Posted by: Ciaran | June 14, 2010

Who can be a journalist?

I’ve just read this post on the “value of journalism by Martin Cloake, which forms the first in what should be an interesting week of debate with the Freelance Unbound blog on the topic.

Martin writes: “Journalism never was a profession, despite many journalists pretending it was. Anyone could call themselves a journalist, and that hasn’t changed.

“What has changed is that more people who call themselves journalists have access to the means of publication. Which is probably why the debate has got increasingly heated.”

I’m not sure it is quite as clean cut as that. I’m not being elitist about journalism because to an extent we all do it in some form in our day-to-day lives: simply by phoning a friend and telling them what happened when you went out the night before is a form of reporting, of storytelling.

But it’s not journalism, per se. For me, people who want to call themselves journalists have to have the core skillset – the legal knowledge, an understanding of public affairs, a close appreciation of anything they specialise in – coupled with the ability to write eloquently.

That’s what differentiates the experts that are interviewed for a story rather than writing it themselves – they might know everything there is to know about their area of expertise, but if they can’t put it in to a readable 350-word story for their audience then they can’t be called journalists, even if they want to sit and write about the topic.

Maybe anyone can call themselves a journalist – but that doesn’t mean everyone can ‘do’ journalism.

Posted by: Ciaran | June 11, 2010

Giving people what they want

With all the buzz-word talk about user-generated content, it can be easy to forget that content also has to be targeted at consumers to ensure they are still getting what they want.

This interview with Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC’s Global News operation, provides a great insight in to the way the corporation are keeping in touch with the very disparate demands of their audiences around the world.

He talks about the BBC’s experiments in using social media to keep in touch with their worldwide audiences, including a project which saw villagers from Gitata in northern Nigeria given mobile phones to enable them to get in touch about stories that mattered to them.

Horrocks says: “You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach and say ‘these are the stories and the technologies that we’re going to use the world over’.

“The beauty of it is to take a global approach and then to develop it in an appropriate way editorially or technologically for the particular markets.

“We do have to have strong local content and we have to make the global stories relevant and do it in an appropriate way for the market.”

Obviously this kind of approach is more relevant in a global operation like the BBC, but it’s a good reminder that giving the audience what they want is just as important as letting them play a part in producing it, or crowd-sourcing them for information about a story.

Posted by: Ciaran | June 10, 2010

World Cup fever

With just a day to go until the World Cup kicks off in South Africa, the media frenzy is building.

All week my Twitter stream has been filled with journalists – especially those from the BBC – letting people know they are on their way.

There has been more and more England news sneaking on to the 24-hour news, with “Let’s head to South Africa…” set to become the most irritating phrase of the summer for TV anchors.

And the social media interest is building too – ‘World Cup fever’ is currently trending on Twitter.

World Cup blogs, like this one by my Cardiff colleague Joe Curtis, are in vogue.

In spite of myself, I’m getting rather excited now. I love football and can’t wait to watch as many games as possible, but I’m fundamentally pessimistic about England’s chances.

But, as The Sun‘s advert said: maybe, just maybe…

Posted by: Ciaran | June 6, 2010

A cause for optimism?

I’ve just read this excellent blog post by Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, about the future of news.

It paints a semi-optimistic picture of news journalism going forward, with Moore concluding the future is: “Not so bleak, but not so rosy either.”

But he warns those who are foretelling a ‘golden era’ of journalism in the years to come that their predictions have the “hollow twang of hope over reason.”

Moore’s analysis of the prospective business models which media companies are looking at is sober and succinct, and I’m glad to see that Roman Gallo’s fascinating project in the Czech Republic was mentioned.

I was lucky enough to spend some time chatting to leading digital journalist Kevin Anderson about Gallo’s hyperlocal project – which has seen community journalists working in coffee shops owned by the group, with the income from the café covering the overheads and the reporters basing themselves in among the customers – shortly after he’d been out to visit some of the cafés.

It’s a brilliant idea, and such forward-thinking, entrepreneurial journalism is why I hope think we can afford to be positive about the future.

Posted by: Ciaran | June 5, 2010

Getting in the mixer

A very brief post after a hectic day out covering ‘Super Saturday’ in Cardiff for my soon-to-be employers, Media Wales.

After following Unite Against Fascism‘s march from Cardiff Bay up to the City Hall, attention then turned to a protest by the English and Welsh Defence Leagues on the other side of the building.

In the midst of the action, five couples were booked in to be married in the City Hall.

Everything was very peaceful until the second coach-load of EDL/WDL supporters arrived, at which point a large number of people – claiming to be affiliated to UAF, though many had not taken part in the organised march earlier in the day – tried to attack the bus.

It was my first journalistic experience of being involved in a chaotic, unstable situation, with police being forced to push and shove demonstrators (not to mention the media) to regain control and restore order.

And then – as I managed to fight my way back through the police lines, waving press accreditation and notepad furiously – I was in the thick of things again when missiles rained in as I filmed the EDL members getting off the bus.

It was a changeable and at times slightly volatile situation, and I enjoyed the challenge of reporting on it.

Today also showed me a lot about the demands of multimedia journalism, as my jobs ranged from normal reporting to doing video vox pops and interviews to taking pictures and keeping the film rolling when things got out of hand.

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s Wales on Sunday, as well as plenty of multimedia coverage via WalesOnline, yourCardiff and Guardian Cardiff.

This article in Haaretz got me thinking about whether user-generated content (UGC) is more of an issue for print and online journalists, as opposed to broadcasters.

Does Pierre Asselin’s argument that to truly be a journalist you must first spend time in a newsroom really matter any more?

I don’t think so. There are certain things which might make someone’s work more legitimate – and obviously accreditation and experience in a professional environment is going to help that.

But with the unlimited space of the internet, everyone can be a publisher.

And as more and more people start blogging and creating hyperlocal news sites, it becomes harder and harder to regulate.

Asselin contends that the issue isn’t the same for broadcasters, but I think he’s wrong.

With the right hardware and software – but often something as simple as an iPhone and a few apps – people can make their own radio shows and set them up as podcasts, or post their own videos on to YouTube.

Yes, maybe we’re a while away from people turning to their YouTube subscriptions instead of switching on the news, but we’re also still far from a situation where people choose to get all of the news and views from websites which are not affiliated to professional outlets.

Posted by: Ciaran | May 30, 2010

Is good journalism multi-platform?

This article in the New York Times by Clark Hoyt explores the ethics of a blog post by NYT reporter Corey Kilgannon which described a locked, private room in the home of recently-departed jazz legend Hank Jones.

Kilgannon’s post was criticised for being intrusive – he entered the room with Jones’s landlord, Manny Ramirez, and described what he found without seeking the consent of the late musician’s family.

Wendell Jamieson, the NYT’s deputy metropolitan online editor with responsibility for Kilgannon’s article, justified it by saying invasion of privacy is inherent within all forms of journalism.

He said: “A lot of journalism is invasion of privacy. What can I say? If you want to tell a story, you sometimes have to pry if you want to provide the whole 360-degree sense of a person.

“When you do it to someone who is beloved and well-known and perceived in a certain way, obviously people are very sensitive to that.”

I can’t really disagree with that. But the problem is that, in my limited experience at least, many people seem to view some of even the most basic journalistic questions – name, age, occupation, and address – as a gross intrusion in to their life.

The problem seems to be that people want to know the truth, but on their terms. They want public figures held to account, but only when it is in (what they perceive to be) the national interest.

They want problems sorted, but often don’t want to get involved in complaining about the problem in the first place.

Which is why the sort of sleight of hand Kilgannon has arguably used comes in to play.

Hoyt explains the dilemma – and his view on why Kilgannon got it wrong – when he states: “It’s one of the awkward truths about journalism: finding out what readers want to know is often not pretty and involves rude questions and a bulldog determination to get around things like closed doors and yellow police tape.

“But good journalism also involves judgment about when to charge ahead and when to be restrained. Hank Jones’s room wasn’t a crime scene, and Kilgannon was not there on a breaking news story. Somewhere along the line, someone should have asked if the next of kin had been contacted for permission.”

And he blames the medium of the blog for the way the matter was handled. He writes: “I can’t help wondering whether a portrait of Jones in his later years would have been more deeply reported and carefully edited had it been conceived from the start as an article in the paper instead of a post on a blog.

“It’s an important question. The reputation of The Times rides on both forms of journalism.”

There is, perhaps, one crucial flaw here. Should we still be talking about two – by virtue of the notion, separate – “forms” of journalism?

The standard of ethics expected when writing for online should not be set any lower (or higher) than the test of good journalism people want when they pick up a printed product.

And it’s not just the reputation of the New York Times resting on that – it’s the reputation of journalism itself.

Posted by: Ciaran | May 29, 2010

Did he jump or was he pushed?

Less than 24 hours after the Daily Telegraph‘s revelations about his expenses – and his sexualityDavid Laws has resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

His resignation speech, in which he said he had put his ambitions to serve the public ahead of his loved ones, was a dignified and sad statement.

The responses of David Cameron and Nick Clegg have expressed hope he could swiftly return to the Government.

But the reaction online has been much more mixed, with a contentious day of debate on Twitter (#davidlaws) seeing just about every shade of opinion represented.

Fewer people than I expected, though, have blamed the media for his resignation – though Tim Montgomerie’s immediate reaction to Mr Laws’ statement predicted the knives would now be sharpened for the Government.

“The sharks on Fleet Street will now be encircling The Coalition,” he wrote.

“Having tasted blood so quickly they’ll want more.”

That’s a fairly bold claim, and one which will not necessarily be borne out so simply.

David Laws has made privacy the central issue in his departure from the Cabinet, but acknowledged his own lack of judgement in paying expenses to his long-term partner.

This was no media witch-hunt, and perhaps Mr Laws’ resignation prevented it from becoming one.

He has not, as James Forsyth wrote moments after the announcement was made, been “driven out of public life.”

He has instead – bravely, and with great nobility – stepped out of public life (hopefully temporarily) in order to try and protect his personal relationships.

And while that is in itself regrettable, it would be even more regrettable if this was turned in to a stick with which to beat the press.

By publishing the story about his expenses, the Daily Telegraph were effectively committed to outing him, irrespective of their claims that they did not wish to reveal his sexuality.

But the public interest test was surely satisfied by a possible breach of Parliamentary standards by someone so senior within the Coalition, and therefore the decision to publish had strong foundations.

Whether or not David Laws was right to resign is a different matter entirely – but it was a matter for him, and not the media to decide.

Posted by: Ciaran | May 28, 2010

A panel for debate

Not for the first time, BBC Question Time was more about the personalities than the politics last night.

I thought we had probably seen the last of any major controversy over panellists after Nick Griffin’s appearance on the show last October.

Apparently not.

Yesterday’s show was always going to be a spicy affair with Alastair Campbell and Piers Morgan billed long in advance to be appearing.

But the extraordinary decision of the new Government to refuse to send a minister from either party due to Mr Campbell’s position on the panel seemed to be a very dogmatic approach to take.

Granted, he may be unelected, but there is no debate in the fact he has been one of the most influential figures in the Labour Party for the last 13 years.

And while Mr Campbell is one of the few people who is going to excite sympathy, he never shies away from facing the criticism – and, often, abuse – which he is subjected to in these types of arena.

He was asked a question by a member of the audience about a ludicrous and, at best, distasteful hypothetical scenario where one of his children had been killed in Iraq and roundly criticised by the other panellists, being called “duplicitous” and accused of lying about the war by Max Hastings.

So when he uses words like ‘bullying’ people are probably more inclined to scoff than sympathise – but he retains my respect for having had the front to turn up and be prepared to face his critics, whoever they were.

Posted by: Ciaran | May 27, 2010

Coming back in to focus

Exactly a fortnight ago I wrote this post about how easily even the most monumental of stories are able to slide off the news agenda, using the Haiti earthquake as an example.

And then today, Press Gazette reports ITV will next week screen the first of a series of special films shot by children who live in Leogane, the earthquake’s epicentre.

I think this is brilliant, on so many levels.

The children have had the chance to plan, record, produce and direct all of their own footage about life in Haiti since the earthquake in January after being trained by an ITV cameraman.

Not only have they had the opportunity to do something (hopefully) cathartic, but they have been taught great new skills which they may be able to put to good use in the future.

And it shows that the media hasn’t forgotten, either.

After my blog two weeks ago, Adam Tinworth responded by saying the market was geared towards news – rather than reporting – which was why stories could fade away so easily.

He’s absolutely right and, as his blog post says, the extended pieces of reporting are where the lines between newspaper reporting and magazine journalism seem to meet.

But outside the sphere of that debate is the reporting which broadcasters can do – and these human interest, news follow-up stories can often be very powerful.

Telescoped through the eyes of a young survivor rather than a journalist, I expect it to be even more so.

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