Tag Archives: journalism

Student journalists take note

It’s been a stressful week.

Not only have I been setting up my own website (similar content to this, but with a proper url + a better display of posts) but also got to work on a hyperlocal news website with my friend Andy Halls.

Safe to say I have html coming out of my ears, my visual lexicon presently formulated entirely by lines of code.

Despite all the hard work, a couple of things struck me regarding potential journalists.

A lot of them simply don’t know how to report news.

(tumbleweed)

Objectivity is constantly emphasised, almost as a threat. Woe betide the student whose article takes on a subjective slant. Furthermore, students are also asked interminably: “what news angle are you going to take?”. Even so, once someone has chosen an angle to run with for a news story, they are already disregarding facts, glossing over particular details and only recording one part of a wider state of affairs.

This is at odds with the incessant focus on objectivity. One cannot pick a story angle and then lay claim to total objectivity, and vice versa. Telling budding journalists to be objective has its merits in a legal arena, priming them to avoid pitfalls like libel, defamation and contempt of court. But what it also does is suck any kind of soul out of a story, increasing the likelihood of churnalism and stifling creativity.

The second notion that entered my mind was that of a news story.

A story, an anecdote, an account. News is a developing narrative with endless twists and turns, heroes and villains, and occasionally a nail biting final chapter. It’s my view that a lot of student journalists aren’t being given the necessary drive and desire to create stories.

At student newspaper meetings, I saw time and time again editors hand out stories, almost ready made for print, just needing a few rewrites and possibly quotes. Student journalists are sidelined to being like ancillary press officers, simply reduced to moving phrases around and adding a few minor embellishments.

If “news” constituted something to be handed out on a plate like this, then the profession of journalism would never have existed in the first place. Individuals who have dogged determination, a keen eye for when things don’t seem kosher, and a drop of self-importance have become our news emissaries over time.

This resolve to uncover facts and stories is at the root of journalism. The inherent qualities that make up a journalist are also those which encourage creativity, not to toe the line, and not to take things at face value.

Part of the reason I started a hyperlocal site was to foster a sense of community and news gathering. Reporting on news in a small community instantly gives you a connection to your environment, physically and mentally. This local knowledge and ability to present stories that create an interdependence between news consumer and news publisher is essential.

Through my work with hyperlocal news, I hope to at least encourage a few students to begin operating like working journalists. If we can inspire students to self-generate and follow up news stories, then the job is already half done. I’m aware that there are many who’ll disagree with me, but sometimes to uncover discrepancies and wrongdoing in journalism one has to be bloody-minded, provocative and yes, the dirty word: subjective.

Hyperlocal is taking off in a big way this year. While a clear business model still doesn’t exist, I believe that if sites like this can be maintained they could help ameliorate once lost communities. In the age of Web 2.0, perhaps hyperlocal can help reform neglected neighbourhoods, helping them rediscover what makes their area geographically and culturally unique, and halting the further homogenisation of the UK.

An sanguine statement, maybe. But like I said, it’s been a stressful week.

Re:Brand

Change is in the air.

Barack Obama’s mantra may have gone stale, but it has now been adopted by the media world. The widespread economising and downsizing of newsrooms has even affected the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper, The Observer. Two weeks into its slimmed down relaunch, it has cooked up a storm with the extracts from Andrew Rawnsley’s new book, End of the Party.

It’s easy to look at the measures implemented at The Observer (voluntary redundancies, scrapping of music and sport magazines) and surmise that this is a newspaper sentenced to failure. However, look more closely, and what you’ll see is a newspaper that is down, but not yet out. John Mulholland and his editorial team have clearly realised that there is little place for breaking news in print. Consequently they have slimmed down the news section and expanded the analysis, features and comment to be found in The Observer.

Will Sturgeon, founder of The Media Blog agrees:

“They’ve boosted the prominence of opinion and comment. Relaunching with revelations from Andrew Rawnsley’s book signalled this intent most clearly. That is the only way the papers will mitigate the fact the news game is entirely lost to online”

Find your niche. That’s what writers are incessantly told. Now it seems newspapers will have to do the same. Those who value breaking news will always find it somewhere on the internet, something that paywalls cannot stop. But what newspapers can offer is good content in abundance. Well written commentaries and adventurous features are to be found primarily within newspapers, and not exclusively online.

Will Sturgeon:

“The Telegraph’s expenses story and the subsequent spike in its circulation shows us the value of quality content. Anything where speed is a pre-requisite will break first online. However, quality content will never go out of fashion”

A media prediction, if I dare be so bold: We’ll see organisations focusing solely on what they’re best at. For The Observer, this is investigation and opinion. For Sky News, this is, and always has been, breaking news. We’ll see the breakdown of newspapers as an universal authority, instead visiting a variety of outlets for what tickles our fancy.

So where to go now? The Guardian is one newspaper who’ve broached the subject of paywalls more than most. Alan Rusbridger and Emily Bell (Director of Digital Content) are resounding in their opposition of paywalls, believing them to be against the core principles of what the paper stands for.

Guardian.co.uk receives 37 million users a month. If half of those could be persuaded to pay a paltry monthly subscription fee…well, the finance department at Guardian News & Media would look a lot more chirpy. Frequently hailed as a design success, The Guardian now need to convert this brilliant layout into a viable commercial model. Being one of the first nationals online brings merits in the form of knowing what works and what doesn’t, but where they go from here is anyone’s guess.

The NYT iPad application

The second big publication to address the issue is the New York Times. It’s better positioned than most to tackle the issue of charging for content, having access to an army of commentators, reporters and analysts. The system that’s to be implemented would allow readers to access a certain number of articles free per month, and then request payment for more.

This crucially allows other websites and blogs to link to the New York Times without being blocked out by a paywall, something that interests Paul Bradshaw:

“This makes a link to the New York Times valuable in itself. If you run a blog, you’re more likely to link to the New York Times. Even if the paywall scheme doesn’t actually make them any money directly, it could drive valuable traffic to the website”

The message seems to be Adapt or Die, both on a personal and organisational level. A bleak future (as chorused by every other media blog ad nauseum) certainly, but it’s good to see a few well known publications taking their first tentative steps in addressing a new business model.

Investigative Journalism Masterclass, City University

To City University’s famed journalism department, for a day of lectures about investigative journalism, held by two of it’s leading lights, Nick Davies and David Leigh.

Considering all information received was regarded confidential, I can’t delve into specifics as to what was covered. Research strategy, sourcing contacts and legal minefields were all covered in the scrupulous detail you’d expect from such driven journalists.

The line between journalist and detective seemed to blur. as writing copy became secondary to a feverish pursuit of stories.

The crowd were a mixed bunch, containing a blend of old hacks with a fair amount of students. It seems that what Davies and Leigh do is push what it means to be a journalist to the very boundaries. That is, take all the skills required to be a successful inquisitorial journalist, and maximise them tenfold in order to uncover skulduggery wherever they can.

While no recording was allowed during the sessions, I managed to get a quick interview with Nick Davies, asking his views on the future of journalism, how the law affects practicising journalists, and his views on books like End of the Party:



Both men hold events like this fairly regularly, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to any potential, current, or former journalists.