Tag Archives: City University

City University research shows rapid growth of personalised news services

Automatic personalised news services in UK and US are growing at three times the rate of reader customisation services, according to new report.

Research published by City University today, as carried out by senior lecturer in electronic publishing Neil Thurman, suggests that from 2007 to 2009, personalisation by readers only grew by 20 per cent.

In comparison passive personalisation, where news websites filter and recommend articles based on user browsing behaviour “is outstripping active user customisation by a factor of three” with 60 per cent growth. And since then, Thurman told Journalism.co.uk, a third study at the end of last year appears to show the trend continuing, with social media and mobile playing an increasing role in adding personalisation functionality.

The research was carried out through a series of interviews with senior editors of major news outlets in the UK and US, including Times Online and BBC News Interactive, as well as content analysis of the news sites of these organisations.

This included features such as widgets and SMS alerts, as well as homepage customisation and “contextual recommendations” where contextually-related links are automatically generated from individual stories to other content.

“Although some are saying that personalised news sites are ‘all the rage’, this research is a warning to new sites like Trove, that readers are reluctant to take on the role of editorial selection, and still enjoy serendipitous discovery,” Thurman said in a release today.

XCity: George Brock’s 10 predictions for journalism in 25 years

City University’s student magazine includes a forecast from head of journalism at City and former Times journalist George Brock.

His 10 predictions include: more newspapers going bust, particularly dailies and those outside of the M25; a WikiLeaks effect; and greater transparency.

6. The next 25 years will be a period of extraordinary innovation and creativity in platforms, techniques and the wholesale rethinking of journalism. Data journalism and the creation of online communities are only just the start.

XCity’s full article is at this link.

See City professor Paul Bradshaw’s predictions here.

From alpha users to a man in Angola: Adventures in crowdsourcing and journalism

Yesterday’s Media Standards Trust data and news sourcing event presented a difficult decision early on: Whether to attend “Crowdsourcing and other innovations in news sourcing” or “Open government data, data mining, and the semantic web”. Both sessions looked good.

I thought about it for a bit and then plumped for crowdsourcing. The Guardian’s Martin Belam did this:

Belam may have then defied a 4-0 response in favour of the data session, but it does reflect the effect of networks like Twitter in encouraging journalists – and others – to seek out the opinion or knowledge of crowds: crowds of readers, crowds of followers, crowds of eyewitnesses, statisticians, or anti-government protestors.

Crowdsourcing is nothing new, but tools like Twitter and Quora are changing the way journalists work. And with startups based on crowdsourcing and user-generated content becoming more established, it’s interesting to look at the way that they and other news organisations make use of this amplified door-to-door search for information.

The MST assembled a pretty good team to talk about it: Paul Lewis, special projects editor, the Guardian; Paul Bradshaw, professor of journalism, City University and founder of helpmeinvestigate.com; Turi Munthe, founder, Demotix; and Bella Hurrell, editor, BBC online specials team.

From the G20 protests to an oil field in Angola

Lewis is perhaps best known for his investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson following the G20 protests, during which he put a call out on Twitter for witnesses to a police officer pushing Tomlinson to the ground. Lewis had only started using the network two days before and was, he recalled, “just starting to learn what a hashtag was”.

“It just seemed like the most remarkable tool to share an investigation … a really rich source of information being chewed over by the people.”

He ended up with around 20 witnesses that he could plot on a map. “Only one of which we found by traditional reporting – which was me taking their details in a notepad on the day”.

“I may have benefited from the prestige of breaking that story, but many people broke that story.”

Later, investigating the death of deportee Jimmy Mubenga aboard an airplane, Lewis again put a call out via Twitter and somehow found a man “in an oil field in Angola, who had been three seats away from the incident”. Lewis had the fellow passenger send a copy of his boarding pass and cross-checked details about the flight with him for verification.

But the pressure of the online, rolling, tweeted and liveblogged news environment is leading some to make compromises when it comes to verifying information, he claimed.

“Some of the old rules are being forgotten in the lure of instantaneous information.”

The secret to successful crowdsourcing

From the investigations of a single reporter to the structural application of crowdsourcing: Paul Bradshaw and Turi Munthe talked about the difficulties of basing a group or running a business around the idea.

Among them were keeping up interest in long-term investigations and ensuring a sufficient diversity among your crowd. In what is now commonly associated with the trouble that WikiLeaks had in the early days in getting the general public to crowdsource the verification and analysis of its huge datasets, there is a recognised difficulty in getting people to engage with large, unwieldy dumps or slow, painstaking investigations in which progress can be agonisingly slow.

Bradshaw suggested five qualities for a successful crowdsourced investigation on his helpmeinvestigate.com:

1. Alpha users: One or a small group of active, motivated participants.

2. Momentum: Results along the way that will keep participants from becoming frustrated.

3. Modularisation: That the investigation can be broken down into small parts to help people contribute.

4. Publicness: Publicity vía social networks and blogs.

5. Expertise/diversity: A non-homogenous group who can balance the direction and interests of the investigation.

The wisdom of crowds?

The expression “the wisdom of crowds” has a tendency of making an appearance in crowdsourcing discussions. Ensuring just how wise – and how balanced – those crowds were became an important part of the session. Number 5 on Bradshaw’s list, it seems, can’t be taken for granted.

Bradshaw said that helpmeinvestigate.com had tried to seed expert voices into certain investigations from the beginning, and encouraged people to cross-check and question information, but acknowledged the difficulty of ensuring a balanced crowd.

Munthe reiterated the importance of “alpha-users”, citing a pyramid structure that his citizen photography agency follows, but stressed that crowds would always be partial in some respect.

“For Wikipedia to be better than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it needs a total demographic. Everybody needs to be involved.”

That won’t happen. But as social networks spring up left, right, and centre and, along with the internet itself, become more and more pervasive, knowing how to seek out and filter information from crowds looks set to become a more and more important part of the journalists tool kit.

I want to finish with a particularly good example of Twitter crowdsourcing from last month, in case you missed it.

Local government press officer Dan Slee (@danslee) was sat with colleagues who said they “didn’t get Twitter”. So instead of explaining, he tweeted the question to his followers. Half an hour later: hey presto, he a whole heap of different reasons why Twitter is useful.

Engagement, technology, and strawberry ice cream: Paul Bradshaw’s inaugural lecture

Is ice cream strawberry?

That’s a thinker, as they say. Translated, the enigmatic title of Paul Bradshaw’s inaugural lecture as professor of online journalism at London’s City University begins to make more sense:

Asking ‘is ice cream strawberry’ is like asking ‘is blogging journalism’?

And asking ‘is blogging journalism’, he said, is just like asking: Is writing journalism? Is printing journalism? Is broadcasting journalism?

History is littered with those who have confronted new ways of doing things with apprehension and mistrust. I’m sure there was more than a little consternation when News International staff arrived at Wapping to find computer terminals everywhere. Likewise the telephone, telegraph, and so on. Bradshaw was keen to get across last night that it isn’t the tools and technologies that really matter, they are all just different flavours of the same thing.

But new tools and technologies aren’t merely incidental, they don’t just come and go without having an impact on the way we do things. They have a pretty profound impact on the way some things are done and that can’t be ignored. For example: technology has brought about the much-discussed opening up of journalism into a kind of two-way street.

Some young, “digital native” journalists swagger down this two-way street, happy to meet and greet people as they go, making conversation, listening to others, and so on. And there are undoubtedly old Fleet Street hacks who have taken to it like a duck to water. But there are undoubtedly those, young and old, who are afraid to stray into that part of town.

Two examples:

Example 1

Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones published a piece recently on that cropped photo of the 7/7 bombers.

It received some pretty critical responses in the comments boxes below.

And in the spirit (perhaps formative, misguided in this case) of the new, web 2.0 world, Jones engaged with his readers:

Example 2 (from Bradshaw’s lecture)

In my first class here at City a student asked why they should waste time engaging with people online. I rather testily replied ‘Why publish your work at all? Why bother dealing with editors and subs and your colleagues? Why bother talking to sources and experts? Why not keep your precious piece of journalism locked away in your basement where it will never be sullied by the dirty gaze of other people? If you don’t want to engage with people, write fiction. (My emphasis).

Picking up on Jones’ comments, Fleet Street Blues advised: “The best advice? Don’t read the comments, ever.” But Bradshaw’s retort to his student, neatly summed up by that soundbite of a last sentence, points to the fallacy in the Fleet Street Blues’ stance. Pushing out content and walking away isn’t going to be an option for much longer, and throwing a very public tantrum isn’t a forward-thinking alternative.

There is a pragmatic and structural dimension to this whole argument, many journalists would pretty quickly tell you it is a fanciful idea that they have time to engage with readers, tweeters and commenters and large organisations may prefer to have their audience engagement dealt with by people who are trained, and aren’t going to suddenly demand a fucking apology and some respect.

Some news organisations are nearer the head of the curve, taking on dedicated community managers to engage with readers and guide reporters in doing the same, or taking steps to address how they manage communities of anonymous commenters. Some undoubtedly have a way to go.

Despite the attitude of that particular student of Bradshaw’s, perhaps there is a new generation of journalists coming through now, familiar with the technology and attitudes, for whom this stuff will be second nature.

Bradshaw advised his audience last night: “Don’t perpetuate the myth that technology causes things to happen. People do.”

I’m sure that technologies – which have a habit of turning out to be great at things they weren’t intended to do and influencing thinking and attitudes with their own unexpected capacities – have a more active role in “causing things to happen” than Bradshaw makes out. But however you see the balance, development will continue in the direction of opening platforms up and increasing communication between journalists and readers in all sorts of ways.

So if you’re not up for it, you’d better hope you have a novel in you.

Image of strawberry ice cream by joyosity. Some rights reserved

Paul Bradshaw: journalism’s invisible history – and conflicted future

Paul Bradshaw is a visiting professor in online journalism at City University, London. This evening (Thursday 3 March 2011) he will be giving his inaugural lecture at City University: “Is Ice Cream Strawberry? Journalism’s invisible history – and conflicted future”. Here is an excerpt from it:

Cars, Roads and Picnics

Paul Bradshaw

Paul Bradshaw: not rotten

Throughout the 20th century there were two ways of getting big things done – and a third way of getting small things done. Clay Shirky sums these up very succinctly in terms of how people organise car production, road building, and picnics.

If you want to organise the production of cars, you use market systems. If you want to organise the construction of roads, you use central, state systems of funding – because there is a benefit to all. And if you want to organise a picnic, well, you use social systems.

In the media industry these three line up neatly with print, broadcast and online production.

  • The newspaper industry grew up in spite of government regulation
  • The broadcast industry grew up thanks to government regulation
  • And online media grew up while the government wasn’t looking.

Now some media organisations have generally organised along the lines of car production, and others along the lines of road construction. And there were some examples of alternative media that were organised like picnics. Different media organisations got along fine without treading on each others’ toes: The Times wasn’t too threatened by the BBC, and the NME wasn’t too threatened by the fanzine photocopying audiophile.

But digitisation and convergence has mixed these businesses together in the same space, leading to some very confused feelings from publishers and journalists.

This is how news production used to be: a linear process, limited by physical constraints. You went out to get the story, you came back to write it up, or edit it, and then you handed it over to other people to edit, design, print and distribute.

Production was the first part to become digitised, turning a physical good into an intangible one – this saved on transportation time and costs but it also meant that there were limitless, identical copies. And it lowered the barrier to entry which had for so long protected publishers’ businesses from competition.

Newsgathering was the next element to become digitised, as an increasing amount of information was transmitted digitally. In fact, in some cases journalists began to write computer programs to do the grunt work while they got on with more important business of investigating and verifying leads.

Then finally, media companies simply lost control of distribution. This has gone through a number of phases: initially distribution was dominated by curated directories and portals like Yahoo! and MSN, which then gave way to search engines like Google, and these are now being overtaken by social networks such as Facebook.

And this is not over: the net neutrality issue could see distribution dominated by telecomms companies – an issue I’ll come on to later.

This move from a linear physical production process to a non-linear one online is one of the bases for the Model for a 21st Century Newsroom that I published three years ago.

Disintermediated, disaggregated, modularised

As the media went online, three things happened:

  • It was disintermediated by the web,
  • Disaggregated by links
  • And modularised by digitisation.

Put in plainer language, once newsgathering, production and distribution became digital they could be done by different people, in different places, and at different times – including non-journalists.

It’s important to point out that there is no ‘natural’ way to do journalism. There are hundreds of ways to tell a story, to investigate a question, or to distribute information. Institutions and cultures have grown up out of compromises over the years as they explored those possibilities and their limitations.

When you remove physical limitations you remove many of the reasons for the ways for making those compromises.

See also: Paul Bradshaw: five predictions for journalism in 25 years

Paul Bradshaw: Objectivity has changed – why hasn’t journalism?

Paul Bradshaw has blogged ahead of his forthcoming City University inaugural lecture, which is due to take place tomorrow, with thoughts about objectivism in journalism.

As journalists, however, we still argue that we are being objective by merely providing ‘both sides of the story’.

When stories were limited to 300 words or 30 seconds, there was justification for that version of objectivity: we did not have the luxury of thousands of words to expound upon why this source was selected for interview, the limitations of this dataset, or our own conception of the field under investigation.

Now those limits on space and time are removed by the web – but there are still limits on our own time, and the need to engage with our users: we cannot waste their time and ours on explaining methodology.

Bradshaw’s full post on Wannabe Hacks is at this link.



In defence of aggregation: Journalists stand up for maligned practice at university event

The role of news aggregators was defended yesterday by journalists at an event for City University’s journalism students.

Speaking at ‘Pimp My Blog’, Patrick Smith, Karl Schneider, and Tim Glanfield argued that news aggregators add value, rebuking claims by former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr that news aggregators are “parasites living of journalism produced by others”.

“I do think we are adding value,” said Smith, the editor of news aggregation site TheMediaBriefing. “We have got a semantic tagging system that actually makes this industry searchable and navigable and I think that has got a good value.”

Patrick Smith at Pimp My Blog:

Glanfield, a former Times journalist and co-founder of Beehive City, echoed Smith and questioned whether newspapers added any value or helped readers by simply “copying each other’s stories over and over again”.

“There are plenty of people who call themselves journalists out there who are basically just copying stuff from each other.

“Whereas what TheMediaBriefing and organisations like that are doing is aggregating news which is adding value.”

YouTube: Tim Glanfield at Pimp My Blog

Schneider, the editorial director at Reed Business Information, criticised newspapers for blaming their failures on others.

“I think there are lots of examples of newspapers trying find someone else to blame, whether it is bloggers, Google, or Craigslist, it is always someone else’s fault,” he said.

“Actually I think newspapers have sat on their backsides and failed to respond effectively to a completely changing media landscape till it is pretty much too late.”

Schneider added that in the future newspapers will have to “fundamentally reinvent themselves” online, because the aggregation found in print does not make sense online.

YouTube: Karl Schneider at Pimp My Blog

Coverage elsewhere:

Thoroughly Good Blog: We’re online publishers now

BBC College of Journalism blog: video

Rajvir Rai is a postgraduate journalism student at City University London. He can found on Twitter @R_Rai.

Apps and widgets? The secret to blog traffic is more simple than all that

Struggling to get traffic to your blog? Want to know what widgets and apps will magically increase your hits and get you noticed? The secret is actually rather simple: Hard-work, regular updates, extensive reading, and good relationships with wider communities will have new visitors flocking to your site.

Speaking at a ‘Pimp My Blog’ talk at City University last night Patrick Smith, Karl Schneider, Tim Glanfield and Martin Stabe dismissed the idea that fancy apps are the secret to huge monthly visitor figures.

“There is no secret to it, there is no widget that can give you traffic,” said Smith, the editor of www.themediabriefing.com. “If it is crap then no one will read it and there is no way out of that.”
Similarly Schneider, editorial director at Reed Business Information (RBI), said: “Your wrong if you get too tied up in technology and the tools, because at the end of the day it is all about a relationship with the audience and telling a story.

While you may not be able to ‘pimp your blog’ out with one single widget, there are still some fundamental things you can do to increase traffic and, as Stabe, interactive producer at the Financial Times, said, “punch above your weight”.

Have a niche and be an expert in that field

The panel were unanimous in stressing the importance of focusing your efforts on one particular area. Schneider cited few examples of niche B2B publications that RBI runs that get a huge amount of traffic because they focus on very specific areas. The best way to get noticed, according to Stabe, is to digest everything you can about one specific topic. By doing this you can make yourself an expert and people will want to know your views.

Build Communities

To get hits you have to serve the needs of a particular community or group. Smith stressed the importance of always asking yourself, ‘what does my site do and who is it for?’ Remember the most successful blogs and bloggers are those with clearly defined communities and readerships. Glanfield highlighted that actually one of the easiest ways to start to form relationships with wider communities is to identify forums that are relevant to your subject matter and engage in conversation with members.

Be interactive

“The biggest change in journalism is that it is becoming interactive. It is not something you do to your audience, it is something you do with your audience,” said Schneider. In other words, use your blog to engage with your audience through quizzes, polls and effective linking to other sites, and make the best of Twitter. Remember it is a two-way street so you have to re-tweet others, engage in dialogue and not just constantly rant and rave.

Remember the web is a multi-media platform

Utilizing pictures and videos can really make a difference to your blog. Think about the how you can supplement your words with visuals and audio.

Essential Tools

Do not despair there are some tools which, if used correctly, can help you boost your online profile.

  • Delicious: will help you bookmark and store anything interesting that you read online. It can also be used as a social networking tool to find other individuals reading in the same areas as yourself.
  • Google Reader: Use this to get a constant stream of updates from sites you have subscribed to. Essential if you want to become an expert in a field and also very time efficient as saves you having to visit lots of sites a day.
  • Dipity: Will help you embed timelines into your posts to give it that visual edge.
  • Re-tweet/Facebook like widgets: Will allow readers to re-twetter, like, bookmark and share your blog posts.
  • LinkWithin: A widget that will allow you link related articles at the bottom of a post.
  • Google Spreadsheets: Are a great way of crowd sourcing data journalism and presenting it in a inventive way.

See presentations from Pimp My Blog on YouTube:

Tim Glanfield

Karl Schneider

Martin Stabe

Patrick Smith

Coverage elsewhere:

Thoroughly Good Blog: We’re online publishers now

BBC College of Journalism blog: video

Rajvir Rai is a postgraduate journalism student at City University London. He can found on Twitter @R_Rai.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to speak in London tomorrow

At what promises to be a popular event, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will be speaking at City University London tomorrow as part of the Centre of Investigative Journalism summer school.

Assange will share his story of setting up the secure publishing platform four years ago, which publishes leaked, sensitive documents.

Earlier this year, WikiLeaks released a video of a Baghdad air-strike, showing gun-camera footage of the killing of two Reuters correspondents and ten others by the US Air Force.

Just yesterday, Reuters reported that the US military intelligence officer arrested last month in connection with the leak had been charged under two criminal counts, including allegations of disclosing classified national defence information.

Tickets to the talk cost £5 each and are still available to buy online.

Read more here…

Gavin MacFadyen: ‘maniacs’ make good investigative reporters

Leeds Trinity University College Journalism Week is running from Monday 22 until Friday 26 February. Speakers from across the industry will be at Leeds Trinity to talk about the latest trends in the news media, including Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger; BBC news director Helen Boaden, Sky News reporter Mike McCarthy and ITN political correspondent Chris Ship.

Addressing journalism students from Leeds Trinity University College as part of its annual Journalism Week, veteran investigative journalist Gavin MacFadyen said he is optimistic about the future of the specialist field, despite the “bad environment” that surrounds the industry in the UK.

The American, who is the director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and a Visiting Professor at City University London, told students about his experiences as an investigative reporter and shared anecdotes about some of the world’s most famous exposés.

MacFadyen outlined the bleak conditions that reporters face when attempting projects that are time intensive and require sufficient financial backing, and criticised the “risk averse” culture of media organisations in the UK, who refuse to fund lengthy inquiries that are costly and could end up in court.

“This kind of journalism is very rarely practised in Britain,” he said. “The media don’t want to spend the money – they don’t want to pay for it. It’s time-intensive but there’s no way around that.”

But despite the issues, he said good examples of investigative journalism remained, highlighting the MPs’ expenses scandal and exposure of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme as good examples.

The former war correspondent – who has worked on flagship programmes such as Panorama, World in Action and Dispatches – refuted concerns investigative journalism couldn’t be profitable, citing the example of French magazine Le Canard Enchaine

He described it as the French equivalent of Private Eye and explained it was “profitable because the information is critical to your life.”

And he advised students to get involved in investigative reporting, encouraging them to look for opportunities overseas where such journalism receives better funding and resources.

MacFadyen added that there was a “salvation” in the form of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit organisation that he helped set up.

When asked what skills and qualities were needed in aspiring reporters, he said: “It’s not so much [about] skills, its mania. If you’re a maniac and really suspicious and compulsive – you’re going to do well, you’ll get the skills.

“You have to know your way around public sources. You’re prepared to work extraordinary hours and put up with the endless reading of the most boring documents you have ever seen.

“But then there’s the ‘eureka’ moment and suddenly you see something on the page that’s going to nail some very bad people and it’s all worthwhile.”