Archive for July, 2008

Citizen journalism: a rethink needed?

Couple of fascinating posts on citizen journalism on BeetTV and Phil Bronstein on thoughts around citizen journalism. It has not, says Bronstein, taken off on a large scale. He also sums up the current position neatly:

“The whole concept of citizen journalism is still floating around waiting for a good example wave to carry it somewhere, and user-generated material has yet to be a huge hit within the media world unless someone with a Flip catches Brangelina running into a lamp post.”

Let’s up a quick recap first with the Condensed and Possibly Not Entirely Accurate History of Citizen Journalism According To Gary.

So, in the beginning there was the media who had journalists who produced news. There was also the people, and the people generally watched or read the media and the media thought this was largely very agreeable indeed and nobody knew what the people thought because it wasn’t deemed important and those people who did speak were usually retired colonels.

Anyway, then the internet came along and some of the people realised it gave them a chance to say what they thought and a very small percentage of the people tried their hand at journalism and a few of them were actually quite good at it.

Then the media discovered that the internet was important but weren’t quite sure how to handle it because while they were telling because that it was important, they’d noticed a few people were also telling the rest of the people that the internet and other stuff was important. Or, more commonly, telling the media where they’d got things wrong.

Some media tried to engage, others refused but gradually there was a realisation that the people could be useful to the media and that’s roughly where we are now.

The term Citizen Journalism is definitely a little misleading. It conjures up images of wannabe hacks slaving away all day at the internet trying to beat newspapers to the scoop and perhaps for a very short while this was the case. There was even a brief mad scramble by traditional media to sign these bloggers, much like the moment Electroclash was briefly musical genre of the moment and saw Fischerspooner signed to Ministry of Sound for £1m, nearly taking the whole thing down the pan.

That’s passed now, largely (and thankfully). Now the boundaries are a lot less clear. What’s the difference between a journalist and a blogger? Take Shiny Media. These are blogs, but essentially they’re a journalistic outlet that isn’t published in a newspaper or broadcast on the TV. Then you’ve got journalists who specifically work on the web but because it’s on a traditional media’s site it’s classified as journalism and not blogging.

Then you’ve got the bloggers who are definitely not journalists but know more about a specialist topic than journalists and have great contacts, so are essentially out-journalisming the journalists without even intending to.

Then you’ve got the bloggers who aren’t journalists or specialists but once in a while write something newsworthy or happen to be in the right place at the right time (or wrong time, depending on the event) and have something to say which is of interest to everybody.

This is without even touching on the likes of Flickr, Twitter and YouTube for newsgathering purposes. Often these are better than anything traditional media can gather, not because the journalists are bad at their job, but because they happen to be on the ground when the event starts. Jemima Kiss’s post on Twitter and the California Earthquake illustrates this nicely.

Right, so this is where we’re at. Journalism and the web as if painted by Jackson Pollack. Nobody really knows what they are any more, the whole system’s in some kind of blogistential crisis and really, we’d all probably be better off heading home for a cup of tea and a biscuit and forgetting about the whole thing.

But it’s not entirely shot and there a few levellers. Firstly, Citizen Journalism hasn’t killed the media, as was predicted a few years ago. If anything it’s enhanced the quality of news coverage. A Tweet or Flickr picture direct from the scene is invaluable no matter where you’re getting your news from.

Secondly, although you’ll get the odd person trying to make a living out of citizen journalism from the web, the majority of citizen journalists are a one-off. They happen to be by a newsworthy event, they take a picture, Tweet, make a blog post or take a video on their mobile phone. It’s news, and news organisations recognise it as such, even if the person behind it never does another newsworthy thing in their life. 

That its not yet successful on a large scale is not unexpected or necessarily a bad thing. While people appreciate that they can interact with journalists and submit their own ‘newsgathering’ not everybody’s going to want to do it all of the time.

Secondly, although there will always be bloggers and Twitterers writing around breaking news, although they’re not hard to search, it’s easier and less time consuming for the average person having it in a place they regularly visit and, largely, trust. Which is usually the website of traditional media.

Anybody who Tweets or blogs or posts photos about a newsworthy event they’ve seen or are part of are being citizen journalists, yet the term doesn’t quite fit them. They’re involved with the journalism process even if they don’t necessarily know it at the time.

For me, traditional media and citizen journalists have, for the time being, reached a reasonably happy medium. It will change. Things always change, especially when the web’s involved. Who knows, perhaps it will move closer to the traditional view of a citizen journalist. Perhaps it’ll shoot off in a completely different direction. Perhaps not.

But for the time being, we’re all now part of the newsgathering process, whether we like it or not, a journalism s a lot better of for it.

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Some day a rain’s gonna come…

I’d really welcome a wet weekend soon. Partly because I don’t handle the heat well and am on the verge of melting on a daily basis. But also because I’ve got a ton of stuff I’d like to get done, largely online (that includes properly exploring Seesmic, trying to get my Phreadz postings to work along with a whole host of other stuff. I’d like to give this blog a bit of a make-over as well.

Then I look out of the window and it’s sunny and I feel guilty for even considering turning the computer on. and then I go outside and melt again. I swear one of my ancestors must have copulated with an ice-cream at some point to make me so heat intolerant.

A brief musical interlude

Out of the many strange habits that have developed during my office-based working life is to dive onto YouTube at various points in the day to have a quick blast of music. Usually it’s out of a desire to hear a specific track or a specific band that isn’t on my iPod. It’s quick, easy and generally satisfies any urge I may have to listen to Hoddle and Waddle’s Diamond Lights [1].

Like Homer Simpson squeezing juice out of an orange by pressing it against his forehead, I’ve always suspected there’s probably an easier way to satisfy my arbitrary musical cravings. Certainly Muzu looks like it does the job a lot better. Largely because it’s nothing but music on there.

There’s a few interesting features, especially the bit that allows fans to upload their own tributes, video and footage directly to the artist’s profile, and the video player’s embeddable to blogs and social networking sites. It’s also quite artist-friendly, as they share their advertising revenue with the artists and anything fans upload has the copyright assigned to the artist, which is an interesting solution to the age-old problem on copyright v filesharing.

The teenage me would have probably loved the site, given how into music I was back then. Memories of taping every new entry off the top 40, collecting anything and everything to do with a band and the like. The older me isn’t quite so into his music anymore, views festivals as his idea of personal hell and rarely gets to gigs. But can see why music fans would like the site. As my more music loving colleague said when I forwarded her the link: “I love this. I think it’s broken my computer, but when it restarts I’m going straight back on.”

I’m still having occasional problems navigating around the site, but less so that MySpace. And what I’d really like to see is a ‘like this artist – try these’ recommendation on the channels, a bit like the related video bit on YouTube. But most unforgivably of all is a search for The Smiths brings up New Kids On The Block. That’s something that needs to be fixed before hysterical shaven-headed Morrissey fans start throwing vegan soup at the creators.

Techcrunch has been pretty complementary about Muzu and its nice to see YouTube and MySpace get a bit of competition in the music stakes, and music PRs could definitely find it useful, if it takes off. Thankfully, nobody’s uploaded Diamond Lights to the site yet either.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, this is the product the company who emailed me a few weeks ago was pitching. I’m writing about it as I quite like the site. If it was shite, I wouldn’t have. I’ve not got paid or even given a cup of tea for this. And I’m not planning on writing up any old PR bumf that I’m sent on a regular basis. But I thought it tied in quite nicely with the pitching to bloggers post, and theirs was a good pitch. And, as I said, I like the product. I’d have emailed it to a few friends regardless. Not that this write up will make any difference to their hits, I suspect, given that about 20 people read this blog. And not that I feel particularly ‘raaaah, I am TEH ALL POWERFUL BLOGGER, kneel before me puny traditional media’ for doing writing this, as I don’t really invite these kind of PR pitches and I’m not overly likely to write about them. In fact I’ve probably just destroyed any linger credibility I have now.

[1] I have only ever done this once, I’d like to stress.

By the book

I’ve been tagged by Pink Sunshine on my reading habits. In fact, I think this is the first meme I’ve ever been tagged in on this blog. Another milestone.

Basically the rules are thus. Below is a list of classic books.

You are supposed to:

Look at the list and:
1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicise those you intend to read.
3) [Bracket] the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list on your own blog.

And then tag people so they can also feel inferior show off their bookcase. In this case I’ll choose Dunners, Chris White (when he comes back from America), Matthew, because his book will probably be on there in a few years time, and the humble Devil, because I expect him to be a man of impeccable reading tastes.

Let the list commence.
1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible (a friend of mine once did a review of the Bible for his English class. It read: Some good ideas, occasionally far fetched. Gets bogged down in the prose at times but ultimately quite enjoyable)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 [Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell]
9 [His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman]
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams]
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 [Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis]
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie-the-Pooh – AA Milne
41 [Animal Farm – George Orwell]
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 [Lord of the Flies – William Golding]
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 This one was blank so I’ll fill it in with [The Sandman] graphic novels by Neil Gaiman because they’re better than most books I’ve read.
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – A. S. Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 [Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl]
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Hmmm. I probably look a little bit like a pleb now. In my defence, I have no wish whatsoever to read any Jane Austen. It also looks largely like I just read books aimed at kids, which is about right for my reading age.

Actually, I tend to read mostly non-fiction these days, which makes me sound like a pretentious snob. Less so when you realise most of these are about football and social media. Which just makes me sound like a geek. Which I am.

Gary Elsewhere

Soccerlens: why non-league is the breeding ground for tomorrow’s top talent (ooh, I do like a bit of alliteration in the morning).

Also in the piece: six of the best players to raise from non-league to the very top.

Small bomb. Not many dead.

Two days after my complaint that I’ve lost 30-odd followers (now restored) on Twitter, who were briefly denied finding out that I’d just had a latte or was busy so didn’t have time to say anything other than a brief update, the microblogging service once again shows its worth.

Earlier today a series of bombs went off in Bangalore in India. Not that you’d know from the major news sites, most of whom relegated it so far down their websites that, after the event broke, it was difficult to find anything about it.

But Twitter was alive with chatter about the event. I was tied up with work but had half an eye on my feed and every few minutes somebody was Tweeting about the explosion and, most commonly linking tothe feed of Mukund Mohan, a technology entrepreneur.

One of those was Daniel Bennett, who’s posted Mukand’s updates on his blog, along with some good analysis and issues surrounding both the Twittering and newsgathering implications.

Firstly, the journalism aspect. Yet again, Twitter was the place to be for breaking updates and, if you used Twitter search plus other social media search tools, as a journalist you could have a pretty good picture of what was happening out in Bangalore.

But what of the reliability of one person’s account. Daniel addresses this:

“This demonstrates how the facts in a breaking news situation are constantly being updated, changed and re-evaluated. Sceptics might wonder about the value of reporting these ‘facts’, before they have been confirmed.

But this is no different from the 24 hour news channels coverage of live news and many of the breaking news articles that appear on the web.”

His point is valid. Think of the London 7/7 bombings, for example. There were plenty of ‘facts’ or breaking news reported that day which turned out to be inaccurate.

It’s not hard to cross-reference what you’re picking up via forums, Tweets and blogs for breaking news. During my analysis of the Exeter bomb blast plenty of patterns began to emerge and if more than three people were saying similar things, there was a fair chance what they were saying was reasonably accurate (or as accurate as you can get in this kind of situations). It’s not hard to rinse your search results and work out who the best sources are. Journalistically, I don’t see this being a problem, although it won’t hurt to seek confirmation from other sources.

The other concern that was raised was Twitter hypes hysteria around smaller events (in this case the archtypal media story – small bomb: not many dead). 

Firstly, I’d imagine that if you’ve been caught up in an explosion, no matter how minor, and you’re Twittering, it’ll be a pretty big deal. We’re not all battle-hardened reporting veterans who can survey the carnage, file a sober report, then down out the sights we’ve seen with whiskey at the hotel bar.

Secondly, it’s useful for other local Twitterers. If I started seeing messages that the tubes were down in, say, West London due to an unspecified incident, Twitter would be a decent place to start to find out what was happening. The more serious the event (and bombs going off are still a pretty big deal), the more valuable this could be. It’s not hyperbolic to say that, in certain situations, Twitter could potentially save lives.

The microblogging site shouldn’t be taken in isolation, naturally, but once again it’s proved that when it comes to breaking news there’s nothing to beat it at the moment. Not even Sky News’s helicopter.

Why so serious?

Even without Heath Ledger’s untimely death, The Dark Knight would have attracted large amount of hype. And following large amounts of hype generally follows disappointment, especially with the superhero genre. Thankfully Christopher Nolan’s film doesn’t just live up to the hype and some, it raises the bar for the genre so high that all other films should just give up for the next couple of years. It’s that good.

The Dark Knight is over two hours but you don’t notice it. From the first set-piece with six paranoid goons carrying out a robbery for the unknown ‘Joker’ to the final climax, the film rattles through at a fantastic pace, but never losing track of the deep characterisation that’s become a feature of Nolan’s films.

The stunts are breath-taking (you can only wonder what they must have looked like on the IMAX) and the whole plot unravels with a plenty of twists and turns that drive the film to even darker depths. Were this a Bond film, oreven a one-off non-superhero action thriller it would be rightly hailed as one of the finest examples of its genre. That it features a man in a rubber-bat suit and another with pasty face paint shouldn’t lessen this on iota.

Then there’s Heath Ledger. It’s impossible not to mention the late actor’s performance. Ledger has completely immersed himself in the character to the point you can forget who the actor is and be completely taken in by this strangely compelling villain, who is a world away from Jack Nicholson’s enjoyable but hammy turn. Ledger’s Joker comes far closer to catching the sinister nature of the character in the graphic novels. than Nicholson ever does and is a fitting epitaph for an actor who, if he was still alive, would be one of the hottest properties in Hollywood off the back of it.

The biggest problem for Nolan is where does he go from here. He could easily spent the rest of his career in the Batman franchise, and that would be no bad thing, although you do wonder if he’ll ever be able to make a better Batman film than The Dark Knight.

But Nolan is also an interesting director even without the Batman films. Memento still stands out as a masterpiece, Insomnia was gripping and The Prestige was a better film than many gave credit. Nolan could literally do anything right now. He could never make another film. The Dark Knight is unlikely to be bettered in a long time.

In some respects, you’ve got to feel a bit of sympathy for all other superhero movies that follow The Dark knight. On the other hand, there have been so many God-awful adaptations (Elektra, Daredevil) that it makes you realise that it’s not hard to do a decent job.

No doubt there will be more to come. Most likely a second Iron Man film, although the first instalment left me distinctly underwhelmed and the film already felt like it was running out of steam by the end. The last Spiderman film was an utter mess but won’t stop another one being hurried out. Maybe somebody will think it a good idea to made another X-Men film (although I enjoyed these a lot more than Spiderman and thought they were a bit underrated. Yes, even X-Men 3). Every minor character will get an outing, I’d expect.

But there is still hope – and excitement for graphic novel fans. First up, Hellboy 2 from the ever-excellent Guillermo del Toro. The first film was a bit of a treat, with the director’s distinctive visual style playing well against a film that had more depth than your average comic book adaptation. Hellboy 2 looks like it’s going to be a solid sequel.

But that is nothing compared to the buzz surrounding The Watchmen. Either this film will rival The Dark Knight or prove such a crushing disappointment (and certainly fanboys and girls will be scrutinising this far more than either of Nolan’s Batman films) that it’ll sink like a stone.

But in the meantime, go and watch The Dark Knight. And if you’ve already seen it watch it again. And again. And again. It’s that good.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com