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March 31 2011


The value of theory in driving innovation in journalism

Innovation has become something of a buzz word in journalism. Usually the focus on innovation is on developing new products or services.

While it is important to figure out how to create and provide journalism in new ways, the real key to innovation lies in the way we think of journalism.

The challenge here isn’t a lack of new ‘innovative’ products; it is adopting what is often called a digital mindset.

This is the key to driving innovation, the focus of the latest round of the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Carnival of Journalism project.

Innovation is about understanding how networked, digital technologies and the new practices and social arrangements enabled by these have, and continue, to change the media environment.

Making this conceptual leap can be hard in journalism. Study after study has found that the way journalists think has been moulded by the norms and practice of a professional that, up until recently, has been largely unchanged.

A key part of any journalism fellowship designed to enable journalists to thrive should be provided a theoretical understanding of how the foundations of media are shifting.

Some journalists may shrug their shoulders at the idea of media studies, but it is critical that they develop an appreciation of the world of media today at a theoretical level.

It is not just about doing journalism in more “technologised” ways.

Rather it is about understanding the shift from publishing to participation, from broadcast to dialogue, from individual to collective intelligence, from sole to collaborative authorship.

At the core of this shift in mindset is approaching journalism as a practice to be shared, rather than a profession to be defended.

March 30 2011


Canadians don’t want to pay for the news online

In the week the New York Times introduced digital subscriptions, a Canadian study shows that consumers just don’t want to pay for the news.

An online survey of 1,682 adults, conducted by the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC )and Vision Critical, showed that Canadians are overwhelmingly opposed to fees for content.

It found that 92% of Canadians who get news online say they would find another free site if their favourite news site started charging for content.

The findings suggest that news as an online commodity has little monetary value in the eyes of the consumer. What is less clear is whether people would pay for the service and convenience of having the news packaged in emerging delivery mechanisms, such as an iPhone/iPad app.

Among the other key findings:

  • 81% say they definitely will not pay to continue reading their favourite online news site.
  • Up to 30% indicate they would definitely or probably pay, if there were no other choice.
  • Charges are most acceptable for breaking news (28%) or hard news (22%). 19% indicate they would pay for international news and 16% would purchase feature and analytical news.

Perhaps not surprising, most news consumers (82%) were happy to accept advertising alongside content, if it meant the news was free

Canadians, though, are more willing to pay for music, games, movies, e- books and even ringtones online than they are to pay for news.  But it is only a minority: 26% cent already pay for music; 19% pay for games; 9% for movies; 8% for e-books and 12% for ringtones.

I am part of the research team behind the study, which is the first in a series of reports that looks into the changing news consumption habits of Canadians.

The full report is available as a PDF download.



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March 25 2011


Storify for social media story-telling

In class this week, we looked at collaborative story-telling through social media, using the Storify platform to look at different aspects of the situation in Libya.

Storify that makes it easy to add content from TwitterFacebook, Flickr and other social media sites to a story with a simple “drop and drag” function.

The platform highlights what I have called ambient journalism. In a couple of papers published last year, I argued that:

Journalism, which was once difficult and expensive to produce, today surrounds us like the air we breathe. Much of it is, literally, ambient, and being produced by professionals and citizens. The challenge going forward is helping the public negotiate and regulate this flow of awareness information, facilitating the collection, transmission and understanding of news.

Storify is one tool that helps us filter the constant flow of acts of journalism taking place all around us.

At a time when we are swimming in an ocean of news and information being reported, distributed and shared, it also emphasizes the need for professionals such as journalists who can help navigate all this data.

It puts the journalist in the role of curator, selecting the best fragments of news to create a coherent story experience, adding context and analysis.

Storify, in private beta for now, has its limitations. In using it in class, we found that collaborating on a story is possible but clunky.

My students also found it seemed to worked best with breaking news, as it is difficult to search for tweets from more than a day ago. A search by date function would be useful in helping to pull together a timeline of an event.

And thanks to the CEO and co-founder of Storify, former AP foreign correspondent Burt Herman, who Skyped in to the class to talk about the ideas behind the platform.

March 14 2011


Twitter’s different news agenda from mainstream media and blogs

The different news agendas of the US mainstream media, blogs and Twitter are one of revelations of the annual State of the Media report for 2011 from Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The report found that the news agenda of blogs closely followed the mainstream media, with both agreeing on nine of the top 10 stories of the year, including the economy, the midterm elections, the health care debate and the war in Afghanistan.

But a different picture emerged when it looked at the links to news-related subjects in the media and blogs compared to on Twitter.

The news links shared on Twitter were fundamentally different, with none of the top five mainstream or blog topics subjects making the list of five top stories on Twitter.

Instead, the top four stories shared on Twitter were about technology giants –  Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook.

The news agenda on Twitter was also more global. Four of the top 10 subjects had an international focus, including the war in Afghanistan, the Haiti earthquake, the European economy, the elections in the UK and WikiLeaks.

The report suggests:

The dominance of technology topics on Twitter also suggests that the platform has a different function than the mainstream press or even blogs. At least for now, users employ Twitter in part as a consumer affairs forum, to publicize, share and critique new gadgets and advances.

It also remarked that while some blogs may be the equivalent of an online version of a cable or radio talk show, this was rarely seen on Twitter.

Pew acknowledges that Twitter and other social media technologies are still very young, so “all this may evolve in the years ahead”, especially given the trend towards the use of social media to share and receive the news.

March 04 2011


March 03 2011


Video: Gaddafi’s vision of Libyan society

It can be hard to understand Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s seemingly delusional rantings. But this is a leader who has sought to turn Libya into a “jamahiriya” – his vision of a state of the masses.

During my time covering the North Africa for the BBC in the early 1990s, I visited Libya a couple of times. One of my TV reports from the time sought to explore how Gaddafi was trying to shape Libyan society.

Though it is from December 1994, I am sharing the video as think it helps us understand what life was like under the Libyan ruler.

February 16 2011


Visualization of the Egyptian uprising on Twitter

A colleague at UBC pointed out this striking visualization of the network of retweets at the time of Mubarak’s resignation on February 11.

Computer scientist André Panisson collected an hour’s worth of retweets with the hashtag #jan25.

According to Panisson:

It was very interesting to see, in real time, the exact moment when Tahrir Square, from a mass protest demonstration, has been transformed in a giant party, and the burst in the Twitter’s activity. It was like covering in real time a virtual event, a big event that was happening in the Twitter virtual world.

The visualization illustrates how fast the information of Mubarak’s resignation spread via Twitter.

February 10 2011


Word cloud of Hosni Mubarak’s speech

This word cloud of President Hosni Mubarak’s speech on February 10 offers insights into its message.

The nationalistic tone of his address is reflected in the prominence of the word, Egypt.

Other key words are youth, constitutional, amendments and commitment. Not much talk, then, of freedom and democracy.

Made with IBM’s ManyEyes


Advice from Canada’s promising young journalists

Figuring out how and whether you want to get into journalism can be a challenge for students as they embark on their college education.

We had several questions around this topic in the first-year undergraduate course at UBC in new media and journalism that I teach with my colleague Candis Callison.

In particular, students wanted to know about promising, emerging journalists in Canada who they could look to as role models.

Our TA, UBC j-student Fabiola Carletti, took it upon herself to get in touch with a bunch of new journalists and publish their advice online.

The site is a treasure trove of gems, from take every opportunity to being relentless to living an interesting life.

Please take a look at So, you want to be a journalist?, recommend it to students or let us know who we should add.

February 03 2011


Infographic on Twitter and the Egyptian protests

Hootsuite has produced an informative infographic on the role of Twitter in the unrest in Egypt.

It shows a spike in messages and Twitter users in Egypt that came with the start of the protests.

(Via Clases De Periodismo)

January 20 2011


January 13 2011


BBC online cuts offer few savings

The BBC is back in the news with more talks of cuts and savings.

The Guardian reports that BBC director general is looking for additional cost savings of 20% – about £400m – over the next six years.

One of the ways Thompson plans to cut costs is by reducing the amount spent on online services by 25%.

This might sound like a drastic saving. But it masks the fact that online is the poor relation when it comes to BBC finances.

According to the BBC Annual Report for 2009/2010 (PDF), the corporation spent £199.3 million on online.

A cut of 25% would free up just under £50m. Given the BBC’s total budget of £3.5 billion, the BBC would be shaving just 1.4% off its budget.

By comparison, television accounts for £2.3 billion, while radio takes up £603 million.

Just a 2% cut in spending on TV services would save approximately the same amount as a 25% cut in online.

TV and radio are far more well established than online, so it is much harder to take on and change deep-rooted practices.

January 07 2011


New Channel 4 show pokes fun at the news

The UK TV network, Channel 4, has a comedy show starting on January 20 that takes a satirical look at the news.

10 O’Clock Live is described as “an intelligent, informative and – more importantly – funny take on the world of current affairs with a mix of debates, interviews, topical comedy, investigations and opinion pieces.”

The line-up of hosts is impressive: Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell.

The trailer is a delight, especially if you’ve worked in TV news.

January 03 2011


Most popular posts in 2010

As a new year of blogging starts, here’s a look back at what was read over 2010.

The top five posts were:

  1. What a word cloud says about this blog
  2. Principles of journalism as a word cloud
  3. Alan Rusbridger on why Twitter matters for journalists
  4. How print dominates the design of newspaper websites
  5. How to find out anything about anyone online

The bulk of referrals came from Twitter, followed by Google Reader, Facebook, Hootsuiteciberjornalismo.com and blogs.journalism.co.uk.

Thanks to everyone who made time to visit and who retweeted a link to the site.

December 29 2010


Trend for 2011: Collaborative story-telling on social media

For the January edition of UBC Reports, entitled The Next Big Thing, I was one of the UBC researchers asked to look ahead to trends for the coming years.

My contribution considers the potential of collaborative story-telling via social media tools such as Twitter, where we tell stories together, one tweet at a time.

Journalism surrounds us. Much of it is, literally, ambient, and being produced by professionals and citizens alike. Citizens – the former audience – are committing acts of journalism as they share experiences, photos, videos and links on social media services like Facebook and Twitter.

The major challenge facing ambient journalism is that so much of it. But fears of information overload are no new. In fact, similar concerns emerged as thousands of books were published thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press.

We are at a similar stage with social media. Traditionally the journalist has been the mechanism to filter, organize and interpret information and deliver the news in ready-made packages. But the thousands of acts of journalism on social media make it impossible for an individual to identify the collective sum of knowledge contained in the micro-fragments. Instead, researchers are working to develop media systems that can process, analyze and contextualize the data.

In 2011, we can expect a range of new tools and services vying to be the best in negotiating and deriving meaning from these streams of connected data.

Read the full piece at UBC Reports.

December 10 2010


24 hours in the life of social media

Fascinating video by media agenda DBA Worldwide, collating stats to illustrate a day in the life of social media.

(via BBC College of Journalism)

December 06 2010


Mediashift post on UBC j-school partnership with Globe and Mail

My latest piece for PBS Mediashift looks at how the latest UBC j-school investigation into shrimp came together.

The project was the work of the International Reporting class led by my friend and colleague, Peter Klein.

10 students travelled to Thailand to uncover the economic, social and environmental cost of North America’s appetite for all you can eat platters of cheap shrimp.

The investigation published in partnership with with the Globe and Mail. We also produced a micro-site, which I was involved in supervising, that highlights different aspects of the story. As Peter explains in the Mediashift article:

This project was really well suited for a multimedia piece. There are several distinct themes we addressed, and in a linear TV piece we would have had to do awkward transitions between these themes. In this project, we were able to separate out the themes and address them as individual video clips.

The project is an example of a growing trend of partnerships between major news organizations and universities. It highlights the role of journalism schools as homes for investigative reporting projects.

These kinds of partnerships are evolving as news outlets, foundations and journalism schools pool their resources, particularly at a time when established media are devoting fewer resources to investigative reporting.

To get a taste of the project, here is the video on the health costs:

December 03 2010


A response to The Australian editorial on Twitter

So far I’ve been following the whole #twitdef saga from a distance. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that issue, this editorial by The Australian betrays a complete misunderstanding of Twitter.

It has a provocative headline, “Truth is Twitter’s First Casualty”, and goes on to rally against the social media service.

The Australian appears not to appreciate that Twitter is a platform. It is a way to publish and distribute content, just like printed newspapers, radio or TV.  The platform does not determine the content, people do.

I wonder if The Australian would run a headline like “Truth is Radio’s First Casualty”, or realise the absurdity of such a statement before publication.

The paper goes on to say:

The hothouse environment of Twitter has become a breeding ground for falsehoods that quickly become received wisdom with repeated telling. Twitter’s broken promise was that it would widen debate by connecting citizens on this vast continent in all their glorious diversity.

This is a sweeping generalisation.  Any media platform can become a breeding ground for falsehood, even ones we would describe as the mainstream media. Anyone remember how the mainstream media reported WMDs?

Twitter isn’t filtered in the way that journalists filter traditional news content. There is a greater emphasis on the individual to be media-literate, which means the people on the network are their own filters.

This creates the potential for a much broader debate than is possible on mainstream media controlled by a handful of editors.

It is far more messy, disorganised, and, at times, may be wrong too. But that is the one of the strengths of Twitter – it is open.

The tone of the piece is captured in this line:

If new media aspires to compete with traditional broadcasters and publishers, it must abide by the same civil codes.

In other words, follow our rules, do things our way, we know best.

I am not arguing that there is not a role for mainstream media. Rather, pointing out the futility of turning this into a them and us fight.

The Australian could do well to read Alan Rusbridger’s recent talk about Twitter and the idea of a mutualised future for journalism.

November 22 2010


University of Toronto’s Munk school plans journalism masters

Canada looks set to develop its journalism education offerings, with the University of Toronto planning to expand on its journalism undergraduate program by launching a Masters course.

The program will be based at the U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs, headed by Rob Steiner, the former Assistant Vice President of the University in charge of strategic communications.

In an e-mail, Steiner said the program would be “an entirely new form of journalism education that will recruit students from around the world who are subject-matter experts and teach them, in two years, to become outstanding global journalists (and/or media entrepreneurs) covering their own specialties in the global niche media.”

It is good to see that others are following in the footsteps of the pioneering work in journalism education at my graduate school at the University of British Columbia.

Having Toronto follow our model is a validation of our efforts to reinvent journalism education and make it relevant to today’s media environment.

For several years now, we have been offering a two-year Masters program based on students developing an expertise in a specialist area, preparing them to be multimedia global journalists.

Our students are drawn from across the world, with a variety of backgrounds and specialities, and go on to work from The Globe and Mail to CNN to the BBC.

Our latest project, Cheap Shrimp, Hidden Costs, reflects the global and multimedia approach of the school.

The web project is the culmination of a year-long investigation into the Thai shrimp industry undertaken by 10 students in our International Reporting course.

Steiner aims to launch the Masters program by September 2012.

November 18 2010


CBC updates social media guidelines

The revised CBC guidelines on social media are to be welcomed. They are based on the principles CBC applies to other forms of media, rather than a detailed list of do’s and don’ts.

The guidelines acknowledge the importance of social media tools “for gathering information, as well as disseminating it.”

But add that “when using social media as an information-gathering tool, we apply the same standards as those for any other source of newsgathering.”

The guidelines advise against using social media to talk about unconfirmed reports:

We are consistent in our standards, no matter what the platform, in disseminating information. If we would not put the information on air or on our own website, we would not use social media to report that information.

In the section on sourcing, the CBC stresses that “our standards apply to all types of sources, including those coming via social media, when they are used for news gathering purposes.”

This suggests the CBC would do what the BBC did during the Mumbai bombing, publishing unverified tweets alongside material from its reporters.

The section on the personal use of social media also draws from general CBC principles. It implicit acknowledges how social media tends to blur the line between the personal and professional, advising staff to “maintain professional decorum and do nothing that can bring the Corporation into disrepute.”

Rather than forbidding staff from expressing their opinion on personal social media accounts, the guidelines advise that “the expression of personal opinions on controversial subjects or politics can undermine the credibility of CBC journalism and erode the trust of our audience.”

Some may see this as extending professional codes of conduct into personal social media spaces. One of the aspects of social media is how it combines both the personal and professional in usually publicly accessible platforms.

(Full disclosure: I am married to the director of digital media for CBC News, Rachel Nixon)

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