Posts Tagged 'future of journalism'

From despair to where?

Otherwise known as a quick, likely-to-be-ill-thought-out, ill-informed pondering on the state of the media industry.

Everywhere media-related seems to be making cutbacks. Even places that you would normally have put down as safe are tightening their belts. Friends, colleagues and people I don’t know but have heard of are all getting laid off, and many of these have surprised given, given their jobs.

It’s not just that we’re in a global recession. It’s also that this industry really doesn’t know where the hell it’s going. Journalism. Broadcasting. PR. None of them safe. Or with any real idea of where they meant to be going.

If this were an interview and the media was asked where it would be in five years time, it’d have a hard job in answering. If it were then asked where it saw itself in ten years time, it’d find the question impossible to answer.

You do wonder if the skills you’ve been trained in, and others you’ve picked up along the way, will be completely redundant in the not-too-distant future.

Everywhere seems to be in trouble. We’re constantly told online is the future – and it IS the future – but it just doesn’t seem to be entirely sure how it wants to be the future.

I have an inkling things will pick up. Not in the sense of green shoots of recovery, but more to do with the fact that when this recession, and downturn and general media crisis of identity is over, there will be a need for quality journalism, PR and broadcasting.

Sadly this need will be because there will probably be huge holes in the market by this stage and, as with any good market, where there’s a hole and a demand, something will inevitably plug it.

So, yes, there will be an upturn. At some point. But when is anybody’s guess. If this were a Hollywood war movie, the sergeant would turn his face away and to the ground and sadly say: “We lost a lot of good men out there.”

At this stage it’s common for a blogger to offer his twopence worth on “hey, but this is how you can get through it.”

If only it were that easy.

All those of us in the industry – be it journalism, PR, broadcasting or a combination of some or all of these – can do is watch, learn, adapt to developments (both online and offline), try innovative stuff, and never ever compromise on quality or belief that nobody else, to quote Carly Simon, nobody does it better, no matter what we do. There, by the grace of God, we will survive. Hopefully.

(Then again, you do wonder if any print papers will survive when you read something like this.)

If anybody has any idea what they think this industry will look like in five to ten years type, please do leave a comment below. I’ll post my own thoughts at some point in the near future.

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Journalists of the future

“Mate,” said my colleague Ben, when I told him about being invited back to the old student paper I edited to do a talk on the future of journalism and how to get into in. “You know you’ve made it when your old university invites you back.”

“Chances are everybody else was busy,” said I. “And I’m cheap.”

It was an unexpectedly enjoyable surprise to find myself back at Cardiff University Students’ Union on a Saturday afternoon to speak to the section editors and writers of gair rhydd. It was also interesting from my own point of view, as I learned a few bits and pieces as well.

Before my waffle talk, Will Dean (The Guardian) and Greg Cochrane (ex-NME, now Radio 1), both ex-gair rhydd members, did their bit as well. What was telling was the amount of times words relating to the internet were thrown around. Podcasting was a common one. Blogging was another.

It shows how quickly the industry is moving these days. When I was editor, blogging was still very niche [1]. Podcasting hadn’t even entered our lexicon. Now Greg and Will are using these terms casually, as part of everyday work. None of us are journalists who’d been told this stuff was vital to our industry when we were learning the ropes.

You want proof of how the web has and will continue to shape journalism. You’ve just read it.

Interesting (and surprising) bit number two: When I asked how many people in the room were blogging, I had a couple of tentative hands. When I asked if any were on Twitter, no hands went up [2]. A few other social media sites elicited no response. On reflection, I think, I should have asked how may people had heard of these sites.

This surprised me somewhat, as I’d assumed (dangerous, I know) that many more journalism hopefuls were blogging in this day and age (when I did my BJTC course, I was the only blogger). I guess, when you spend so much of every day working in this area, you forget not everybody’s quite such of a web geek as yourself.

By the time I’d finally shut up, they’d seen Phillip Schofield explain what Twitter is and had their picture posted up on my Twitter stream.

They also had your crowdsourced advice (thanks to everyone who responded) and probably had it drummed into them that they needed to be online in some form, as well as learning as many different skills as possible, to increase their chances of employment in what is currently a very depressed industry, jobs-wise.

But it was also refreshing that, in the informal chat that followed, there was a lack of cynicism over blogging, Twitter, video sites like Qik and Seesmic, and other such places. Compare this with those currently employed in the industry. It can be tough to convince media people of the worth of these tools (its a common sigh I get from just about everybody I know who works with more web-based tools).

Granted, that attitude is changing, helped, in part, by more colleagues slowly trying (and, in many cases, getting addicted) these sites and reporting back on their worth. If you want a great example of a mainstream journalist utilising social media, look no further than Dan Wootton from the News of the World.

But for every Dan, or Ben in PR, there’s about half a dozen unconvinced hacks or press officers who either don’t have the time, the inclination or the web knowledge to leap in.

And that’s one of the joys about chatting to student journalists. They’re willing to listen; they’re willing to try new things. Ok, they may not get on with Twitter. They may decide that blogging isn’t for them. It’s the same for everybody. But they’re less likely to dismiss these communication tools, which, for me, is encouraging.

I had several queries about setting up blogs – the software to use, how to pick up readers, etc – and a few about assorted sites like Twitter. I had a long chat with the current editor about making their website more Web 2.0 friendly. And, hopefully, we’ll see a few of them blogging and Twittering in the coming weeks.

Here’s a quick list of those I spoke to yesterday who’ve already joined Twitter:

Ben Bryant (gair rhydd editor): @benbryant

Emma (Comment & Opinion editor): @emcetera

Tom Victor (Sorry Tom, I didn’t catch your section): @tomvictor

Feel free to stop by and say hi to them.

[1] Ok, you could argue it still is, in many respects. But back then few newspapers were leaping aboard the blogging bandwagon. It felt much like where Twitter was last year.

[2] I think this may have been out of shyness on a couple of parts. It’s taken me this long to accept I’m an utter geek (or nerdlinger, which Katie Lee uses often and I think fits nicely). I didn’t like to admit it that far back.

The future of journalism – a wee bit of crowdsourcing

This weekend I’ll be heading back to the student paper I used to edit many moons ago. They’re getting a few of their more successful alumni, plus myself, back in for a day to give a mixture of training and presentations on how to get into journalism and where the media is going.

So, in true social media style, I thought I’d do a quick bit of crowdsourcing (I’ll also be asking on Twitter and, if a get a moment at home, Seesmic) and ask for your thoughts on this.

The question is broad but simple: What advice would you give to aspiring young journalists looking to get a foothold in the industry in this day and age?

Hopefully it’ll inspire a new generation of journalists to get using social media and the like to generate stories and interact with their readers / listeners / viewers. Either that or they’ll all be so Web 2.0 that they’ll start throwing shoes and rotten fruit at me as I bore them hell out of them.

Your thoughts on this: ready, set GO

Note to aspiring media people: learn the workings behind t’interweb

Charles Arthur’s one piece of advice to aspiring journalists: learn to code. To which I’d say “Oh, God. Yes. Do.”

Ok, there are probably other pieces of advice that are equally as useful. But in the current climate, it’s as good a place to start as any.

There are many reasons why this makes sense. Like it or not, the media is increasingly looking for jack-of-all trades. Like it or not, there won’t be as many journalists around to do the work required of them. If you can work across as many platforms as possible (I’d also advise journalists to learn TV production techniques as well) then you have an advantage.

With journalism increasingly online (vague description, but as the media still hasn’t quite worked out where it’s going, it’ll do), it helps to have a knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes [1]. It’s not vital, it just helps.

Secondly, and this will sound a little woolly, assuming you company’s website is easy enough to tinker around with, it’ll enable you to do some seriously cool journalism-related stuff very quickly, without having to get somebody from IT to help.

Charles uses maps mashups as a good example. There’ll undoubtedly be blogs or other sites producing these; people will find them useful, they’ll search for them. It makes sense to have them available as quickly as possible.

Most importantly, Charles talks about how coding can save you enormous amount of time on assorted amount of journalism jobs – subbing, formatting, pulling in data, and the like. This comment neatly explains why setting up assorted coded bits and pieces can be so useful. Anything that saves time without cutting quality in the media these days is beyond useful.

I’d expand what Charles says to anybody in the media. With a work hat on (PR) I’m often asked about assorted bits and bobs that are web-centric and would be very cool indeed if we’re able to pull them off. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t.

And it’s at these times I wish I knew more about coding and had made an effort  to learn when I had more free time.

I can understand HTML, if not exactly to the extent that I’m confident enough to build stuff with it. I have a VERY basic understanding of CSS. And, er, that’s about it. A lot of what Charles is talking about on there has gone over my head, I’m afraid.

Yet this has given me enough freedom to tinker about and makes some neat and useful tweaks when needed. If I knew more, I’d happily sit away coding to produce cool bits and pieces.

Even if coding isn’t something you’re going to use on a regular basis, it’s still a piece of knowledge that could be (and is becoming increasingly) useful.

The downside: you’re regularly cited as an authority on anything technical. And try as I might, fixing a photocopier using any other method than kicking it, is, sadly, beyond me.

[1] So many print journalists I know have a fairly in-depth knowledge of their production process, which I find fascinating. And radio journalists have to get up to speed on basic broadcast engineering pretty quickly – because that desk or playout system will always fail at 5am in the morning and NEVER when the IT department have a quiet moment.

Who needs offices anyway?

Local newspaper group Archant has decided it doesn’t need as many offices in London. Managing director Enzo Testa told the Press Gazette: “”Offices are expensive, and we don’t need as many as we did. We’re operating with laptops, mobiles, 3G cards. They don’t need to be in the office every day.”

Without knowing the exact ins and outs of the office closures, this seems like a sensible idea, especially as Archant have said nobody will be losing their jobs. And it’s one I mused about a few months ago.

Even before the recession, media companies were looking for ways to cut costs and getting rid of office space is a pretty effective way of doing this. Rent and bills must come to a hell of a lot, so cut them out and you don’t need to cut back on journalists, so the quality won’t suffer.

Communications technology has moved on pretty quickly in just the last few years to the point where, for print journalists at least, there’s little point in heading into the office. Secure servers, cloud computing, internal wikis and the like all free up the journalist to be out where the news is.

Bloggers can use these tools and can get breaking news out quickly as a result, so why have the journalist wedded to the desk. If anything, it should give journalists more flexibility. Just because we’ve always worked in an office based environment, doesn’t mean we should today if the technology allows us to do otherwise.

If this move gives journalists the ability to move around a lot more freely and be less constrained by the notion of deadlines or having to head back to the office to file copy, then it’s a good thing. It puts traditional media on the same level as social media or citizen journalists (using that phrase for lack of a better one at this time of night).

Now what’d be really cool would be to give them decent smartphones that enable them to take pictures and stream video direct to their websites. That really would be breaking news.

UPDATE:

Roy Greenslade picks up on this as well:

“But it’s a journalistic no-no. I know we are doing more work online, but reporters need to maintain human contact. Taking them away from their communities is a huge mistake.

Gary Andrews disagrees, arguing that we don’t need offices nowadays. That would be fine, of course, if publishers allowed their reporters the right to work from their homes. I suspect, however, that this manoeuvre is not about giving journalists freedom, but about constraining them still further.”

I don’t entirely disagree with Roy on this. Yes, of course reporters need to be in and around the areas they’re reporting on. That makes complete sense, and I’m definitely not advocating removing human contact.

If Archant are prepared to make sure that all the journalists on the title are living in (or, at the least, very close to) the area then that’s fine (and that doesn’t mean just employing journalists who live in the area – but helping those who don’t to find a property, whatever form that takes).

It also wouldn’t hurt to have the office – wherever that may be – to have a few hotdesks should journalists need to pop in, as well as a meeting room.

But I really do think that – if implemented properly – this could be an asset to reporters. The technology – wifi, 3G, smartphones, cloud – is in place, and a journalist doesn’t need to be tied down to one place.

I’m a big advocate of home-working or working from the coffee shop, or elsewhere. I know several freelancers – both in journalism and PR – who do just this, using these tools, and it really hasn’t affected them.

The thought of being able to zip from one story to another, or stay and file from the scene of a breaking news story, without having to worry about dashing back to the office – and being able to send in pics and videos live to the website – is one that really excites me. There is so much potential here.

But I’ll tag on a few caveats to the end of this. Firstly, repeating from earlier, I don’t know the ins and outs of exactly what Archant plans to do, so this is really just comment on my part on the idea rather than the logistics.

Secondly, yes, to agree with Roy, this move should be about freeing up journalists, not replacing extra restrictions on them to cut costs.

It’s easy to be cynical about this, but times like these call for creative solutions and this could be it. Providing it doesn’t impact on the quality or productivity.

But I’m willing to take a step back and concede that it maybe be too over-ambitious to suggest its going to live up to my ideal model. Not to mention over optimistic. And let’s make this clear – anything that results in journalists losing their jobs over this and leaves the papers understaffed is not a good things.

But nevertheless, with that in mind, let’s toss this out to any local journos who’ve stumbled across this post.

Taking this as a standalone idea (removing it, temporarily, from the Archant context), how does the idea sit with you? If somebody said: “Right, you don’t have to come in tomorrow – you’ll have access to everything you’d normally have access to, but you’ll be using a laptop, dongle and smartphone and can work from wherever you think is best. Oh, and you can phone or email at any time for editorial chats, plus we’ll make some kind of internal coms thing available (possibly using Yammer?) to bounce ideas off.”

Is that appealing? Or does it fill you with dread?

All you need to be a journalist

  • A laptop
  • A dongle
  • Mobile phone
  • Notepad and pen
  • Transport (public or personal)
  • Recording equipment and editing software (if working for broadcast)

And that’s it. Today’s journalist doesn’t need an office, they should, in theory, be able to work from wherever the news is, uploading straight to the web if needs be (via a sub or an editor, preferably). Newspapers, especially local ones, shouldn’t be wedded to the idea that the news goes out when they decide it goes out, because it’s never been easier or quicker to get the news out as it happens.

Look at the above kit. Other than perhaps the slightly more specialist broadcast-quality material (although that’s no longer the issue it once was, and if the footage is good, the footage is good) it’s something anybody can get together. Anybody can be a citizen journalist (misleading as that term is). The question is, how does traditional media respond to this?

The above was one small idea that came out of a long and fascinating conversation with Dina (from Tango ’til I’m sore) on the future of local journalism. She is a local journalist; I used to be one.

She’s also pretty well equipped, I’d say, to deal with wherever the hell journalism finds itself going in the next five years, as she has a pretty good understanding of how, where and why journalism needs to work and connect with the web.

After all the times I’ve used this blog for groaning at assorted local media (and, hopefully, praising them where praise is due), it’s always refreshing to meet somebody who works in that field and understands the importance of web, social media and other assorted online bits and pieces to journalism.

(And if you don’t think local media as we know it will change greatly over the coming years, read this from Jeff Jarvis then think again.)


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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