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Science journalism needs fewer science writers and more editors, says Goldacre

September 18th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism

Science journalists were subject to intense criticism in a debate between science minister Lord Drayson and Bad Science blogger Ben Goldacre on Wednesday night.

Current standards of ‘dodgy coverage’ are having an impact on public health, argued Goldacre, who is a medical doctor and writes weekly for the Guardian exposing inaccurate science journalism.

He attributed the problem to a ‘systems failure’ within media organisations, with editors making ill-informed decisions about how science stories are covered.

“We should get scientists to talk about stuff in their own way. There should be fewer science writers and more editors shaping academic ideas,” he said.

Goldacre also encouraged academics to promote good public engagement from their own departments and to start their own blogs. His key criticisms against the mainstream press were a reliance on press releases and a failure to engage with the ‘nerds’, he said.

“There is nothing out there for the people who did biochemistry 10 years ago and now work in middle management at Marks & Spencer,” he said.

But Drayson insisted there was an ‘admirable and improving standard’ of science reporting in the mainstream press, saying that Dr Goldacre’s criticism ‘risks undermining’ the trust between the academic community and the media.

Sensationalism was not necessarily a bad quality in science stories, Drayson added.

“The very nature of the media means that to get that communication, it has to cut through the noise. But sensationalism must be accurate and based upon good science – I don’t see them as mutually exclusive,” he said.

Drayson also countered criticism levelled against journalists interpreting academic ideas and particularly praised specialist writers: “It’s very important for us to support our journalists within their media organisations and recognise when they are doing a good job. They are vital to the general public and we need to have this access.”

Drayson refused to be drawn when the audience raised the issue of libel laws as a barrier to investigative science journalism.

After concluding the debate, however, he did tweet his e-mail address to help those who feel misrepresented by the media.

Shona Ghosh is a freelance journalist. She blogs at http://shonaghosh.com/.

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Comment: Without traineeships going to trainees, how can we get experience?

August 25th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Freelance, Jobs, Training

Ross Davies is a freelance journalist. His work includes bar and pub reviews for viewbirmingham.co.uk and album/gig reviews for thedetour.co.uk, a website dedicated to current music, fashion and art.

These are difficult times for young ,newly-qualified journalists looking for that first break.

In the UK, armed with a degree and preliminary NCTJ [National Council for the Training of Journalists] qualification, we have all pitched our ideas and sent expertly doctored CVs to a seemingly ever-expanding abyss that engulfs the modern day aspiring hack. Read the forums on sites such as this and you will find disgruntled tales of little opportunity, encouragement or reward – a mandatory concession that we have to make or is there a loophole?

Journalism has always been a notoriously tough profession to crack with high competition for trainee posts. We have all tried to garner as much knowledge as possible on work experience placements or articles for the university rag but there comes a time when your CV, rich with such flirtations, feels ready to be sent in application for that first role.

Here comes the problem – it doesn’t seem to be enough. You can picture the scene: you see a job advertisement for a trainee reporter so you scroll down to peruse the job description and specifications which are along the lines of ‘For first jobber with degree and preferably NCTJ trained’. You rub your hands with glee and get to work on a well-crafted covering letter demonstrating your dovetail perfection for the role. You then click send and wait for the good news.

Well, okay, job applications never follow such formulated paths, but you would think that if you are able to tick every box with regard to candidate specifications that you would stand a decent chance of at least gaining an interview. Wrong.

The global recession does not warrant any more attention than it has already received and of course is an entirely credible reason for job shortages and restricted opportunities, but young hacks must surely nod their heads in frustrated agreement that the familiar reply and opening gambit of ‘We are sorry to inform you but due to the current market..’ is predictable and disheartening. Perhaps worse is the further rationalization that candidates with prior journalistic experience take precedence – rendering the ‘first jobber’ job description disingenuous.

It seems to be that the prospective trainee journalist finds himself in the tricky quandary of being required to run before he can walk. It is accepted that times are tough, but is there much point in advertising trainee jobs if there is little intention of actually allocating them to trainees? Where are we supposed to gain our phantom years of experience if every role in itself requires experience? An even bigger puzzle – what constitutes as experience?

The answer is usually a burgeoning portfolio of articles that signify not only a writer’s depth and style, but also a dedication to journalism as most work experience is unpaid. The question of unpaid work is also a matter for contention creating a dichotomy between budding journalists that consider the byline as sufficient payment in itself and others that feel that any content provided should be financially rewarded, as it is effectively what keeps small magazines and websites in business.

I, like many others, have provided unpaid freelance articles on a number of occasions and in retrospect, have mixed feelings on the subject.

Yes, the leather wallet containing my published work has grown, but when it comes to a job application, is my piece for Poultry World, Heating and Ventilation News going to be enough? Many websites I have written for have long since vanished taking with them a few fading bylines, but still I feel it right to list them on my CV. Why? To demonstrate experience.

So, realising that your journalism career might take a little longer to ignite than expected, you are forced to review your situation whilst possibly taking on some menial job to pay the bills.

The next avenue could well be applying for an internship or work experience placement, again unpaid, at an eminent and respected magazine or newspaper that truly will look good on the CV. Unsurprisingly, there is much competition, but if successful it is worth the wait.

I completed a two-week stint at Record Collector magazine in November 2008 at its offices in West Ealing and came away from the experience with a great sense of fulfillment, knowledge and most importantly, a resolute belief that I truly wanted to be a journalist.

But what now? How many more internships do I have to complete before I have the sufficient experience that editors are looking for? How long will I have to go unpaid for the articles I provide? When will the markets pick up again?

Whatever the answers are, it is undeniable that the journalists of tomorrow are going to need a lot of patience… and luck.

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#FollowJourn: @benjaminbland/Freelance journalist

August 25th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Newspapers, Recommended journalists

#FollowJourn: Ben Bland

Who? Freelance journalist based in Singapore and covering Southeast Asia.

What? Writes news and features for The Daily Telegraph, The Economist, Monocle, British Medical Journal and Gambling Compliance, among others.

Where? @benjaminbland

Contact? Through blog http://theasiafile.blogspot.com or email theasiafile@gmail.com

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#FollowJourn: @rachcolling/freelancer

August 13th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Freelance, Recommended journalists

#FollowJourn: Rach Colling

Who? Freelance journalist.

What? Content editor and writer based in Gateshead.

Where? @rachcolling

Contact? Through her website or blog.

Just as we like to supply you with fresh and innovative tips every day, we’re recommending journalists to follow online too. They might be from any sector of the industry: please send suggestions (you can nominate yourself) to judith or laura at journalism.co.uk; or to @journalismnews.

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#FollowJourn: @adamoxford/freelancer

August 12th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Freelance, Recommended journalists

#FollowJourn: Adam Oxford

Who? Freelance journalist.

What? Freelance tech writer and occasional bush blogger for www.learnasone.org

Where? @adamoxford

Contact? Check out his blog

Just as we like to supply you with fresh and innovative tips every day, we’re recommending journalists to follow online too. They might be from any sector of the industry: please send suggestions (you can nominate yourself) to judith or laura at journalism.co.uk; or to @journalismnews.

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Guardian.co.uk: How the Guide fell for Banksy hoax

July 27th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

As reported in its corrections and clarifications last week the Guardian’s Guide interview on July 18 ‘purporting to be with Banksy’ [no longer available online] was in fact ‘conducted with someone impersonating the graffiti artist’.

Today, the readers’ editor, Siobhain Butterworth elaborates further, with a comment from the Guide’s editor Malik Meer and the freelance journalist who provided the piece, Rich Pelley (or Pelly, as it is spelt elsewhere on the Guardian site). An extract from Butterworth’s weekly column:

“(…)Meer also thought the responses matched the tone of the Guide’s back-page slot. “It’s that chatty banter style of interview,” he said. “Our stuff is a bit edgy and the page is set up to be cheeky and funny.” He adds: “There was no malicious intent on our part, we got conned and we held our hands up; in hindsight I should have put a call into the official PR and checked.”

“Before conducting the Guide’s Q&A Pelley did ask Banksy’s official spokeswoman for an interview – however, she didn’t agree to it. He was nevertheless confident that he was in contact with Banksy: “I really thought it was a genuine interview based on a comparison with the Times interview,” he told me. “I really feel I got busted. I’ve put up my hands and said sorry.”

Full article at this link…

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Entrepreneurial journalism – how Newcastle University is shaping up

June 23rd, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Freelance, Training

In an industry facing fewer jobs and more journalism graduates, the concept of the entrepreneurial journalist (an idea freelancers will be familiar with) is growing in popularity.

Earlier in the year, Birmingham’s City University launched MAs in Online Journalism and Freelance Journalism with a strong focus on entrepreneurship and enterprise.

“We will be exploring new business models and I think that is the chief difference. We’re certainly not relying on the existing structures,” Online Journalism MA course leader Paul Bradshaw said in March.

“Ultimately the industry is crying out for this and there’s clearly a demand for it.”

So it was good to hear from Newcastle University‘s David Baines and Dr Ciara Kennedy at Friday’s Association of Journalism Education (AJE) conference about the institution’s plans to bring more of these skills into journalism training.

The university has already introduced business and entrepreneurial training to other disciplines using its Solvers programme – next year will see the same crossover with the journalism school.

The aim? To teach ‘a new world view, the benefits of an entrepreneurial life, knowledge of how to and the start-up process, networking skills’.

Speaking about the changes, Baines said elements of the traditional freelance journalist would be developed – for example, expanding journalists’ business skills, such as negotiating payment for work.

“To be self-employed is not necessarily the same as being enterprising,” he explained.

“Do journalists want to be a business? They want to be journalists. We’ve a long standing tradition of journalistic values being established against business values.”

The idea of entrepreneurship will be embedded in the curriculum with students expected to bring more than just starting points for their projects to the table, with ideas to develop them beyond the course.

One area that these skills will feed into – hyperlocal publishing and journalism, says Baines: “Hyperlocal – isn’t that a business model that a couple of our graduates could take on? They could take on local papers on their own terms and do it better than them.”

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Tips and thoughts for journalists from Bloomberg’s former multimedia editor

June 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Multimedia, Training

Last week (Thursday May 28) Bloomberg’s former multimedia editor, Abhik Sen, spoke to journalism students at City University on a range of topics:

MPs’ expenses:
Revelations about MPs’ expenses would not have had as much impact if the story had been broken online, the former editor of multimedia at Bloomberg told students. “There are still some stories which work much better in traditional formats,” he said. “The MPs’ expenses story could have been broken in any format but it would not have had the same impact if it hadn’t been print.”

“The resulting chaos in Westminster probably would not have happened if it had broken on a blog or website. That medium just doesn’t have the same impact as the front page of a newspaper does.”

Sen added that the gradual ‘drip feed’ of information in the daily papers and sustained ‘wall-to-wall coverage’ in the Daily Telegraph allowed the story to build a momentum that would not have been possible in the rolling news environment of the web.

Where multimedia works best
He emphasised that online journalism continued to surpass traditional formats in  providing ‘more detailed, more thoughtful’ coverage and a ‘360 degree view’ of any story.

“For the swine flu story, for example, you get the headlines in the newspapers and the footage on the television channels, but for a comprehensive view you have to go online and look at videos, stories, first person pieces, interactive graphics, maps,” he said. “That rule holds true for pretty much every big story, from Obama to climate change.”

“TV and newspapers are the entry point for the news cycle,” he added. “Only people who are particularly interested in a story will then go digging for more stuff online. But that’s when they will expect comprehensive, meaty content.

“Then, multimedia journalists have to take the game to the next level: beyond the headline, beyond the immediate soundbite.”

Sen’s tips for journalists
“In tomorrow’s world, which is pretty much today’s world, there is no media organisation which is not thinking multiplatform,” the former multimedia editor at Bloomberg. “Everyone will have to be a multimedia journalist of some sort. The earlier you get familiar with the grammar of multimedia, the easier and better it will be.”

  • Planning is important. “Most bad multimedia pieces flounder because not enough thought has been put into what you are trying to communicate,” he warned. “Think about how your story could best be told and what sort of interactivity you want to offer.”
  • Get creative. The challenge for multimedia journalists covering diary stories, such as the G20 protests, is to find a way of reporting that is “original, refreshing, different from the newspapers and television, and yet complimentary,” said Sen. “You must build on what others have done, but also do what others cannot do.”
  • Think flavour, not just facts. “In a multimedia piece, you need to convey not just who was there and what happened, but what was it really like?” he said. “You need to capture things that make the piece alive. They might look small at production stage, but become really interesting and useful at the editing table.”
  • Less is more. “Five minutes is an eternity in news time,” he warned. “Most multimedia pieces won’t ever run for more than a few minutes.”
  • Always shoot action and emotion. “It doesn’t need to be someone fighting a war, but you need mobility or some dynamic element,” he advised. “It might be someone’s eyes floating from left to right, clinking glasses, natural sunlight.”
  • Develop skills beyond conventional journalism, or work with somebody who has. “A graphic designer is critical to a multimedia project,” said Sen. “It’s up to them to bring all the elements together and present them in a way that can either make or break a multimedia piece.”
  • Keep the big picture in mind. Remember that neither audio or visual will ever work alone in a final multimedia production. “They will be next to text, or on top of a picture, so always have an idea of the final product in mind,” said Sen. “Then you don’t always have to face the dilemma of dropping or cutting to fit.”
  • But if in doubt: “Shoot first, make up your mind later,” he advised.

Sen, who spent more than a decade as a television and newspaper journalist before joining Bloomberg, added that these skills should be developed in addition to, not at the expense of, the traditional journalist’s toolkit. “The nuts and bolts remain the same. Good journalism, solid reporting, news judgement and good writing skills are as important online as off,” he said.

Sen’s favourite multimedia packages:

  • Economy Tracker by CNN: “Somebody has done the hard work of crunching numbers and then somebody has made it into a really visual, interesting piece of work,” said Sen. “It’s a good example of telling a big story simply but effectively”.

Related link:

Alison Battisby’s report on her blog: ‘Everyone will be a multimedia journalist,’ says ex-Bloomberg editor.

Lara King is a freelance journalist and blogs on the media at www.lara-king.co.uk.

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@StephenFry on journalists’ own ‘venal and disgusting’ use of expenses

May 12th, 2009 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism

Via @LouiseBolotin: The transcript of comments made by Stephen Fry in an interview on the BBC News site:

“Although, of course, anybody can talk about snouts in troughs, and go on about it, for journalists to do so is almost beyond belief, beyond belief.

I know lots of journalists; I know more journalists than I know politicians.

And I’ve never met a more venal and disgusting crowd of people when it comes to expenses and allowances.

[Interviewer: "Not all of us surely?"]

Not all, but then not all human beings are either. I’ve cheated expenses. I’ve fiddled things. You have. ‘Course you have.

Let’s not confuse what politicians get really wrong. Things like wars, things where people die, with the rather tedious bourgeois obsession with whether or not they’ve charged for their wisteria.

It’s not that important. It really isn’t. It isn’t what we’re fighting for. It isn’t what voting is about.

And the idea that ‘oh we’ve all lost faith in politics, because’… it’s nonsense. It’s a journalistic made-up frenzy.”

Louise Bolotin, a freelance journalist, has written a response on her blog – she says Fry has got it badly wrong. Here’s an extract:

“I have news for Stephen. The expenses culture for journalists ended a long time ago – at least 10 years ago – when the accountants moved in and put an end to it. The scandal at the Houses of Parliament, however, has been going on a long time – only MPs can vote on their expense allowances and they just keep voting to continue.”

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7pm GMT @Frontline Club: ‘Is it too late for local papers?’

April 8th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Journalism

Journalism.co.uk is off to the Frontline Club tonight – in person, and everything. Tweet @journalismnews with questions for the panel which consists of:

Roy Greenslade, Commentator and Columnist, Jon Slattery, Freelance journalist, William Yarker, Director in Deloitte’s Media Consulting Practice and others.

“What is the importance of local newspapers and how bad is the crisis? Following in the footsteps of GMG and The Manchester Evening news, the Daily Mail group cut 1000 jobs from their regional arm this week. Could regional news soon be a thing of the past or can the industry find ways to survive?”

Update 15/04/09: final video and news items from Journalism.co.uk below:

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