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September 30 2010

15:45

Ivory tower dispatch: Nothing is simple anymore

I’m going to try and share a little of what I do each week with the students and now that teaching has settled in a little bit after freshers it seemed a good time to start.

This week I wanted to get all the students thinking about some of the issues that contribute to the ‘changing media landscape’ that we have to function in as journalists.

Process in to content

For my second year, Digital Newsroom students I picked on process.

The lecture was really about how the process has changed because of digital. So I took a very basic view of the process – find, research and report – and looked at where in the process digital had made an impact. Here are the slides from my lecture (a bit cryptic without notes I know – come to the lectures!)

I started by saying that the reporting part was where the real medium specific stuff really made itself known (the mechanics of output for a particular platform). Given that we are platform agnostic, this was not where we wanted to be.  Maybe the first parts where more generic? More about broad journalism.

In truth, the process is no longer that discreet. In a multi-platform world we can’t simply focus on one ‘point of delivery’ when the point of delivery is changing all the time. By rights we are (and should be) generating content all the time; what Robin Hamman called turning process in to content. (I’ve written on that issue before.)

But in stumbling along to that conclusion we looked at how digital allows us to inject input from ‘communities’ in to the early parts of our process. We also started to explore the pros and cons of that involvement – legal, ethical and practical.

As a conclusion and starting point for more discussion later on, I picked out three ‘keywords’ that I wanted them to think about.

  • Community
  • Social media
  • Crowdsourcing

All of which, in some form, have contributed to the changing media landscape in which we practice, regardless of medium.

Where chips go, the nation follows.

I didn’t see the thirds year print students this week as they were putting together their first newspaper (1st. week back. No hanging around). But the time I spent with our post-graduate newspaper students looked at similar issues to the second years.

I started with a little debate. I split the group in to two. One side took the position “newspapers will die in five years”. With the other side getting “newspapers will survive the next five years”. As you can imagine interesting debates ensued. Including the position that newspapers weren’t even used to wrap chips in anymore(and the wonderful statement that headed this section), countered of course by ‘you can’t wrap your chips in an ipad’.

It was great to see that the range of debate broadly mirrored the industry concerns(or you may see it as a sad reflection of the echo chamber!) and that the students took a admirable middle ground. Passionate but realistic.

For them, the list of things to ponder was longer but similar:

  • Community
  • Multi-platform
  • Multimedia
  • Hyperlocal
  • Data Journalism

I also included Profile/engagement on the list but that became a broader discussion of brand and identity.  Something that began to touch on the deeper issues of professionalism and ethics.

Nothing is simple

If this week could be summed up in a nutshell it would be “nothing is simple anymore”. We don’t just simply write for newspapers ( or make TV/radio etc) – we have an eye on multiplatform.  It’s not as simple as just talking to the community anymore – we interact. Everything is made more complex by technology and the influx of digital. Some of it is in our control. Some of it isn’t.

What we can’t avoid is that some of that pressure lands on the journalist, right from the point they engage with a story,  regardless of where it ultimately ends up. It may not be your employer who brings that pressure to bear. It may be the audience…

PS. Just in case you thought that we do nothing practical they also started (or, in the case of the second years restarted) blogs (platform up to them) and google reader.  The postgrads got their beats and patches to play with and got to explore their hyperlocal/patch site.

Image from tim_ellis on Flickr

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September 14 2010

08:51

Digital Journalism: Ethics and ethos

Twitter through up an interesting link to NYU’s  Journalism Handbook for Students: Ethics, Law and Good Practice. I was particually taken with their Ethics pledge which all students are expected to sign or “The final grade for a student registered in a journalism course will not be submitted to the Registrar”.

It begins with:

As a New York University journalism student, you are part of a community of scholars at a university recognized for its research. A scholar’s mission is to push forward the boundaries of knowledge; a journalist’s mission is to serve the public by seeking out and reporting the facts as accurately as possible. Good journalists and scholars share a commitment to the same principle: integrity in their work.

By signing this ethics pledge, you agree to maintain the highest standards of honesty and foster ethical behavior at all times. Anyone who fails to uphold these ethical standards has committed a serious violation of this agreement. Penalties can range from an F on an assignment to a failing grade in a course to expulsion, depending on the decision of the instructor in consultation with the Institute’s Ethics Committee.

Serious stuff.  The idea that an ethics comittee within an institution would consider, and rule upon,  proffessional ethics outside of the purley academic is challenging but, I think, right. Behaviour like Plagiarism is cited as the kind of behaviour that breaks the pledge and could get you hauled up.

Now we take plagiarism serioulsy but it’s an academic issue, there are serious punishments, but academic none the less. The ethics comittee oversees research activity. We also hammer home the Society of Editors code of conduct etc.  But I’d love it to be more directly asssociated with the professional ethics of journalism – more proffession based.

Defining a digital journalist.

The pledge chimed with me as I’m updating my Digital newsroom class for this year. The class handbook includes a page that outlines the ‘module ethic’:

This module is not about defining a digital newsroom.

This module looks at the way digital and online practice affects newsrooms
and how that, in turn, changes and develops individual journalism practice.

We will explore this by :

  • Looking at the context in which digital and online practice has
    developed and how that has changed newsroom practice
  • Looking at the tools used and evaluating how they can be used to
    create content.

You will use one to inform the other in a way that suits your practice.
As you do this module there are two things to keep in mind.

  • We are platform agnostics: You can be a newspaper, radio,
    magazine, TV or online journalist and still be digital
  • We are consumers and providers: Think about what it takes to
    produce the content you use everyday.

But most of all, remember: You are a digital journalist!

Whatever their motivation for getting in to journalism, whichever media they see themselves working in, understanding how digital tools and practice can fit in to their practice is what being a digital journalist is all about. That last bit is a given whether they like it or not.

I can’t get students to sign-up to it and if they ignore it there is no ‘ethos panel’ but at least we start from a common ground.

Image credit: WCN247 on flickr

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