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Online innovator to leave university post after ‘complicated decision’

Online journalism innovator Paul Bradshaw has taken voluntary redundancy from his post as course leader for the online journalism MA at Birmingham City University, in what he says was a “complicated decision”.

Bradshaw, who is also founder of the Online Journalism Blog, hopes he can now invest more time in his own projects, with immediate plans to develop his Help Me Investigate site.

“It was a very complicated decision,” he told Journalism.co.uk. “There are a lot of opportunities around data journalism that I want to explore and I want to spend more time on Help Me Investigate. I felt it was probably the right time to dive in to more of those opportunities and now I have time to accept offers I have been made. But I am wary of taking too much work on. Part of the point is to invest more time in Help Me Investigate. I plan to start some development work and explore business models soon.”

Bradshaw is also already working on two different books, his own on magazine editing which is set to be completed by the end of the year and another dedicated to online journalism, which he is contributing to with former FT.com news editor Liisa Rohumaa, likely to be out by early next year.

On top of all that, he admits he may  keep his toes in the teaching pool.

“I will certainly miss parts of teaching,” he told Journalism.co.uk. “I absolutely, enormously enjoyed teaching the students this year. Some of their work has been the best so far. I may still do a bit of teaching, but I think I have always wanted to keep growing and developing. The students say they are gutted, but they were quite excited and positive about what I am doing. I am experiencing a huge jumble of emotions. I am excited about the possibilities but I am really going to miss the students and staff.”

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Jon Bernstein: Where now for accountability journalism?

Clay Shirky believes the demise of most newspapers to be inevitable, not a recessionary blip but a structural certainty. The long-term, digital future is bright but the short-to-medium term outlook is bleak for our news media.

Who, he asks, is going to pick up the mantle of accountability journalism? Shirky, New York University professor and one of the most insightful voices on digital media and its impact on news journalism, paints the following picture.

The newspaper is unsustainable for two broad reasons. First, as an advertising-supported business it has overcharged and under delivered.

This was all very well when it was the only show in town but once its recruitment business got monstered by Monster and its classifieds delisted in favour of Craigslist, the party was clearly coming to an end.

Secondly, he says, the newspaper always lacked coherence.

While people remain interested in expert editorial judgement and serendipity, they are not thirsting for the ‘single omnibus publication’. The future is content unbundled, often delivered by members of the audience disseminating links via social media.

And why is this bad news for anyone except the proprietor, the publishing magnate and the benefactor?

Because, says Shirky, it leaves a vacuum where once newspapers acted as a bulwark against the excesses of commercial and political classes. In place of accountability you have ‘casual, endemic, civic corruption’.

Shirky believes new models will eventually fill that vacuum but not soon enough to replace the old, decaying model.

And where will these new forms come from? Broadly through commercially viable alternatives to the newspaper; through organisations funded by donation, endowments or taxes; and through social production, aka the crowd.

It is the latter two where we are starting to see some interesting ideas emerge. And here are a few places – from either side of the Atlantic – you may want to look to see what the future of accountability journalism may look like:

Propublica:

An independent, non-profit newsroom, ProPublica boasts the ‘largest news staff in American journalism devoted solely to investigative reporting’. Thirty-two working journalists to be precise.

Supported entirely by philanthropy, it offers the fruit of its labour free of charge – and it either self-publishes or hands it over to large media outlets.

ProPublica also has a ‘distributed reporting’ unit, which aims to draw on the energies and expertise of the pro-am crowd. It’s headed up by Amanda Michel, formerly of Huffington Post’s OffTheBus.

Huff Po, meanwhile, has its own Investigative Fund while the Center for Investigative Reporting pre-dates ProPublica by a three decades.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Coming soon, the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) gets to work in November and will open for business in 2010.

The model is production house, not publisher and, unlike ProPublica, it intends to sell stories into magazines and newspapers. It will be led by Iain Overton, formerly of More4 News (and an ex-colleague).

BIJ’s was created by the people at the Centre for Investigative Journalism and it will also draw on the recently launched Investigations Fund. It is able to get off the ground thanks to a £2m endowment from the David and Elaine Potter Foundation.

Spot.us:

Pioneers of ‘community funded reporting’, Spot.us has a very Web 2.0 business model.

Users of the site create news tips inspired by specific issues they are interested in that have yet to be reported. Spot.us journalists turn those tips into story pitches and small donations  (increments of $20) are sought before the investigation is undertaken. The finished piece is freely available to anyone, big or small, to republish.

Only if a news organisation wants the story on an exclusive basis must it pay, in this case at least 50 per cent of the cost of the investigation.

Help Me Investigate:

Brainchild of Paul Bradshaw, a senior lecturer in online journalism at Birmingham City University, this is another example social production.

Launched with an initial focus on Birmingham, Help Me Investigate describes itself as ‘a community of curious people, and a set of tools to help those people find each other, and get answers’.

Recently completed investigations have sought discover why a new bus company is allowed run a service on the same route and same number but at a higher price; which Birmingham streets are issued with the most parking tickets; and how much Birmingham council spends on PR.

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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Sarah Hartley: Help investigate local authority news coverage

September 10th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Sarah Hartley has taken her own breakdown of local authority coverage in her local newspaper a step further by starting an investigation with collaborative website Help Me Investigate.com.

Using the site, Hartley wants to find out:

“How much local authority coverage is carried out by your local newspaper? Has it declined? Is it on the increase? Do readers prefer celebrity news? Does it matter? Who cares?”

People can sign up to the investigation at this link and submit information about newspaper coverage for different regions.

The idea is to survey newspapers in all regions of the UK to provide a more robust picture of what local newspapers cover – in particular in light of debates surrounding competition from local authorities’ own ‘newspapers’ and public service reporting.

Full post at this link…

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Journalism Daily: Collaborative journalism, freelancers’ rights and Observer/Shiny updates

August 14th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism Daily

Journalism.co.uk is trialling a new service via the Editors’ Blog: a daily round-up of all the content published on the Journalism.co.uk site.

We hope you’ll find it useful as a quick digest of what’s gone on during the day (similar to our e-newsletter) and to check that you haven’t missed a posting.

We’ll be testing it out for a couple of weeks, so you can subscribe to the feed for the Journalism Daily here.

Let us know what you think – all feedback much appreciated.

News and features:

Ed’s picks:

Tip of the day:

#FollowJourn:

On the Editors’ Blog:


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Jon Bernstein on hyperlocal: Five steps to kick-start the local news revolution

July 1st, 2009 | 6 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Online Journalism

The strength of hyperlocal is also its weakness – disparate projects in far-flung places.

But here’s the thing. What works in KW1 – the business model, the editorial proposition – is likely to work just as well in TR19.*

So we have a choice. Wait for exemplars of the form to rise up, then copy and adapt, or give the whole process a hand by collating, sharing, talking and learning. Right now.

Let’s do the latter. Here’s a quick and dirty call to action:

1. Find out what’s out there
In the United States they are doing just that.

The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism has invited ‘bloggers, independent journalists, website publishers and entrepreneurs’ to complete a survey so it can ‘gather information and innovative ideas from across the country’.

“We want to bring facts, figures, and business analysis to the debate over the future of journalism,” it states.

Where’s the equivalent effort over here?

I’m told that there are voices in Ofcom, the media regulator, who want to collate information about all of the little community newsletters and bigger sites which could now be called hyperlocal.

If that’s the case, it’s time to get moving. Oh, and we’ll have some of that US data when it’s ready, too.

2. Share ideas
Good practice, sound business models, strong feature strands and story hooks are not geographically-defined. So share, feed off each other, beg, borrow and steal.

Talk About Local is a good start. More, please.

3. Share resources
Can you apply the franchise model to the hyperlocal? For some the answer is a definite yes.

Again Talk About Local offers a possible lead with its plan to seed 150 sites in deprived areas nationwide.

Paul Bradshaw and Nick Booth’s Help me Investigate, is another service with franchise potential.

As is Mapumental.

This is a MySociety.org concoction and, like Help me Investigate, is a recipient of 4iP seed funding. Mapumental is postcode-based tool that brings together publicly available local house price and transport data and mashes it up with a ‘scenicness’ rating .

MySociety is also responsible for FixMyStreet. Both are centrally-built pieces of software with a hyperlocal application.

Integration is the key.

4. Share content
Like franchising, syndication is another old media model that has a home in the brave new world of hyperlocal.

And there is a commercial opportunity for those who create usable aggregation models.

Take Outside.in which has just launched a service in the United States it claims ‘will allow users to quickly create a mass amount of hyperlocal news pages’.

Outside.in is coming to the UK, but why isn’t a UK start-up doing this for the UK market? Perhaps one is. Time to make some noise.

5. Engage government
There’s a crisis in the public service provision of local news. If you want proof just look at the horse-trading between ITV and Ofcom. It’s a perfect opportunity for the government to think laterally.

Yet despite the warm words – and suitable use of new media lingua franca – in last month’s Digital Britain report, Lord Carter and co failed to put anything radical in train.

Carter’s defence is that this report was a sprawling undertaking and wasn’t designed to mandate government.

If so, someone needs to pick it up in Whitehall, but also in county halls up and down the country.

Rather than fund me-too freesheets that threaten to kill off local newspapers, local authorities would be better advised to help provide the infrastructure for hyperlocal.

It’s time to free your data for postcode-based applications, create a support system for local citizen journalists and use those soon-to-be-thriving platforms to promote the uptake of online public services.

Enough of the action plan. Go create.

(*That’s John O’Groats to Land’s End, postcode fans. Well, near enough.)

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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Online Journalism Blog: Help Me Investigate update

Following news that the Help Me Investigate (HMI) project will receive funding from 4iP and Screen West Midlands, Paul Bradshaw updates on the project.

The most important thing about the ‘platform for crowdsourcing investigative journalism’ is that it ‘enables users to mobilise support behind that question; and to pursue it,’ writes its founder.

“HMI attempts to address the biggest issue facing journalism: how do we save the good stuff? The persistent slow-brewed journalism that was previously subsidised (if you were lucky) by more commercially friendly instant journalism, but which stands to lose most as commercial content becomes disaggregated and reaggregated, and audiences and their activity measurable.”

Full post at this link…

Also see interview with Paul Bradshaw at this link.

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