Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

January 20 2011

08:00

A university without walls

This post forms part of the Carnival of Journalism, whose theme this month is universities’ roles in their local community.

In traditional journalism the concept of community is a broad one, typically used when the speaker really means ‘audience’, or ‘market’.

In a networked age, however, a community is an asset: it is a much more significant source of information than in other media; an active producer of content; and, perhaps most importantly, at the heart of any online distribution system.

You can see this at work in some of the most successful content startups of the internet era – Boing Boing, The Huffington Post, Slashdot – and even in mainstream outlets such as The Guardian, with, for example, its productive community around the Data Blog.

Any fledgling online journalism operation which is not based on a distinct community is, to my thinking, simply inefficient – and any journalism course that features an online element should be built on communities – should be linking in to the communities that surround it.

Teaching community-driven journalism

My own experience is that leaving the walls of academia behind and hosting classes wherever the community meets can make an enormous difference. In my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, for example, the very first week is not about newsgathering or blogging or anything to do with content: it’s about community, and identifying which one the students are going to serve.

To that end students spend their induction week attending the local Social Media Cafe, meeting local bloggers and understanding that particular community (one of whom this year suggested the idea that led to Birmingham Budget Cuts). We hold open classes in a city centre coffee shop so that people from Birmingham can drop in: when we talked about online journalism and the law, there were bloggers, former newspaper editors, and a photographer whose contributions turned the event into something unlike anything you’d see in a classroom.

And students are sent out to explore the community as part of learning about blogging, or encouraged to base themselves physically in the communities they serve. Andy Brightwell and Jon Hickman’s hyperlocal Grounds blog is a good example, run out of another city centre coffee shop in their patch.

In my online journalism classes at City University in London, meanwhile (which are sadly too big to fit in a coffee shop) I am currently asking students to put together a community strategy as one of their two assignments. The idea is to get them to think about how they can produce better journalism – that is also more widely read – by thinking explicitly about how to involve a community in its production.

Community isn’t a postcode

But I’ve also come to believe that we should be as flexible as possible about what we mean by community. The traditional approach has been to assign students to geographical patches – a relic of the commercial imperatives behind print production. Some courses are adapting this to smaller, hyperlocal, patches for their online assessment to keep up with contemporary developments. This is great – but I think it risks missing something else.

One moment that brought this home to me was when – in that very first week – I asked the students what they thought made a community. The response that stuck in my mind most was Alex Gamela‘s: “An enemy”. It illustrates how communities are created by so many things other than location (You could also add “a cause”, “a shared experience”, “a profession”, “a hobby” and others which are listed and explored in the Community part of the BASIC Principles of Online Journalism).

As journalism departments we are particularly weak in seeing community in those terms. One of the reasons Birmingham Budget Cuts is such a great example of community-driven journalism is that it addresses a community of various types: one of location, of profession, and of shared experience and – for the thousands facing redundancy – cause too. It is not your typical hyperlocal blog, but who would argue it does not have a strong proposition at its core?

There’s a further step, too, which requires particular boldness on the part of journalism schools, and innovativeness in assessment methods: we need to be prepared for students to create sites where they don’t create any journalism themselves at all. Instead, they facilitate its production, and host the platform that enables it to happen. In online journalism we might call this a community manager role – which will raise the inevitable questions of ‘Is It Journalism?’ But in traditional journalism, with the journalism being produced by reporters, a very similar role would simply be called being an editor.

PS: I spoke about this theme in Amsterdam last September as part of a presentation on ‘A Journalism Curriculum for the 21st Century’ at the PICNIC festival, organised by the European Journalism Centre. This is embedded below:

Slides can be found below:

July 05 2010

14:04

77,000 pageviews and multimedia archive journalism (MA Online Journalism multimedia projects pt4)

(Read part 1 here; part 2 here and part 3 here)

The ‘breadth portfolio’ was only worth 20% of the Multimedia Journalism module, and was largely intended to be exploratory, but Alex Gamela used it to produce work that most journalists would be proud of.

Firstly, he worked with maps and forms to cover the Madeira Island mudslides:

“When on the 20th of February a storm hit Madeira Island, causing mudslides and floods, the silence on most news websites, radios and TV stations was deafening. But on Twitter there were accounts from local people about what was going on, and, above all, they had videos. The event was being tagged as #tempmad, so it was easy to follow all the developments, but the information seemed to be too scattered to get a real picture of what was going on in the island, and since there was no one organizing the information available, I decided to create a map on Google[ii], to place videos, pictures and other relevant information.

“It got 10,000 views in the first hours and reached 30,000 in just two days. One month later, it has the impressive number of 77 thousand visits.”

Not bad, then.

Secondly, Alex experimented with data visualisation to look at newspaper brand values and the online traffic of Portuguese news websites.

“My goal was to understand the relative and proportional position of each one, regarding visits, page views, and how those two values relate to each other. The data I got also has portals, specialized websites, and entertainment magazines so it has a broad range of themes (all charts are available live here �" http://is.gd/aZLXs)”

And finally, he produced a beautiful Flash interactive on Moseley Road Baths (which he talks about here).

All of which was produced and submitted within the first six weeks of the Multimedia Journalism module.

The other 80%: multimedia archive journalism

Alex was particularly interested in archive journalism and using multimedia to bring archives to life. As a way of exploring this he produced the Paranoia Timeline, a website exploring “all the events that caused some type of social hysteria throughout the world in the last 20 years.

“Some of the situations presented here were real dangers, others not really. But all caused disturbances in our daily lives … Why does that happen? Why are we caught in these bursts of information, sometimes based on speculative data and other times borne out of the imagination of few and fed by the beliefs of many?”

The site – which is an ongoing project in its earliest stages – combines video, visualisation, a Dipity timeline, mapping and the results of some fascinating data and archive journalism. Alex explains:

“The swine flu data came from Wolfram-Alpha[vi] that generated a rather reliable (after cross checking with other official websites) amount of data, with the number of cases and deaths per country. I had to make an option about which would be highlighted, but discrepancies in the logical amount of cases between countries made me go just for the death numbers. The conclusion that I got from the map is that swine flu was either more serious or reported in the developed countries. Traditionally considered Third World countries do not have many reports, which reflect the lack of structures to deal with the problem or how overhyped it was in the Western world. But France on its own had almost 3 million cases reported against 57 thousand in the United States, which led me to verify closely other sources. It seems Wolfram Alpha had the number wrong, there were only about 5000 reports, which proves that outliers in data are either new stories or just input errors.

“For the credit crunch[vii], I researched the FDIC �" Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation[viii] database. They have a considerable amount of statistical data available for download. My idea was to chart the evolution of loans in the United States in the last years, and the main idea was that overall loans slowed down since 2009 but individual credits rose, meaning an increase in personal debt to cope with overall difficulties caused by the crunch.I selected the items that seemed more relevant and went for a simple line chart. My purpose was served.”

“Though the current result falls short of my initial goals,” says Alex, “it is a prototype for a more involving experience, and I consider it to be a work in construction. What I’ll be defending here is a concept with a few examples using interactive tools, but I realize this is just a small sample of what it can really be: an immersive, ongoing project, with more interactive features, providing a journalistic approach to issues highly debated and prone to partisanship, many of them used by religious and political groups to spin their own ideologies to the general audience. The purpose is to create context.”

Alex is currently back in Portugal as he completes the final MA by Production part of his Masters. You might want to hire him, or Caroline, Dan, Ruihua, Chiara, Natalie or Andy.

February 25 2010

11:24

Experiments in online journalism

Last month the first submissions by students on the MA in Online Journalism landed on my desk. I had set two assignments. The first was a standard portfolio of online journalism work as part of an ongoing, live news project. But the second was explicitly branded ‘Experimental Portfolio‘ – you can see the brief here. I wanted students to have a space to fail. I had no idea how brave they would be, or how successful. The results, thankfully, surpassed any expectations I had. They included:

There are a range of things that I found positive about the results. Firstly, the sheer variety – students seemed to either instinctively or explicitly choose areas distinct from each other. The resulting reservoir of knowledge and experience, then, has huge promise for moving into the second and final parts of the MA, providing a foundation to learn from each other.

Secondly, by traditional standards a couple of students did indeed ‘fail’ to produce a concrete product. But that was what the brief allowed – in fact, encouraged. They were not assessed on success, but research, reflection and creativity. The most interesting projects were those that did not produce anything other than an incredible amount of learning on the part of the student. In other words, it was about process rather than product, which seems appropriate given the nature of much online journalism.

Process, not product

One of the problems I sought to address with this brief was that students are often result-focused and – like journalists and news organisations themselves – minimise risk in order to maximise efficiency. So the brief took away those incentives and introduced new ones that rewarded risk-taking because, ultimately, MA-level study is as much about testing new ideas as it is about mastering a set of skills and area of knowledge. In addition, the whole portfolio was only worth 20% of their final mark, so the stakes were low.

Some things can be improved. There were 3 areas of assessment – the third, creativity, was sometimes difficult to assess in the absence of any product. There is the creativity of the idea, and how the student tackles setbacks and challenges, but that could be stated more explicitly perhaps.

Secondly, the ‘evaluation’ format would be better replaced by an iterative, blog-as-you-go format which would allow students to tap into existing communities of knowledge, and act as a platform for ongoing feedback. The loop of research-experiment-reflect-research could be integrated into the blog format – perhaps a Tumblelog might be particularly useful here? Or a vlog? Or both?

As always, I’m talking about this in public to invite your own ideas and feedback on whether these ideas are useful, and where they might go next. I’ll be inviting the students to contribute their own thoughts too.

February 01 2010

08:40

Come to the West Midlands Future of News Group February Meetup

The Future of News gathering first organised by Adam Westbrook has its first West Midlands meetup next week (organised by The Lichfield Blog’s Philip John. I’ll be there, along with leading Portuguese blogger Alex Gamela, Brummie alpha blogger Jon Bounds, Andy Brightwell of Hashbrum and Grounds Birmingham; the UK’s top student blogger Nigel Barlow and Pits n Pots‘ Mike Rawlins, among others.

It’s taking place from 6.45pm on Monday February 8 at Birmingham City University. Places are free but limited – book at http://www.meetup.com/The-West-Midlands-Future-of-News-Group/calendar/12461072/

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl