites that offer wizards for google charts.

Jon Winstanley has a great little app for quick charts and it also allows you to pick colours for your data.  It still requires a little concentration around the data structure but it works well.

Another is James B. Allen’s chart generator which has a more of a WYSIWYG feel to it.

Google Chart

Appropriate use.

There are other chart apis and chart builders but the open and free tools from Google are really tempting and, with the help of people like James and Jon, some easy to use third-party apps.

Graphs and charts are an obvious and easy way to show people data, especially as they scan for detail. Of course in all of this chart magic, one thing is worth noting. Perhaps the best way to present the information is the simplest:

  1. Labour: 656 Votes
  2. Conservatives: 283 Votes
  3. Lib Dems: 239 Votes

Comment on paragraphs – WordPress Plugin

Last week I posted about a little wordpress plugin I wrote called FancyCatlist. It made a nice little category menu similar to the kind of thing you would see on Everyblock. I wrote it as part of the process of putting together one of the sites I want my students to use next year as part of their practice in online publishing. You can see it in action on the ‘work in progress’ site.

The site is a ‘beatblog’ kind of thing and in searching around for examples of different approaches to this kind of thing I stumbled back upon ‘community news engine’ Newsmixer.


Its a nice idea and especially impressive as it was a jschool project which you can find out more about on the site itself. But the bit that caught my eye was the ability to comment on each paragraph of the content (and more as you’ll see if you go and explore)

I liked that idea as it taps in to the ‘One Par. One fact’ discipline of  basic journo writing and turns it in to a kind of microlink activitiy. It also begins to stem ideas off from various parts of an article, not just an article itself. Of course the reverse is that it could abstract all meaning out of the text. But used well, as I think it is here, I think it stands up.

So I think to myself that this would be a nice feature to have on the students publication website. But not, in the first instance,  as a way of the reader leaving feedback but as a way for me to leave feedback. A way that I could comment on each paragraph to give students feedback on what they write. I should point out that as I write this, it’s the policy of the department to keep student publications behind a firewall (I’m not so happy with that but hey ho). So feedback in the open is not a problem.

Finding a micro-comment plugin

I had a look around to see what was out there that would do a similar thing. This included poking around the newsmixer source (which is opensource) to see if it was worth using their framework. But they are using python. Great but my head (and life) is too crammed to learn that. Ryan Mark, one of the developers of newsmixer, has announced that newsmixer is heading the way of an API and there will be a wordpress plugin to tap in to all the neat features. But that seems a way off.

The next thing I did was search for wordpress plugins.  The closest I found was marginalia which looks very nice but doesn’t seem to play well with WordPress 2.8 and even with some nice features didnt look like it would scale back to what I wanted.

So I wrote another plugin.

The Feedback By Paragraph plugin

Feedback by Paragraph is a plugin that does a number of things

  • It hijacks the content of the post, looking for the </p> tag and inserts some code that attaches a pop-up box to that paragraph so you can leave comments. It inserts a little bubble with a link to open the box which also displays the number of comments there already. It only does this on the article page (what WP calls a single post as defined by the template single.php). It uses the closing p tag because it’s the easiest one to find as the <p> is often full of crap like classes etc and my regex is not really up to that. Using </p> also has the advantage of picking up any image captions without breaking the styling class.
  • It saves any paragraph comments with a custom ‘comment type’ so that they can be associated with a paragraph
  • It filters out any paragraph comments from the normal comment display.
  • It only allows you to comment if you are an admin or the post author but anyone can see the comments.
Feedback By Paragraph
Feedback By Paragraph

You can see it in action  the beatblog site

An issue.

This is now resolved.

There is a big issue to be aware of with this plugin.  When you submit a comment form with a custom comment_type defined  it isnt processed like all the other form elements. I’m not sure why that is but it takes an ammendement to the one of the core files in wordpress to make it (at least that’s the only way I got it to work). That means a tweak to a file called wp-comments-post.php.

Around line 40 you need to add the line

$comment_type = ( isset($_POST['comment_type']) ) ? trim($_POST['comment_type']) : null;

And around line 62 you need to change

$comment_type = '';


//$comment_type = '';

I know, not ideal. I’m sure there is a better way to do this which involves hooks and filters and all that. Please if anyone has even half an idea how this might be done I’d love to hear. But I have yet to find it(or understand it).

How do I use it?

You can download the plugin to try.

What next

There is plenty of flexibility in this plugin and an options page wouldn’t go a miss. I’ll be looking at setting it up so that you have more control over who sees what and perhaps look at setting a template for the comments form so that it isnt hidden in the plugin code. But for now, given that my sites are behind a fire wall it seems to work for me.

Let me know if you download and try the thing. Oh, and don’t forget that tweak of the core file.

NOTE: First bug fix! This version makes the call to the database for the comments using the generic form rather than being hard coded to a particular table. Sorry!

Visit the feedbackBP plugin page

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Turning dog poo in to stories

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing prep for teaching and training that I’m doing at the moment. So expect the slow appearance of a backlog of posts on video and other related issues. But I thought I would share something that has been in my radar for a few days.

I’ve been doing a lot of talking (shocking for me I know) about using the web for research – journalism toolbox stuff. And one of the things I have been stressing is that the web will very rarely just ‘give’ you a story. It will give you lots of data and information but the story is in the way you, as the journalist, put the things together. The phrase that I heard last week that best summed that up journalists are sense makers. Phil Trippenbach has a nice post on this so I won’t labour the point.

But whilst I was browsing for resources and examples to show my students and delegates I came across a site that made me wonder if I had to re-think that position – fixmystreet.co.uk

Fixmystreet.co.uk is a site by the fantastic Mysociety group who specialize in socially aware, achingly web2.0 sites. Top stuff on a number of levels and their other sites are worth a visit. Anyway, here is how they describe fixmystreet:

A site where people can report, view, or discuss local problems like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.

Nearly 25,000 problems have now been reported across the UK, with our users following up many thousands with updates, news and notifications that problems have been fixed

Here’s an example of an ongoing problem with litter.

Fixmystreet.co.uk - tracking local problems
Fixmystreet.co.uk - tracking local problems

You can also sign up for an RSS feed or email alerts for a location. Told you it was brilliant.

So I’m showing my students the site today as we discussed ways that you can get a handle on a patch. They enjoyed it, not least because it offers, what must be, the most accurate geographic mapping of poo that I have yet to see on the web. With pictures! Anything scatological is a hit with students it seem.

I made the point that it shouldn’t replace physically getting out on the patch but it could provide some insight and a conversation opener when wandering around. But it wouldn’t throw up a story. Then we came across this entry.

Is this just about dog poo?
Is this just about dog poo?

Take a look and ask yourself if there is a story in that or not and if it’s a story about dog poo.

Locating the meaning

In terms of the way you would work a beat to get a story to pitch to an editor this site serves up a hell of a lot in just a few lines of comment. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story is located that adds the context you need. Maybe it did take my eyes on the story to make the connection. But one thing is for sure, fixmystreet proves that locally focused geo-mashups work.

So if the embryonic geotagging of your content or the occasional attempts at mapping this kind of thing have fallen of the radar or been dismissed as gimmicks, maybe it’s worth looking again.

Take more of a healthy interest in your audiences poo.

UPDATE:Because I am that plugged in at the moment I didn’t see this great interview with one of My society’s developers Francis Irving on Journalism.co.uk/ (thanks the Alex Lockward for the nudge)

Seesmic and the newspaper debate

UPDATE: Paul has a great blog post summing up the issues.

Paul Bradshaw has been doing a little ‘pre-blogging’ over at Seesmic with a question about what we should be teaching journalism students.

Some of the responses go as far as to suggest that three year degrees (in the UK students normally do a degree between 18-21) in journalism are a waste of time; Just too long a time to wait in this fast moving world. I can see the issue – When you are drowning it seems like a problem to have to wait for the lifeguard to learn how to swim.

But the responses show that the debate is, thankfully, a little more nuanced than that pithy summing up. Many of the issues have been debated before but never resolved. There’s a lot of issues to work out.

Also worth looking at is a little side conversation around the issue between Paul and Kevin Anderson

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Photojournalism Ethics is an ivory tower.

I’m often reminded as my status as a lecturer. It’s usually in that ‘it may work for you in your ivory tower, but this is the real world sonny’ way, but I don’t mind.

One of the reasons I like being in education is it allows me to have a foot in both camps and, importantly, the time to reflect on that. But I am careful though. Wherever possible I try to not let the minutia of everyday academia filter through. That should stay in the ivory tower.

Sometines I wish industry would return the favour.

PJ Mark Hancock has been pondering ethics in photojournalism and makes some very interesting points. At the heart of the ethical debate for photographers is the issue of photo-manipulation. Its clear that, in photojournalism, these are big ethical no-no’s.

I get the impression that Mark is frustrated that this is even an issue for snappers given the apparent acceptance of ethical practices by journalists.

If a reporter requests we do something unethical, for example, we could ask if they “make up” quotes in their stories. While they should recoil from the notion, the actions are exactly alike. A lie is a lie.

Part of me wonders where reported speech comes in to that analogy – but I digress. Mark puts the blame for ethical problems at the feet those who break the rules. But he see’s a potentially bigger problem in convergence.

Putting photographers at the sharp end of a convergent policy is common – in fact many photographers will demand that they should be there – puts them at a point where photojournalism and TV journalism meet.  That raises some ethical issues.

For Mark there is a very clear lack of journalism ethic in TV news. Why? Well one reason is that practitioners don’t come from newspapers:

While early broadcast news pioneers came from the newspaper business, most recent broadcast celebrities have not.

With an ear to my experience in TV that feels a bit unfair in a broad brush way but I have to concede that the reality (in the US at least) would seem to support Marks view.

But interestingly for me some of the blame for this comes the way of education.

This divergence is often compounded at universities. While some universities do understand the connection, others continue to place RTV majors in the theater arts departments rather than journalism.

If you surround them with actors then they are more likely to make stuff up.

In my university the TV production course is in a different department from journalism. They are taught in the same building as Dancers and actors. We actually teach our journalists to shoot and edit so it’s a bit of an odd model. But in a sense, that isnt the point.

The real issue is that because of a lack of consistency in the industry, ethics becomes an academic debate. What is acceptable or not is an internal issue.  It’s the industries own personal ivory tower. In the same way a professor will reserve the right to pontificate on the ethics of academic research or what consitutes a good student,  the j-industry see fit to reserve the right to use the moral, theoretical issues as defining features of the industry.

I don’t disagree with a word Mark has said. His proffesionalism and genuine hope for a better ethical standard in the industry is the kind of thing that the indusrty needs to drive the standards. But those standards need to be in place for the rest of us to respond to rather than react to.

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Chinese voices

The Alleyway

Image by thenez via Flickr

My department has an outpost in China and Matt (our man in china) sent word of a project based on Google groups that his students have been involved with called Life and Death, Love and Pain: Snapshots of Sichuan Earthquake

On the site, one of the people working on it explains the motivation for the work

we have started translating some stories about the 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan, China, where some of our hometown is. These trivial stories are not published by the mass media, yet they are all examples of admirable human spirit and emotion.

This included translations of chinese blogs and reports.

An interesting insight and worth a look

Beware the digital native.

Here is a little quote to start the post.

“If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly.”

Responding to the general discussion about who is working the digital news vein, Pat Thornton has posted another take on the problems with management pointing out that Management should reflect demographics (AKA management can’t be just a bunch of old white guys)

The only way to expand into new demographics (mostly younger) is to have people in those demographics in management and actively consult younger staffers about what they want. No more guessing.

Honestly, how else are newspapers going to expand their audience if they don’t have people they are trying to court making decisions?

It’s a good post and I have swapped a couple of comments with Pat about the problems I have with his point. OK, I say problems. In the main, there isn’t a lot to disagree with. News organisations don’t look like the community they serve and that is a problem. Who could argue with that?

The transparency that digital platforms create means that people look directly at us and if they don’t recognise what is looking back then they leave. That’s tied directly to the thorny issue of diversity in the newsroom.

Can you only (afford to) be a journalist if you are a privately educated graduate with the resources to take the salary hit? Why are there not more black and female journalists and managers and influencers in our news organisations? All serious and systemic problems to chew over and try to resolve.

But I don’t think this is the nub of what Pat is saying and what he finds frustrating. This isn’t about diversity, it’s about innovation.

Young and smart or old and predictable?

In the main he seems to be suggesting that only young people (30 – 40) are really innovating online citing the creators of Amazon and Google as examples of young ‘Web titans’. Lets have more of them in decision making positions:

Let’s say you have 10 top editors. At least one should be a digital native. How many newspapers can honestly say that?

Can’t argue with that. Some bright people, young or not, wouldn’t go a miss. But I do have a problem with the term Digital Native. Why?  There is no such thing as a digital native. And it’s dangerous to assume there is.

The natives are restless

In the past it’s been easy to see the move of the mainstream media to the web as some kind of land rush. Hell, I’ve even referred to the move in negative terms as a form of Rachmanism. The logic would follow that there was an indigenous people or sitting tenant of the web that was somehow deposed. Now that would be a digital native.

Of course the logic doesn’t follow. Yes, there where early pioneers – even a founder – but no incumbent population

So what is this digital native thing all about? Who are digital natives?

According to the alleged inventor of the phrase Marc Prensky:

They are native speakers of technology, fluent in the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet. I refer to those of us who were not born into the digital world as digital immigrants. We have adopted many aspects of the technology, but just like those who learn another language later in life, we retain an “accent” because we still have one foot in the past.

He was using this in an academic framework talking about the need to embrace new technology in teaching as kids do in life. Of course the big flaw in this is that in journalism, as in education, not all kids/young people are fluent in that way especially when it comes to J-students. As Mark Comerford points out.

My j-students are often rigidly locked in to an analogue vision of the industry, see print as their future and do not easily understand the principals of conversation contra lecturing that many of us propagate as the (only) future for journalism. The have some degree of technical knowledge (though that is often over-estimated) but no great conceptual grasp of the shift from analogue to digital.

And the diverse, dynamic and fast changing nature of that conceptual change means that the landscape is too fluid to sustain any long standing definition that could sustain anyone being called a native.

Going native

So what we need to talk about here are not digital natives but people who have gone native (or better still the enthisiastic adoptor that Sarah Hartley talks about.) Picking up on Pat’s theme, I want to see enthusiastic adoptors of any age get a chance to change the way things are done and make newsrooms look more like the community they serve.  It is essential that we get more of that diversity that is so vital both commercially and socially.

But I don’t want a tribe of digital natives springing up creating digital divides – old/young, get it/don’t  – because rather than having the keys to the digital kingdom, all that the attitude really tells me is that they have gone really native. And when that comes with claims that having more of them is just what you need to get the job done…

‘Ten divisions of those men’ might sound tempting but that was a quote from Colonel Walter E. Kurtz.

Perhaps the best example of what can happen if you go too native