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October 09 2010

13:15

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.

February 01 2010

17:10

Skillwalls not paywalls

Fern Growing from Brick Wall
Image by pigpogm via Flickr

Tomorrow I’m off to Skillset to talk about their new standards framework for journalism. I’m looking forward to the chat around what skills journalists need and not just because I’m involved in delivering this stuff to our future journalists. What I’m equally interested in is what skills the industry think they need (the framework has been created in consultation with industry and accreditation bodies) as it says a lot about what they think a journalist actually is – what defines the job.

It’s been something on my mind since the newsrewired conference a few weeks ago when the vexed debate of identity reared its head. That debate is best paraphrased as “grumblings on why people can’t be called a journalist” and left at that.

But the skillset visit and a chat with Francois Nel about onions and data, pushed it to the front of my thinking again.

The best way I can sum-up where that thinking has got me is Skillwalls.

A skillwall is the best way I have found to balance the argument (in my head) of what sets journalists apart with the issue of what will people pay for.

In terms of the ‘definition’ debate a journalist would be defined by which skills your average punter/blogger/anyone-you-don’t-want-to-call-a-journo does not have or is unwilling to develop. The skillwall is too high or too much effort to climb.

Skillwalls help define the paywall debate for me in terms that are more tangiable. People will pay for stuff that they can’t do themselves. If you have the skills to do that ,they may pay you. Thinking about it as a skill issue works better for me than trying to assess a value proposition.

The web has become a place where people can do things – it enables. The successful sites are those that enable them to do things it would be hard to do otherwise. Things that would take new skills.

Skills Vs. experience or Skills and Experience

This is where it gets difficult for the industry and why I think recent discussions have been so interesting for me. Yes, the knowledge and experience is valuable but is it a skill? Is going to lots of council meetings a skill? Is knowing the PM’s press secretary a skill? Valuable, yes, but a skill? No. Being able to get that stuff online in an interesting way is.

Unless you can do one people won’t see the value of the other.

It’s easy to be dismissive of skills. They can be seen as functional, low level things. But skills enable. Get over the skillwall of data gathering on the web and you can add the value of your knowledge and experience.

Of course a skillwall is not an exclusive or all encompassing barrier. It’s a peculiar new obstacle/challenge that digital has thrown our way. But it’s also a powerful opportunity for journalists to exploit.

So where is your skillwall and what are you going to do to get over it?

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