An updated timeline of journalism in a digital age.

Early last year I updated my timeline of journalism events in a digital age and I thought it was time to take a look and see what needed to be added.

So I’ve updated it including the following:

  • I’ve added the appearance of Buzzfeed in 2006: Who knew that this viral startup would be thought of the ‘preeminent media company in the future’.  I’ve also added the $50 million dollar investment from earlier this year.
  • The NSA leaks story:  The reach of this story makes it a defining moment for me.  It’s a story that brought security and net neutrality into the newsroom with some excellent (and innovative) storytelling along the way.
  • Jeff Bezos buying the Washington post – media buyouts don’t often break the mould but Bezos putting up $250million of his own money is an interesting one for me.  The fact that it’s the man behind Amazon – considered by many a successful online company  with experience in many of the areas where the media is playing ‘catch-up’.
  • Leaked NYT innovation Report – media orgs will fall on any intel on the industry and their competitors but this leak to Buzzfeed (there they are again) of an internal review of the NYTimes’ digital efforts was as notable for it’s view of who the competition was as it was it’s candid material.
  • The murder of James Foley: Many journalists have died in the process bringing us news from warzones. But the way the video of Foley’s death surfaced and the ensuing debate around how we shared the news (and the video) speaks to the changing way we view news and conflict.

I’m sure there are more and I’m sure that there are some that aren’t so US centric so I’d love to hear your views on what should be included.


Steve Matthewson Head of Business Professional Networks at The Guardian suggested including the closure of the News of the world. I’d considered it but it didn’t feel ‘digital’ enough. However, Steve makes a good point.

So I’ve included it!

Twitter user @sms2sms suggested a number of inclusions, including Flash!

I thought that was a great idea. Even if it was there as a motivation for people to create an alternative, I think Flash has shaped the way we tell multimedia stories online. So it’s in.@sms2sms also suggested Rocketboom, another good idea that’s now in.

American Univ Journo prof Andrew Lih offered:

I’d never heard of it but remember the later ‘clicks and morter’ attempts later on. This is a gem of an example and well worth an inclusion. Also worth a read is John C. Speer’s disseration on the subject.

Social media for journalists is like The Generation game

This week (as a earlier post suggests) I’ve been kicking off teaching with a look at social media and how journos can use it to create a presence. That presence isn’t just about promotion, it’s about connection. It’s about putting your virtual self in front of the audience and the stream of content they produce.

That got me thinking about The generation game.

For those who don’t know it, The Generation game was a UK game show that started in 1971 and ran, on and off, till 2002. It’s big finish was the conveyor belt game. The contestant would be sat in front of a conveyor belt loaded with consumer goods (and a cuddly toy) which they would have to remember. Then they would have a minute to try to recall all the items. Whatever they remembered they kept.

The whole thing struck me as an interesting analogy of the process of managing information for journalists and how it has changed.

In journalism terms the old solution to the game would be to take notes (in shorthand) of what went past. The digital solution would be to subscribe to the RSS feed of the conveyor belt and filter it later on. Job done. Walk away with the booty.

But now the whole thing is more like the end of the game.

When the contestant sits down they get a bit of time to consider the content but then the audience begins to shout. And shout. And shout. It’s noisy. Often helpful but more often than not the helpful stuff is drowned out by repetition and distraction.

The conveyor of news

The proliferation of places where you might find yourself in front of a virtual audience is a bit of a blessing and a curse. Social networks make it easy to build profiles – it’s easy to get yourself to these virtual places –  but managing the sheer amount of information/interaction that they demand is more challenging.

Information overload is nothing new to journalists on the web, which is why I used to spend  a bit of time looking at things like RSS as a means of controlling information. But RSS has, for many, been replaced by the stream  – the realtime flow of information from the connections we make on social networks.

RSS answered the challenge of how we manage information. That’s still the challenge, but now it starts with how we manage the interaction with people who find it for us. Filtering the filterers (maybe).

There is so much value in there, but the prize is for those who can handle the thousands shouting “cuddly toy!” to get to the detail.


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Legal challenges facing online journalists

law books

This is a guest post by Ed Walker . It is also published on his blog.

Had some media law refresher training this morning. It was tough going back three years and trying to remember specific cases but the best bit of the session were the debates about the challenges now faced by journalism when it comes to online and the law.

The web is moving quickly and with certain acts dating back to to the last century, you won’t find mention of Facebook in the legal statements. First things first, if you’re unsure about media law go and grab a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. You won’t regret it.

The three main things we discussed were dealing with breaking news online, and in particular breaking crime news, the use of content from social media sites (particularly images) and commenting on stories by users.

Breaking news online and the dangers

A crime has happened. The Police are on the hunt for two men who have raided the local betting shop. They are armed. You have the basic details and after confirming you’ve got it online. The headline screams out ‘Armed raid at betting shop’ and you’ve got an image of the smashed in door of the betting shop. No arrests have been made. Do you turn the comments on the story? You’ll likely just end up with a load of hearsay that will become obsolete once the Police make arrests but you might also get some extra details, you might stumble upon an eyewitness.

A few hours later and the Police force issued stills of the men they are looking for from the CCTV and give more accurate descriptions. You run these images in full with a big appeal for information from the Police. You create this as a separate article and through your keyword tagging the articles become ‘related’ in your content management system.

You leave the old article in the content management system and overnight the Police name the two men they are looking for and release mugshot images of them. You create a new article and run these images, again this story joins your ‘related stories’ list.

The arrests are made and you’ve still got all the information up on your site. Three articles, all with varying levels of detail and images. Possibly some video of the CCTV and a load of comments from readers. Charges are made and eventually, the trial will start and all this content will be in your archive and might start showing up in the related stories column.

Solution? Have one article and keep that updated. Avoid creating new articles if possible. Keep an eye on pictures/video and remove when no longer relevant. Avoid any compromising photos, just use straight up headshots. Ensure your CMS provides a ‘last updated’ date and timestamp somewhere on the article.

Use of content from social media sites

Facebook and Twitter. A goldmine of information and content, but a legal minefield? There’s not many tests cases out there in terms of using content from social media sites. We had an example of taking a photo from a social networking site of a 17-year-old girl who had died, but the photo showed her drinking alcohol.

Now the dead can’t sue for defamation but the mother would probably not be best pleased to see a smiling photo of her now-dead daughter with a glass of champagne in her hand. Plus, who owns the copyright to the photo?

Solution? We decided we’d run the photo, but probably crop out the alcohol aspect. Or try to find a more suitable photo. In terms of copyright, it’s a tricky one and does seem standard journalist practice now to rip photos from websites despite the copyright resting either with the social network or the user who uploaded the photo.

Commenting on stories

The elephant in the room. Do you post-moderate or pre-moderate? Do you have someone monitoring comments all-hours? Do you let people comment on every story? Do you close comments after a set period of time? Or is it just a free-for-all and it’s the Internet damnit and we can’t control it. Do you let journalists engage in the comments and the debate, or do you tell them to steer clear?

Solution? We couldn’t reach one. But we were sure that media websites benefit massively from having comments on stories – but for court stories the comments should be turned off. We felt more needed to be done to educate people commenting on the idea of ‘fair comment’ and how what they said needed to be based on facts, an honest opinion, without malic and in the public interest. We felt it was important for journalists to be able to respond to comments and engage with the debate as journalism is becoming a two-way process.

Image credit to Eric E Johnson

It was a very interesting morning. The above is just a taster but any of your experiences relating to media law and online journalism would be welcomed in the comments below.

A timeline of online media landmarks

I’ve been doing a bit of ‘multimedia’ with students including maps and the wonders of Dipity timelines. Whilst picking through the backlog of posts in my reader I came across a few posts with defining moments for online journalism. So, as a bit of fun, I thought I would add them to dipity as an example to use.

I’ve used Mindy McAdams’ Timeline of breaking news and Paul Bradshaw’s post asking “Are these the biggest moments in journalism-blogging history?” as the main sources. Alf Hermida also pitched in suggesting the BBC election coverage and Death of Diana as defining moments. I agree so I’ve added them as well.

I’ll add some more when I find them or , of course, if you want to suggest any.

Barriers to convergence

This post is my contribution to the inaugural Carnival of Journalism: I’m so thankful for the motivation to get this idea out of my head at last. Find out more about the carnival


Last week I sat in on a presentation to a World Editors Forum study group. They came to the Department to hear about how our relationship with Johnston Press worked – industry and education working together in what I suppose is called Knowledge transfer.

They got the opportunity to have dinner with Tim Bowdler the (now outgoing) Chief exec of JP. I got a reminder of a phrase I hadn’t heard in a while.

Gather Once – Publish Many

This was a phrase that JP used in their first digital strategy document and it became a bit of a motto – a mantra for a monomedia organization going multi-platform.

Hearing this put some perspective on the issue of convergence.

It’s something thats been at the forefront of my thinking recently. To be honest its been one of those really annoying things I couldn’t get out of my head and in to a post. The picture above is just one of the many pages of working out in my moleskine. And thats where the thoughts stayed until I heard that phrase.

There is a real issue with convergence in newsrooms. How do we do it? Why doesn’t it work? And thinking about that phrase finally slotted a few things in to place for me.

I think I know why integrating digital in to the way we work is so difficult for some; almost impossible for others. I think its because most organizations have slipped in to the mentality of

Gather once. Many publish

It’s a commonly accepted approach that an essential part of making digital work is that you free our content to as many people as you can – your community. They will help spread your content and develop it. Great in principle.

Of course the practice is that the process and so the content hasn’t changed to reflect that. That mantra has been split. Gather once applies to the newsroom. Many publish is left to the community. The process, the gather if you like, is still geared towards the artifact. A single page. There are two problems with that.

The first is that content generated in this way is not fit for (digital)purpose. The journalist spends a huge amount of time refining and editing the content for the page – it’s what we do. It’s the leanest, focused content it can be. Whilst that’s great for reading it’s rubbish for developing. You can’t put back in what you’ve taken out.

The second problem is that the point of convergence moves outside the organsiation. That means that the experience and knowledge doesn’t develop inside the newsroom. Convergence becomes difficult because the culture hasn’t changed.

Nowhere is this more obvious in multimedia. Whilst many publishers have made little or no effort to embrace multimedia. Those that have generally keep it separate from the rest of the process. This seems to be in stark contrast to the way that these same organisations think the audience will behave. Apart from being naive its actually pretty condescending.

To make convergence work we need to make newsrooms behave in the way we are expecting the audience to work. We need to bring convergent behavior back in the newsroom, away from the point of publication. That means reporters need to take stills cameras out with them every time they leave the office. They should be recording every interview with a digital dictaphone. That doesn’t mean that they should be doing anything with that content. They should be making that content available, where appropriate, in the same way we know they should be using Delicious or a blog.

I think we need to change the mantra inside the industry to

Gather everything: Share

We need to do that well before we even think about where its going to go.

WordPress as a cms for journalists

Alf Hermida has a great post on how he beat a tight budget by using WordPress as a CMS system to create a news site for the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.

The site [ ] is run on an installation of WordPress MU, the multiple user version of this versatile software. WordPress offers an easy to use content management system, making it simple for the students to learn how to post stories. WordPress MU can be a little temperamental, meaning that some plugins won’t work with it.

Over the past few years I’ve tried a number of CMS systems to run the online newsdays. Everything from Mambo to a neat piece of software called PROPS. Anything free that would save the students doing too much hard coding of webpages. But it hasn’t been an easy journey.

Looking for a solution

This year we just finished an installation of Avid’s Active Content Manager so we should soon have a pretty hefty CMS but I still needed something quick and easy to fill the gap. I had braced myself for a long hard battle with Joomla. Like othes I was not looking forward to the template work – my experience with joomla forerunner mambo had burned me there. So I bit the bullet and thought that WordPress couldn’t be that hard to tweak. It wasn’t and I know run newsday exercises using wordpress as the cms.


Like Hermida I came across the excellent Revolution News theme. There are other premium news themes out there as well but thought that $99 would have to come out of my pocket if I wanted to get it done quick. So before taking the plunge I did a bit of searching around.

There are some pretty good free themes around well suited to newspaper/magazine style work. I ended up using the Mimbo theme by Darren Hoyt. I liked the layout and it seemed like a flexible template



Of course there are number of plugins I use as well.

I’m also planning in using the Role Manager plugin to add an extra layer of control for users.

It needs some tweaking and I got a little more equated with WordPress template tags than I would have liked (oh, okay, I got a perverse geeky pleasure from making it work). The process for putting up thumbnails images isnt as neat as it could be, but it’s simple and it works. It also seems to be the standard way of doing it in these templates.

So, overall its a success.

If anyone wants to try the version of the template I ended up with, drop me a line and I’ll share.

More on the 21st century newsroom

Paul Bradshaw continues his essential series on Newsroom of the 21st century with a look at what should happen to your story after it goes online.

He amplifies a great point about the permanent nature of a webpage and its place as an anchor for your story to develop.

I like this idea. Almost a year ago I posted on the idea that the web was really a whole range of stories waiting to happen:

On a macro level the web edits itself. We throw stories online and they find a place. Sometimes that place remains unknown until another story takes an audience there and the content is discovered. It wasn’t an editor who made that connection. The web enabled me to.

But Paul’s takes this to a much higher and more reasoned level co-opting the five W’s and one H of journalism 101 to great effect.

What I would recommend is re-reading Paul’s previous two posts to really get the flavour of the concepts he puts forward.  A lot of what he talks about in this article should be seeded in the way we collect and report on stories.

When he suggests the question “What did the journalist read to write this?”  he mentions social bookmarking.

This should be part of routine practice already, but through a combination of resistant journalistic culture; clunky CMS’s; and lack of time, journalists still don’t routinely link to their sources. So, we need a way to make this happen.

But how many journalists use social bookmarking as part of their reporting routine? More to the point, how many know what it is?

I talk to my students about building usefulness in to their content. Simple things like taking a dictaphone to interviews so that you could have some audio to go on the site as well as good audio notes.  Everyone involved in journalism education should be stressing the value of digital as an addition to the process not as a replacement.

Paul’s posts make for a compelling and intelligent argument for everyone to take on board. Great, great stuff.

The voice of Rosen

I tell my students to try and avoid pun headlines on the web. Physician heal thyself as they say.

I thought I would give a higher profile to a comment on my post about Jay Rosen left by Oliver Luft from He was at the Journalism Leaders forum and used his nifty stereo recordergramme device to get Rosen word for word.

A couple of audio snippets from Jay Rosen at the event:

On his next Assignment project

And talking about why UK papers are two years behind the US, bit of clarification on his point.

Worth a listen.

Also worth lifting out is a comment by Jay himself. He points to a few examples of the kind of wrk he is doing. This includes details of a new project “beat blogging with a social network”.

He’s also keen to point out that

When I said “two years behind,” I was not thinking of the people who on both sides of the pond are engaged in the new media discussion. People like Adrian, Robin Hamman, Kevin Anderson, Richard Sambrook, to name a few, are not “behind” anyone. This discussion in the UK and the discussion in North America are the same discussion. The Telegraph, The Guardian the BBC are doing as well as any US news organization. But you know that.

I was thinking more about the broad middle of the news profession and where they are in understanding the challenge of the Web and changing balance of power.

Changing balance of power is absolutely right.

PCC to regulate newspaper AV content reports that the Press Complaints Commision (PCC) is to extend its regulation of UK newspaper content to include AV content published on newspaper sites.

The PCC already regulates online editions of UK newspapers and an announcement about the extension of the commission is expected in the next few weeks.

The news came during an interview with Andrew Neil on the BBC News’ Hard Talk programme.

Andrew Neil then asked: “But they’ll be bound by the same sort of rules as they are in the papers we pick up in the morning…”

Sir Christopher Meyer replied: “Exactly the same kind of rules. Now, we are going to make an announcement, I hope, pretty soon in the next few weeks about exactly what that entails – there are some definitions to be sorted out – but it’s a major step forward, and it’s the first time, I think, that newspapers have voluntarily agreed without outside pressure to extend the remit of regulation through the PCC.”