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Ten things every journalist should know in 2010

January 4th, 2010 | 50 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Online Journalism

This is an update on a post I wrote at the beginning of last year – Ten things every journalist should know in 2009. I still stand by all those points I made then so consider the following 10 to be an addendum.

1. How to monitor Twitter and other social media networks for breaking news or general conversations in your subject area using tools such as TweetDeck. Understand and use hashtags.

2. You are in control. Don’t become a slave to technology, make it your slave instead. You will need to develop strategies to cope with information overload – filter, filter, filter!

3. You are a curator. Like it or not, part of your role will eventually be to aggregate content (but not indiscriminately). You will need to gather, interpret and archive material from around the web using tools like Publish2, Delicious and StumbleUpon. As Publish2 puts it: “Help your readers get news from social media. More signal. Less noise.”

4. Your beat will be online and you will be the community builder. Creating communities and maintaining their attention will increasingly be down to the efforts of individual journalists; you may no longer be able to rely on your employer’s brand to attract reader loyalty in a fickle and rapidly changing online world (see 7).

5. Core journalistic skills are still crucial. You can acquire as many multimedia and programming skills as you want, but if you are unable to tell a story in an accurate and compelling way, no one will want to consume your content.

6. Journalism needs a business model. If you don’t understand business, especially the business you work for, then it’s time to wake up. The reality for most journalists is that they can no longer exist in a vacuum, as if what they do in their profession is somehow disconnected from the commercial enterprise that pays their wages (one side effect of journalists’ attempts to ‘professionalise’ themselves, according to Robert G Picard). That does not mean compromising journalistic integrity, or turning into solo entrepreneurs; rather it means gaining an understanding of the business they are in and playing a part in moving it forward.

As former Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves said in his excellent speech to Warwick Business School last year: “You cannot be an editor in today’s media environment without also being a businessman. It might say editor on my business card, but really, I am in the business of making news profitable and budgets, targets and performance are as important to me as words and newsprint.”

OK, you may not be an editor yet but that is no excuse, and it is probably easier to innovate while you are still working on the coalface without managerial responsibilities. Plus, in some cases, your editor may be part of the problem.

7. You are your own brand – brand yourself online! I’m not talking bylines here – you need to build yourself an online persona, one that earns you a reputation of trustworthiness and one that allows you to build fruitful relationships with your readers and contacts. You can no longer necessarily rely on having a good reputation by proxy of association with your employer’s brand. And your reputation is no longer fleeting, as good as your last big story – there is an entire archive of your content building online that anyone can potentially access.

Obvious ways to do this: Twitter, Facebook, personal blogging, but you can also build a reputation by sharing what you are reading online using social bookmarking sites like Publish2 and delicious (see 3).

8. You need to collaborate! Mashable suggests seven ways news organisations could become more collaborative outside of their own organisations, but this could also mean working with other journalists in your own organisation on, for example, multimedia projects as MultimediaShooter suggests or hook up with other journalists from other publications as Adam Westbrook suggests to learn and share new ideas.

9. Stories do not have to end once they are published online. Don’t be afraid to revise and evolve a story or feature published online, but do it transparently – show the revisions. And don’t bury mistakes; the pressure to publish quickly can lead to mistakes but if you admit them honestly and openly you can only gain the respect of your readers.

10. Technology is unavoidable, but it is nothing to fear and anyone of any age can master the basics. If you do nothing else, set up a WordPress blog and experiment with different templates and plugins – I promise you will be amazed at what you can achieve and what you can learn in the process.

    Learn more practical advice on the future of journalism at our news:rewired event at City University in London on 14 January 2010.

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    Journalism students as entrepreneurs

    “Are traditional skills enough or do the new generation of journalists also need to be entrepreneurs?” asked Patrick Barkham in a Media Guardian feature today.

    He cited examples of entrepreneurship, as preached by CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis, in journalism departments at various British universities.

    Journalism.co.uk – rather an old ‘start-up’ at 10 years old, it must be said – got a mention, along with my comment that blogs and Twitter gave student journalists more opportunity than ever for a platform from which to get noticed.

    But the real challenge of making money is rather more tricky than just getting heard, as the debate on today’s NUJ New Media email list indicated.

    “Surely freelancers have always been entrepreneurs?” one contributor commented.

    “Yes, journalists need to be taught about how business works and also how to manage people (how many journalists do you know who have made awful managers?) But that might be more appropriate to ongoing training than basic foundation courses,” added Journalism.co.uk’s founder John Thompson.

    Alex Wood, City University alumni and a founder of the Berlin Project, thinks the entrepreneurial speak is ‘old news,’ saying that he and his student colleagues regularly made use of freelance opportunities, web design and online articles. “I’d say with most courses now over £10,000, becoming an ‘entrepreneur’ isn’t a skill, it’s a necessity (…) It’s a simple case of sink or survive and with huge debt around graduates necks these days, people are a lot more willing to fight.”

    Meanwhile, multimedia and recently freelance journalist, Adam Westbrook, said that ‘this talk about journalists-as-entrepreneurs recognises a distinction between freelance journalism and entrepreneurship’.

    “Yes, if freelancers run themselves as mini businesses there is some similarity, but I think its also about embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, looking for new markets and opportunities to exploit – seems a bit anti-journalism but that’s the game I think.

    “And the ultimate journalism start-up is the one which cuts a profit and self sustains (ideally not through advertising alone), rather than living off grants or donations.”

    Paul Bradshaw, lecturer at Birmingham City University and founder of the OnlineJournalismBlog, thinks the new approach does go beyond traditional methods; it’s a form of entrepreneurial journalism ‘that seeks to find new business models for journalism, rather than existing freelance journalism models,’ he said. “That could be anything from new forms of advertising, public funds, or platforms like iPhone apps etc.”

    Join the debate and send your own examples, in the comments, or through Twitter (via @journalismnews):

    • How is the new journalistic entrepreneurship different from freelancing of present / yore?
    • Are journalism schools the right places to develop these skills? Or would students be better off in business school?

    Entrepreneurship will be one of the topics tackled at our news:rewired conference on 14 January 2010. See http://newsrewired.com for more details. Tickets on sale now.

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    OJR: A checklist for starting your news website

    November 3rd, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism, Training

    Following on neatly from Hannah Waldram’s post on why UK journalism students need to be entrepreneurial too, the Online Journalism Review has created a checklist for setting up a news site if you’re a student or starting mid-career.

    The detailed guide covers selecting a domain, advertising, blogging tools and using metrics.

    Full list at this link…

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    Hannah Waldram: ‘What journalism students need to know’

    November 3rd, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Training

    Journalism students need to be taught entrepreneurship skills, says Waldram – a trend that is emerging in the US and slowly starting in the UK.

    “Part of the problem, I think, is not only that journalism courses are slow to amend their teaching syllabus in accordance with the changing times (probably because they have worked so well untouched for years), but also many local newspapers have failed to adapt to digital migration at the same pace as their readers. So even if trained journalists fresh out of j-school are given the right tool-set to aptly do online news, there are at the moment little places from them to shine while regional newspapers themselves adjust. In that gap, however, students could use what skills they do have to start up hyperlocal sites to continue practise their unique combination of traditional and new media skills. It’s this entrepreneurship which is being taught at CUNY, and our British counterparts should also be encouraged to do,” she writes.

    Full post at this link…

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    JEEcamp: Kyle Macrae on Scoopt: We’re all entrepreneurs now

    May 11th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism

    They don’t make ’em like Kyle Macrae, the founder of citizen journalism photography site Scoopt, any more – but maybe they should?

    Speaking at Friday’s journalism and enterprise ‘unconference’, JEEcamp, Macrae posited that the only option for journalists at the moment is to be entreprenuerial.

    Macrae sold Scoopt to Getty Images in March 2007, before the photography giant shuttered the site in February this year.

    Macrae outlined some of the issues with the idea behind Scoopt:

    • every mainstream media organisation that bought into the idea of user-generated content e.g. send us your pictures of snow – took away from Scoopt’s business
    • Scoopt needed a default route to market for all valuable content e.g. a partnership with Flickr was discussed, where users posting potentially valuable images could click to sell
    • there isn’t an unlimited market for editorial photography
    • Scoopt wasn’t sticky enough – “People would register on site and then wait the rest of their lives for something to happen”

    It was impossible to scale the business on a regional level

    But, says, Macrae, selling the site was always his ‘exit strategy’ – something all entrepreneurs should have from the start and there were some very valuable nuggets of advice for budding independents in his presentation:

    • try to step outside of the journalism sector before starting a journalism business – you’ll spot more opportunities this way
    • similarly, get someone to sanity check your business – preferably someone outside the industry
    • pay less attention to what the ‘usual commentators’ are saying when considering if you’re idea is good
    • in an ideal world, you’d have the funding in place first, but start as you mean to go on – think about where the money is going to come from from the very beginnning
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