Getting to know my community

How quickly times change. When I first started doing work experience and then freelancing for assorted journalistic outlets nearly a decade ago, the only thing the newsroom used the web for on any kind of regular basis was Google.

When I took over editorship of our student paper, we had a website but no content. When I left, we had a different website with the building blocks for content. We also had an editorial blog, hosted on a basic template [1]. This was seen as quite novel at the time.

When I did my professional BJTC qualification, I was one of only two people who blogged regularly. One of our regular assignments was to blog about journalism and the stories behind the stories. Many of the course were a little baffled and confused by this. This, they said, wasn’t journalism.

When I was a fully fledged reporter, the web was seen as both a curiosity and vaguely important, but we’d be buggered if we could work out exactly what to do with it. What we did know was when we got it right, we got one hell of a lot of traffic and comments. This didn’t happen often. Meanwhile, I was using Google Alerts, Technorati and other such tools to find stories. This was seen as something of a curiosity.

When I took the decision to move into PR, the debate on whether blogs should be treated the same as other media outlets was in its infancy still. Twitter was something only a couple of us geeks in the corner were spending time on, while everybody else looked on somewhat quizzically.

Now, as I prepare to move into yet another new role, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds and what I’ll be looking back on in a few years time and go “isn’t that funny.”

In just under ten days time I officially become part of the communities team at, driving online engagement and facilitating conversations and other such things. I’ll be working with another ex-journo, Ben Ayers.

So what does this have to do with journalism? If you’d described my new role to the 18-year-old me, eagerly applying for work experience with local newspapers and radio stations, I’d have probably looked at you slightly funny before probably telling you this was nothing to do with journalism whatsoever [2]. In fact, I’d probably have had no clue what the hell you were on about.

But times change. Journalists are now bloggers, podcasters, video editors, and more as well as being reporters. And, yes, they’re working within online communities, be it facilitating conversation, engaging in the comments, posting blogged responses to the community and the like.

You could probably argue journalists have always done this, but there’s never been as much of a two way conversation, bar letters to the editor, or the odd chance to accost the journalist on their patch. Communities, though, have always been at the heart of journalism.

And the lines are becoming increasingly blurred. I’ve been addressed in emails as a football journalist, due to my writing for Soccerlens and podcasting for twofootedtackle, both of which are done in my spare time [3]. I’d call myself a football blogger and podcaster, but break it down and it’s very similar to what many traditional media outlets do.

Other boundaries are being broken. Not too long ago I was chatting to Joanna Geary, then of the Birmingham Post now of the Times, about getting the news about, well, the news out there. Journalists, she mentioned, were increasingly doing their own PR on the web to get people reading their stories. That’s not a million miles away from a communities editor.

When I first started in journalism, I did so because I wanted to make a difference. Granted, my career may not have gone the same way as Woodward and Bernstein, but I still repeat and hold onto that. I’d like to think I’m still making a difference these days, just in a different way.

[1] While it would have been nice to have kept this going for posterity, it got deleted the year after due to a small misunderstanding with some cartoons. You may be familiar with this.

[2] Although the web-loving part of me would have probably been reasonably impressed.

[3] I may still be a rarity though – a journalism trained blogger who does this sort of stuff for fun.


2 Responses to “Getting to know my community”

  1. 1 Darika June 11, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Ha! This made me laugh. Because in my current role as PR [slash] Social Media Consultant (don’t hate me please) I think of myself at 18. When I didn’t know what to do with my life these technologies didn’t even exist. No wonder I was a bit lost!
    Lucky it worked out for us, eh?

  2. 2 Lolly June 19, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Hey Gary,

    Congratulations on the new role! I am very excited for you! There no doubt in my mind that you’ll be a true superstar!

    Let’s catch up soon x

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June 2009

Throw letters together and send them to me

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

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