Tag Archives: converged media

Could a new project rise out of the Newspaper Education Trust’s ashes?

As reported on Journalism.co.uk, we said farewell to the Newspaper Education Trust last night. A small gathering at Westferry Printers on London’s Isle of Dogs closed the door on a project that had run for 15 years and given over 30,000 schoolchildren a taste of the newsroom. I have written before about the project’s closure shortly after I heard about it in June, and said then that the failure to provide the funds to keep this project going was an indictment of the trade. Last night’s event reinforced that view.

The enthusiasm with which the kids embraced their ‘day in the newsroom’ and the effect it had on their confidence can’t be overestimated. When I described the project as ‘inspirational’ I was conscious that overuse has devalued the word’s currency, but it is appropriate in this case. Reading the testimonials from the kids backed this up, and hearing tales of proud parents mounting their child’s front page in gold frames which took pride of place at home provided further insight into what this meant.

I only met the project’s dedicated chief executive Anna Pangbourne earlier this year, when she approached me after a debate at Publishing Expo and explained what the NET did. That it has been going for 15 years and provided so much for so many is thanks to the work and backing of the project’s staff, but also the backers and the trustees. So I don’t want to be too critical, especially as someone who came to the NET late. But looking at those backers I wondered how it was that, even in these recessionary times, these organisations could not find the relatively small amounts required to keep the project going. Especially when the NUJ, with access to considerably more meagre resources, did pledge some money as I helped Anna in a last push for finance.

It all came to an end very fast. When I spoke to Anna in March she mentioned a potential funding problem. Three months later the NET was wound up. I should emphasise I don’t want to come across as critical of anyone who has helped the project throughout its 15 years – without their efforts and support it wouldn’t have existed in the first place. And yet…

Here we had a resource with cutting edge equipment – the NET used Smart boards long before many media groups – which demonstrated both the power of the media and how it could empower people. It sparked schoolchildren’s imagination by involving them in the process of investigating, questioning and creating, and boosted their confidence by encouraging them to follow up their judgments. This is the generation who, we are led to believe, do not recognise the difference between journalism and simply communicating, whose blogging and Facebooking and video gaming and digital dexterity means all existing media will be swept away and replaced by a vast communal conversation. And yet here they were, valuing the process of checking, standing up stories, working out how to present information to target readers – creating the very media too many in the trade display such a depressing lack of confidence in.

At the closing event, the ‘move to a digital age’ was cited as one reason why the decision to wind up the NET on a high was taken. And yet the NET had not only embraced digital production technology for print, it had also began to offer basic TV bulletin courses in its media studio. Plans for expanding into podcasting and greater use of converged media were also being made. That all sounds very much like moving to a digital age to me.

One of the NET’s many achievements has been to pass on the legacy of its work, and the Tower Hamlets Summer University will be taking on some of the kit and course framework to offer its students. I’m talking to the Summer Uni about the possibility of linking up with London’s journalism colleges, and with the Summer University model now being taken up across London and beyond there is a chance that what the NET started can be taken on and built on a much wider scale.

Why is all this important? There’s an obvious answer, and a not so obvious one. If any trade wants to attract and nurture the best, it needs to inspire and illuminate future generations. But this is not just about the trade getting a new workforce. Much is said about the information age, but many educators and politicians are still thinking in boxes rather than realising that communications skills are key to so much of modern life. It’s not just potential journalists who need to know how to handle media technology and process information – the ability to communicate well is more vital than ever before.

If anyone is interested in developing any of this, I’d be happy to hear from you.

This post originally appeared on MartinCloake.wordpress.com. Martin Cloake is a writer, production journalist and media consultant. His website can be found at this link.

BeatBlogging.Org: ‘UK news regulation stands in the way of newsroom convergence’

I’ve provided a guest post for BeatBlogging.org, the US-based site that looks at how to use social networks and other web tools to improve beat reporting. Using examples from various Journalism.co.uk pieces, I argue that it is very difficult to look towards coverged newsroom, under the hybrid regulatory systems with which we operate as UK-based publishers. Thoughts welcomed.

Read it in full over at the site. Here’s an extract:

We talk about converging newsrooms of the future that transcend boundaries between online, print and broadcast, but at a very fundamental level that process is impossible in the United Kingdom.

Martin Belam, information architect for the Guardian, recently emphasized that point in an interview with Journalism.co.uk:

“In a converged media landscape, it seems odd that [BBC’s] Robert Peston’s blog is regulated by the BBC Trust, [Channel 4’s] Jon Snow’s blog is regulated by Ofcom, and [the Guardian’s] Roy Greenslade’s blog is regulated by the PCC.”

Now, Martin was actually wrong on the Jon Snow point: Ofcom does not regulate any television Web sites at all. That is to say, the brands which must adhere to a strict code for television content are completely unregulated online. Ofcom advises consumers to make complaints about online content to their Internet service provider.

The BBC Trust regulates the BBC online; the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) regulates newspapers, magazines and their online content.

And Stephen Fry, who – at the time of writing — is nearing half a million followers on Twitter? Or Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) who has a loyal readership to rival most newspaper commentators? Well, they govern themselves – unless the law gets involved.

When the traditional media sectors go online, they’re regulated by their various bodies, and the ‘online-onlys’ only have the courts to worry about. Press publications have a less strict code than broadcasters, but online, broadcasters have more freedom than the press – though they don’t seem to be exercising it.

In a nutshell, a financial commentator from a newspaper has greater freedom than a financial commentator from a broadcaster, and an independent online-only financial commentator has the greatest freedom of all.

What happens when a bank crashes? Channel 4 and ITV can theoretically report how they like – online. The BBC must always answer to the BBC Trust. The newspapers must comply with the PCC code. Martin Lewis, of the MoneySaving Expert can, if he so chooses, be a law unto himself.

Same news and it’s all online but in very different guises. We might think people know the difference, but do they?

Full post at this link…

Q&A with an information architect (aka @currybet aka Martin Belam)

Martin Belam, of the CurryBet blog, has recently been appointed as ‘information architect’ for Guardian.co.uk. Journalism.co.uk asked him what he’ll be doing for the site…

For those who don’t know what you do, fill us in your background and the new gig…
[MB] I was at the Hack Day that the Guardian’s technology department ran back in November 2008, and the talent and enthusiasm that day really shone. I’ve really enjoyed the freedom of working as a consultant over the last three years, much of the time based either in Crete or in Austria, but the opportunity of coming to work more permanently for an organisation as forward-thinking as the Guardian is being with initiatives like the Open Platform was too much to resist.

So, an ‘information architect’ what does that mean and what are you doing?
Information Architecture has been defined as ‘the emerging art and science of organising large-scale websites’.

All websites have an inherent information structure – the navigation, the contextual links on a page, whether there are tags describing content and so forth. It is about how people navigate and way-find their way through the information presented on a site.

What I’ll be doing at the Guardian is influencing that structure and functionality as new digital products are developed. It involves working closely with design and editorial teams to produce ‘wireframes’, the blueprints of web design, and also involves being an advocate for the end user – carrying out lots of usability and prototype testing as ideas are developed.

Is it a full-time role?
I’m working four days a week at The Guardian, as I still have some other commitments – for example as contributing editor for FUMSI magazine – although already it feels a bit like cramming a full-time job into just 80 per cent of the time!

It’s not happy times for mainstream media brands: where are they going wrong?
I don’t think it is only mainstream media brands that are suffering from the disruption caused by digital transition, but we do see a lot of focus on this issue for print businesses at the moment. I think one of the things that strikes me, having worked at several big media companies now, including the BBC and Sony, is that you would never set these organisations up in this way in the digital era if you were doing it from scratch.

One of the things that appealed most about joining the Guardian was that the move to Kings Place has brought together the print, online and technical operations in a way that wasn’t physically possible before in the old offices. I’m still very optimistic that there are real opportunities out there for the big media brands that can get their business structures right for the 21st century.

What kind of things do you think could re-enthuse UK readers for their newspapers?
I think our core and loyal readers are still enthusiastic about their papers, but that as an industry we have to face the fact that there is an over-supply of news in the UK, and a lot of it – whether it is on the radio, TV, web or thrust into your hand as a freebie – is effectively free at the point of delivery. I think the future will see media companies who concentrate on playing to their strengths benefit from better serving a narrower target audience.

Do you see print becoming the by rather than primary product for the Guardian – or has that already happened?
I think there might very well be a ‘sweet spot’ in the future where the display quality on network-enabled mobile devices and the ubiquity of data through-the-air means that the newspaper can be delivered primarily in that way, but I don’t see the Guardian’s presses stopping anytime soon. Paper is still a very portable format, and it never loses connection or runs out of batteries.

Your background is in computer programming rather than journalism, will the two increasingly overlap?
I grew up in the generation that had BBC Micros and ZX Spectrums at home, so I used to program a lot as a child, but my degree was actually in History, which in itself is a very journalistic calling. I specialised in the Crusades and the Byzantine Empire, which is all about piecing together evidence from a range of sources of varying degrees of reliability, and synthesizing a coherent narrative and story from there. And, of course, I’ve spent most of this decade blogging, which utilises ‘some’ of the journalist’s skill-set ‘some’ of the time.

Whilst I’d never suggest that journalists need to learn computer programming much beyond a smattering of HTML, I think there is something to be gained from understanding the software engineering mindset. There are a lot of tools and techniques that can really help journalists plough through data to get at the heart of a story, or to use visualisation tools to help tell that story to their audience.

One of the most interesting things about working at the Guardian is the opportunity to work alongside people like Kevin Anderson, Charles Arthur and Simon Willison, who I think really represent that blending of the technical and journalistic cultures.

You’ve spoken out about press regulation before; why do you feel strongly about it?
In a converged media landscape, it seems odd that Robert Peston’s blog is regulated by the BBC Trust, Jon Snow’s blog is regulated by Ofcom, and Roy Greenslade’s blog is regulated by the PCC.

At the moment, I believe that the system works very well for editors, and very well for the ‘great and the good’ who can afford lawyers, but does absolutely nothing for newspaper consumers. If I see something that offends me on TV, I can complain to Ofcom. If I see an advert that offends me in the street, I can complain to ASA. If I see an article in a newspaper that I think is wrong, inaccurate, in bad taste or offensive, unless I am directly involved in the story myself, the PCC dismisses my complaint out of hand without investigating it.

I don’t think that position is sustainable.

The last thing I want to see is some kind of state-sponsored Ofpress quango, which is why I think it is so important that our industry gets self-regulation right – and why I believe that a review of how the PCC works in the digital era is long overdue.