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Advice from Guardian.co.uk’s online journalism Q&A

On Friday Journalism.co.uk took part in a live Q&A  hosted by the The Guardian’s careers section, allowing new and experienced journalists the opportunity to ask industry professionals for advice on conquering the world of online journalism.

The multimedia panel on hand to answer questions were:

Paul Gallagher, head of online editorial, Manchester Evening News
Laura-Jane Filotrani, site editor, Guardian Careers
Sarah Hartley, digital editor, The Guardian
Alison Gow, executive editor, digital, Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post
Laura Oliver, senior reporter, Journalism. co.uk
Madeline Bennett, editor of technology news sites V3.co.uk and The Inquirer
Paul Bradshaw, senior lecturer in online journalism, Birmingham City University
John Hand, duty editor, UK desk BBC News website
Alison White, community moderator, The Guardian

Here’s our round-up of the best advice from Friday’s event on how to make it as a successful online journalist in the digital age. You can also read the panel’s responses in full on the online journalism Q&A page on Guardian.co.uk.

Jump to:

What is the best subject to study to help me break into journalism?

[asked by Matt, who is studying English literature and language at college and asked if going on to study an English degree would help him prepare for a career in journalism]

John Hand: “I’m often asked which is the best subject to study at university and the answer is really that there is no particularly bad choice. The best newsroom has a good mix of people with different knowledge areas – for example, I think every editor in the country would love to have someone with the in-depth health knowledge of a medical degree on their team. Of course, any degree course that allows you to develop your writing and analytical skills (I always think history is a clever choice) would be better than most.

“The most important thing is to get some vocational training. Many editors themselves initially came through NCTJ courses (http://www.nctj.com/) so would respect those, but there are also many media organisations that offer their own in-house (or even external) training. If you want to get into news journalism, the key question to ask of any training scheme is how good their law course is.”

Sarah Hartley: “Grab as much work experience as you can throughout your uni years. Who knows what the economic climate will be like when you graduate but it may well be that you can find an employer who will put you through a block release course or similar. New schemes for apprenticeships, internships and such are bound to come through in that time.”

Madeline Bennett: “Has your college got a student newspaper or website? If so, volunteering to write for that would be a good starting point and showcase for your work. If not, why not start one? This is also the case for when you go to uni, student papers can be a great place to launch your journalism career.”

But what if I can’t afford to go to university?

[Forum user Dan Holloway asked: how does someone who has no choice but carry on a full-time job to make ends meet go about switching careers to online journalism?]

Alison White: “My advice would be to perhaps take some evening classes in journalism if possible – while I was at uni I did a 10-week course, one evening a week, about freelancing and a two-day course about getting into journalism. Or how about some work experience? Newspapers and other organisations are less well-staffed at weekends, I’m sure they’d appreciate some help with uploading content or other duties. Once you’ve got to know some people you can always keep in touch in the hope they might point you towards job opportunities or further work experience.”

Madeline Bennett: “Look for courses that focus on online journalism or multimedia skills, there might be some weekend or evening classes available that you can do to support your NCTJ. Also these courses are a good place to meet people who can help you get your first job in journalism, as they’ll often be run by current working journalists.”

Laura Oliver: “Start experimenting – if you can find the time outside of work to run a blog, contribute to other websites, you’ll learn a great deal about the basics of online publishing. Contact sites and other blogs that interest you and offer postings. Look at successful bloggers and think about what they are doing that makes them influential/profitable. Here are a couple of posts that might help too regarding building an online brand as a journalist:

“http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2009/08/17/adam-westbrook-6×6-branding-for-freelance-journalists/

“http://www.journalism.co.uk/5/articles/534896.php

What skills do I need to be an online journalist?

[Forum user Dean Best asked: what are the top online-specific skills I should attain to improve my online skills and better my chances of moving up the ladder?]

Laura-Jane Filotrani: “To be able to demonstrate a passion for digital – by this I mean that you are active online; you use the net; you have a profile online; you use and understand community; you are excited by being able to reach people using the internet; you want to find out the latest developments.”

Alison White: “A good knowledge of SEO and the importance of linking to others and providing ‘added value’ to the reader; i.e. give them the story but perhaps with a link to a video, an online petition, a Facebook page etc. News to me seems more of a package now rather than a traditional delivery.”

Paul Bradshaw:

“1. Understand how RSS works and how that can improve your newsgathering, production and distribution. I cover a little of that in this post:

“http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2008/04/21/rss-social-media-passive-aggressive-newsgathering-a-model-for-the-21st-century-newsroom-part-2-addendum/

“2. Engage with online communities around your specialist area, help them, provide valuable information and contacts, and then when you need help on something, they’ll be there for you in return. It will also build a distribution network for your content.

“3. Possibly hardest, but force yourself to experiment and make mistakes with all sorts of media. If you can make yourself entertaining as well as informative then that can really work very well.”

How can I make the transition to online journalism?

['Malini' asked: how do I go about breaking into the field of online journalism? And why would anyone pay and retain a writer when they can easily get so much content for free?]

Paul Bradshaw: “Use free writing to build a reputation and contacts; and sell the valuable stuff that you generate from that. Ultimately you should aim to become reliable enough for them to want to hire you when they are hiring.”

Sarah Hartley: “Writers have always provided free content – be it letters to the editor, local band reviews, poetry or whatever, so being online will only further the opportunity for that sort of exposure and that can only be a good thing for diversity and choice.”

Paul Gallagher: “I have taught myself some coding skills like HTML and I believe it does help a lot to have some technical knowledge, not necessarily because you will need them in the job but because it really helps to be able to communicate well with the programmers and developers in your company.”

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#FollowJourn: @SamShepherd/online journalist

#FollowJourn: Samantha Shepherd

Who? Online journalist and digital projects co-ordinator for Bournemouth Daily Echo.

What? She keeps a blog, SubbedOut, and tweets regularly with her personal take on journalism.

Where? @SamShepherd or http://subbedout.wordpress.com/

Contact? sam.shepherd at bournemouthecho.co.uk

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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Digital editors on Twitter – a list for networking and problem-solving

Since I started using Twitter I’ve always been amazed (and grateful) at how quickly calls for technological help and assistance with ideas and projects are answered. It’s one of the main reasons I’m a fan of Twitter.

There are plenty of media/journalist Twitter databases out there, but below are the beginnings of a list of digital editors on Twitter.

What do I mean by digital editor? In this instance, a journalist working primarily online, on web projects or co-ordinating multimedia output. The web editor of a newspaper site or magazine site, for example. It’s in no particular order, except for being divided by ‘traditional’ industry sectors at the moment, but if this isn’t useful, just let us know – would be great to get more international representatives too.

But the criteria for inclusion on the list are intentionally loose – this is aimed at networking, problem-solving and idea sharing between journalists working in the same space and similar roles. (Feel free to nominate any additions or drop us a tweet @journalismnews)

UPDATE April 16please read blog post two on how to message the group via Twitter

Newspapers

Alison Gow (@alisongow) – executive editor, digital, Liverpool Daily Post & Liverpool Echo

Kevin Matthews (@kmatt) – head of web and data, Liverpool Daily Post

Neil MacDonald (@xxnapoleonsolo) – deputy head of web and data, Liverpool Daily Post

Jo Wadsworth (@jowadsworth) – web editor, Brighton Argus

Tom Pegg (@tomatthechad) – digital content manager, Mansfield Chad

James Goffin (@jamesgoffin) – regional web producer, Archant

Sarah Booker (@sarah_booker) – web editor, Worthing Herald

Gustav Svensson (@gustavsvensson) – web editor, entertainment and arts, Sydsvenskan.se

Stephen Emerson (@stephen_emerson) – deputy online editor, Scotsman.com

Sam Shepherd (@SamShepherd) – online journalist, Bournemouth Daily Echo

Joanna Geary (@timesjoanna) – web development editor, business, Times Online

Sarah Hartley (@foodiesarah) – head of online editorial, MEN Media

Iain Hepburn (@iainmhepburn) – online editor, DailyRecord.co.uk

Lucia Adams (@luciatimes) – web development editor, Times Online

Carmen Boles (@carmenb) – online news editor, Gazette.com

Marcus Warren (@MarcusWa) – editor, Telegraph.co.uk

Dan Owen (@danowen) – executive editor online, Trinity Mirror

Steve Nicholls (@steve_nicholls) – multimedia editor, Birmingham Post

Anna Jeys (@ajeys) – multimedia editor, Birmingham Mail

Steve Wollaston (@stevewollaston) – multimedia editor, BPM Media and Sunday Mercury

Julie Martin (@jules_27) – Teesside Evening Gazette

Helen Dalby (@helendalby) – regional multimedia manager, NCJ Media

Nick Turner (@nickincumbria) – head of digital content, CN Group

Christian Dunn (@christiandunn) – digital news editor, NWN Media

Hugh Dixon (@hugh_d) – web editor and production editor, thisisbath/Bath Chronicle

Paul Cockerton (@paulcockerton) – web editor, Lancashire Telegraph

Dan Owens (@hornetdan1979) – deputy news editor, Northampton Chronicle and Echo

Dan Kerins (@dankerins) – web journalist, Southern Daily Echo

Broadcast

Marsha Graham (@marshagoldcoast) – multimedia manager for 102.9FM Hot Tomato, Australia

Rob Winder (@robwinder) – news editor, Al Jazeera website, Washington DC

Tom Thorogood (@TomThorogood) – digital news editor, MTV

Magazines

Martin Stabe (@martinstabe) – online editor, Retail Week

Victoria Thompson (@VicThompson) – assistant online editor, Nursing Times

Neil Durham (@NeilDurham) – deputy editor, GP and Independent Nurse

John Robinson (@PulseToday) – digital content manager, Pulse Today

Peter Houston (@p_houston) – editorial director for Advanstar Communications, Europe

Alex Smith (@alexsmith68) – web editor, Building.co.uk

Keira Daley (@daleyrant) – web editor, Australian print magazine

Lara McNamee (@lovelylara33) – assistant intelligence editor, ICIS

Gabriel Fleming (@gabefleming) – online editor, Nursing Times

Janie Stamford (@janiestamford) – contract catering editor, Caterer & Hotelkeeper

Robin Latchem (@lgcplus) – online editor, Local Government Chronicle

Keely Stocker (@keelystocker) – digital content manager, Drapers Online

Scott Matthewman (@scottm) – assistant manager, The Stage

Specialist website

Michael Hubbard (@michaelomh) – founder and music editor, MusicOmh

Krystal Sim (@krystalsim) – web editor for sustainability magazine BSD – bsdlive.co.uk

Arun Marsh (@ArunMarsh) – content producer/editor, Local Gov

Rick Waghorn (@MrRickWaghorn) – publisher, MyFootbalWriter

Emma Waddingham (@emmawad) online editor, Legal-Medical.co.uk

Michael McCarthy (@HealthGuide) online editor, LocalHealthGuide

Steve Gooding (@rmtimestech)- Romney Marsh Times

Manoj Solanki (@ManojSolanki) – SeekBroadband.com

Graham Holliday (@noodlepie) – digital editor, Frontline Club

Craig McGinty (@craigmcginty) – publisher, ThisFrenchLife

Mark Crail (@markcrail) – managing editor, XpertHR

Freelance

Adam Oxford (@adamoxford)

Rachel Colling (@rachcolling)

Ashanti Omkar (@ashantiomkar)

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RSF: Malaysian blogger finally released

November 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is hailing the release of online journalist Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the founder and editor of the Malaysia Today. Also known as ‘RPK,’ Kamaruddin had been detained since September 12, under section 8 of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows detention without trial for two years.

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Online Journalism Scandinavia: Berlingske Tidende – using crime maps for journalism

July 30th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

As the UK government announces plans for crime maps for offences in England and Wales, Kristine Lowe reports for Journalism.co.uk on how Danish paper Berlingske Tidende is using its own map as a source of news and a public service.

“Crime mapping is getting government push behind it, even if police are resisting,” wrote the Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur this week, as the government announced plans to publish local interactive crime maps for every area in England and Wales by Christmas.

In Denmark the national daily Berlingske Tidende is already pioneering the use of crime maps as part of the newsgathering process.

With the help of its readers, the paper has created an interactive crime map detailing how well the police responds to calls from the public.

“We have just had a major police reform here in Denmark and decided to investigate how this has worked. The politicians promised more police on the streets and more money to solve crime. We thought the best way to check the reality of these promises was to get our readers to tell us about their experiences,” Christian Jensen, editor-in-chief of Berlingske, told Journalism.co.uk.

The reader reports are placed on a Google map of the country and, since its launch in May, 70 crimes have been reported and plotted.

One of the crimes reported to the map related to the alleged murder of Danish woman Pia Rönnei.

Despite available patrols in the area, the police force did not send officers to investigate calls from neighbours, who reported screams and loud bangs from an apartment that Rönnei was in – something it has been forced to apologise for after the publicity the story received.

“In classic journalism, it is the journalists who find the stories. In our new media reality, it can just as well be the readers who alert us to issues they are concerned about,” said Jensen.

The newspaper has had two full-time reporters devoted to the project, and used an online journalist, photographer and production company (for live pictures) in stories they have devoted additional space to.

“We encourage people to get in touch with stories both in our paper edition and online, as we see a substantial increase in web traffic when we draw attention to the project in the paper edition,” Jensen explained.

Every single crime report on the map generates the same amount of web traffic as breaking news, he added.

The project has been so successful that the newspaper is preparing to launch another project in the same vein. In the next few days Berlingske will unveil a database on immigration politics, where readers can tell their own stories and read and comment on each others’ accounts of their experiences with immigration authorities.

But the biggest challenge for the paper has been verification:

“That is what makes this complicated. Our journalists read through all the reports to check their credibility, but we do not have the resources to verify every single detail. That has made it even more important to clarify from the outset that we are only reporting what the readers have told us.”

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Innovations in Journalism – live geo-tagged video broadcast from Seero

April 21st, 2008 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Mobile

We give developers the opportunity to tell us journalists why we should sit up and pay attention to the sites and devices they are working on. Today, live video streamed over the web with extra geographical information mapped in real-time from Seero.

image of seero’s website

1) Who are you and what’s it all about?
Hello, I’m Justin Cutillo, co-founder of Seero. It’s a geo-broadcasting platform that fuses live and on-demand video with GPS mapping.

Our technology is a response to the convergence and proliferation of video and GPS features in the flourishing mobile device market.

2) Why would this be useful to a journalist?
Seero was built to reflect the core needs of video bloggers and online journalist. The platform incorporates tools for live mobile broadcasting with additional real-time GPS tracking and static location marking.

We also have a geo-information/advertising server. This system allows us to geo-tag specific information to enhance any broadcasts near that location.

For example, if an online journalist was covering a fire in London, we have the ability to upload facts specific to the building and geo-tag them to the exact location. The information is served based on its proximity to the location of the broadcast.

All you need for mobile broadcasting is a laptop and a mobile broadband card. You can add on an inexpensive GPS receiver for the real-time tracking feature or use an Ultra Mobile PC is you don’t want to carry around a full laptop.

3) Is this it, or is there more to come?
We are currently working on some major build items. We should be releasing an embeddable flash player that includes the live video player and the full map functionality within a month. We are also working on a module to add course tracking to previously recorded videos.

Our largest project is to build a mobile broadcasting application for Symbian mobile phones to enable journalist to broadcast live video and GPS right from their Nokia phones.

Beyond that we have a secretive project that could really redefine how people interact with live video on the internet.

4) Why are you doing this?
When it comes down to it we are technology buffs. We came up with the idea on a vacation to San Francisco more than two years ago while thinking of ways to virtually tour a city.

Combining live video and location info opens up new, exciting uses for online video.  Needless to say we are very enthusiastic about the prospects.

5) What does it cost to use it?
Besides the hardware cost, which may be very little if you already have a laptop, the service is completely free to all users.

6) How will you make it pay?
We currently envision three main channels of revenue. The first channel involves white label sites built on the Seero infrastructure for promotional as well as professional and government services.

The second channel is geo-advertising. We have a proprietary geo-advertising system that provides a simple and powerful solution for correlating advertising to site content.

Beyond those revenue streams we also see potential for our geo-advertising system as a stand-alone service.

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