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October 14 2010

16:05

Hacks and Hackers hack day Manchester

Any sufficiently complicated regular expression is indistinguishable from magic

A bit of a nod to Arthur C.Clarke there but something that hits home every time I do any hacking around under the bonnet of the interwebs.

When it comes to this data journalism malarky some might say (to steal another movie quote) a mans got to know his limitations. But I firmly believe a good journalist, when stuck, knows who to ask. I’m very excited that more and more journos are realising that there are no end of tools and motivated people who can be part of the storytelling process.

So I was delighted to be asked to be one of the judges for ScraperWiki’s hacks and hackers hack day in Manchester tomorrow and see that in action.

The event just one of a number of similar days around the UK.  The successes in Birmingham and Liverpool amongst others, mean that tomorrow should be fun.

If your going, see you there (later on). If not I’ll tweet etc. as I can.

September 16 2010

08:56

Does journalism need a fail whale?

I thought about the title of this post as I was reading around about the recent update to twitter has caused a flurry of posts outlining what it will mean for journalists.

Over at the Nieman Lab Megan Garber ponders what the new twitter might mean for networked journalism. They make a good point about how this might be effected by “Twitterers, end-user innovation-style”.

But she ultimately concludes that:

The Twitter.com of today, as compared to the Twitter.com of yesterday, is much more about information that’s meaningful and contextual and impactful. Which is to say, it’s much more about journalism.

You could take a view that she means twitter has now become more useful to journalism. But I have to ask how much journalism is ready to take advantage of what it has to offer.

In amongst the early comment I particularly liked Laura Olivers pondering on what the new features could offer:

I can also see clever journalists using the embedded feature to tease stories with video snippets and by giving their Twitter audience more content encourage those followers to visit a news site and engage there too

I love that idea. But how many newsrooms are ready to take advantage of it.

It’s easy to dismiss putting time in to getting your multimedia on twitter as a waste of time. Like the ipad, it’s easy to dismiss things like twitters new features as gadgets and technology that get in the way of proper journalism.

But experimenting with getting a video on to twitter is not about video on twitter. That’s the easy (now easier bit). It’s about exploring if you have the capacity to do video at all. Just like exploring delivery of content to the ipad is a way to experiment with html5. Hell, if nothing else it’s a convenient excuse to try.

If you don’t take the opportunity to experiment then you will find that you have less of a capacity to do produce the content your audience will want and no ability to chase them as they migrate to platforms that do.

When they come to you, you may as well have the newsroom fail whale up: “Sorry we are over capacity”

Real capacity

Maybe we should be more honest about what we can and can’t do. Be more bullish about what we do well. Perhaps we should get over wanting to chase them everywhere (or corral them in one place behind a paywall).

Or maybe we should take advantage of the free, open and engaged platforms to see just what capacity we really have.

July 23 2010

10:53

#cnnfrontline Mobile and journalism: Part one- some clarification

Big cameras at the Frontline

Big cameras at the Frontline

Last night I found myself at the infamous (and very pleasant) Frontline club to sit on a panel talking about Mobile technology in newsgathering and journalism (Disclosure: It was an invite from CNN and Edleman who bought me tea and put me up in a hotel, which was very nice of them).
The event was a chance for CNNi to launch their new iphone app and, if the chat on twitter was anything to go by, the audience to be a bit frustrated.
One commentator noted the white, male flavour of the panel. I agree and I’ll not go next time. But for many the problem was we didn’t really get round to what a lot of people wanted to know – what are the business models for mobile?
@thevideoreport report tweeted that it was all “a bit 2002” and @adamwestbrook noted that, lovely though the panel was, nothing new was learned.
I understand the frustration. The conversation ranged round some of the usual subjects – citizen journalism vs. journalism, big cameras vs. little cameras (a subject I’ve blogged in repeatedly) – and it seemed only vaguely touched on mobile itself.
I suppose I should apologise for that, I was on the panel when all is said and done. But I just wanted to clarify some points and maybe develop the conversation a little more in to the areas people felt we missed. As I was drafting this post it started to get a little long so I’m going to do it in a couple of parts.  So,to start, some clarification.
One point I wanted to pick up was the brief kick around of the ‘attitude’ of students to news and opinion. I was quoted as saying that “journalism students come in thinking everything they think is news” It’s not quite what I said but the point is worth amplifying.
Students do come in with very strong opinions and ideas. Opinions about what journalism is, what they will be as journalists, right and wrong etc. As they should and, as I always say, that’s brilliant – not that they need my permission or approval. I love opinionated people and I love the passion that brings. But the reality is that for most jobbing journalists expressing their opinion is a luxury. It isn’t what journalism is about. It’s my job to help them understand that framework perhaps to frame expectations. But it doesn’t mean I don’t thing they should have opinions or that they are wrong (or that journalism is wrong or right for that matter). It’s just there is a time, place and form.
What takes time is building a professional identity that separates that opinion and journalism in a visible and transparent way. I suppose the web blurs that slightly as we still labour under the distinctions of journalists and bloggers for example. But the truth is journalism works a certain way and if you want to be ‘in journalism’ its worth learning how to bend to that when required.
The issue of citizen journalists also came up. I said that I kind of liked the term because it described what the person was and what they did. They were a citizen, concerned and motivated by what was happening around them and they wanted to tell the world about that. The discussion prompted a question from the floor asking why, if it was so good,  it hadn’t taken over from traditional news sources?
For me that isn’t it’s job. It’s there to amplyfy the concerens and interests of a collection of people; hyperlocal, niche, whatever. In that sense it doesn’t aim to replace the mainstream media, just live in the gaps. And, I might add, there is a nice opportunity for a business model there. Not, as I have said before, for the big guys. But big enough to support the  community it amplifies.
That’s a challenge for mainstream media. Not the threat itself but the fact that it’s happening because of them as they seemingly ignore or having only a passing interest in those communities.
I’m going to stop there because I’ve blogged on all of these areas at length before.
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