Archive for the ‘news’ tag
This post was first published on mediastandardstrust.org on 22nd November 2010, and is based on a talk I gave at City University journalism department
Conversations about journalists tend to be very media-based. Are you a print or a broadcast journalist? Do you write for newspapers or magazines? Do you blog? But given that journalists now write, take pictures, record audio and video, and most jump between platforms on a regular basis then it doesn’t seem very useful to define people by media. So how should journalists be defined?
Here are 7 journalist archetypes (and an eighth that I can’t quite square) to better capture the journalist of tomorrow. This isn’t a scientific exercise. The archetypes are based on personal observation and on looking at some of the thousands of journalist profiles on journalisted.com (which we run).
Some of the categories overlap. There are probably some categories missing. In other words you shouldn’t take this as gospel. It’s more of a conversation opener. So jump in and suggest your own, there’s plenty of room at the bottom of this post.
7 journalist archetypes
This is the journalist whose name outshines, eclipses even, the journal(s) s/he writes for. That means people like Jeremy Clarkson who, according to a report in 2009, accounted for 25% of the Times website online traffic (pre-paywall). Other ‘uber brands’ might include Stephen Fry, Caitlin Moran, Charlie Brooker, and Robert Peston.
(Ivor Gaber has pointed out that there is probably a mezzanine level of ‘uber brands’ – i.e. columnists who earn a good income but aren’t quite well known enough to go it alone.)
This is the ever shrinking number of professional generalist journalists working for mainstream media. ‘Hamster’ because more and more is now expected of these journalists such that they are becoming like hamsters on a wheel, desperately running just to say in the same place. Producing multiple reports for multiple platforms on a constant basis
This is the person who uses journalism as a means to an end: to raise awareness about human rights abuses, to free government data, to campaign for a greener world, to end child detention, etc. Clare Sambrook has been so successful at the last (campaigning to end child detention) that she has – to date – won two awards for investigative journalism. Yet she has written mostly for non-mainstream outlets (presumably for little or no pay).
This type of journalism – particularly at NGOs – is on the rise. If you read a job ad for many campaigning non-profits you could be forgiven for thinking it was an ad for a journalist. A recent ad on the Human Rights Watch website wanted someone who would be ‘collecting and analyzing information from a wide variety of sources … writing reports, briefing memos, statements, advocacy documents, op-eds, articles, and press releases’. Sounds pretty similar to what many journalists do.
For this person journalism is one of a portfolio of jobs that together provide a living wage. It may be that journalism is a sort of ‘shop-window’ for some of the other stuff they do – in professional communications, training, or academe. John Foster writes for the Evening Standard, The Times, the Yorkshire Post, the BBC, CSP Today, Cash & Trade, Upward Curve, Ideas, Funds Europe and others. He is also managing director of Ad Hoc Media and Financial Consultancy. Alf Alderson freelances for The Guardian, Independent, Times, Daily Telegraph, Ski & Board magazine, Fall Line, Surfer’s Path, and others. He is also writes guidebooks and offers guided surf tours.
The communitarian cares about their local community. A lot. They care enough that they are willing to devote considerable amounts of time – for very little or no money – to running a local forum where people can discuss issues, providing information on local events and, in many cases, reporting on what is happening in the local area. Mike Rawlins and Tony Walley do this with their vibrant site Pits n Pots in Stoke on Trent. Nicky Getgood does the same in Digbeth. See Talk About Local for many more.
The specialist knows oodles about a specfic subject. People like Larry Elliott, Alex Brummer, and Martin Wolf know lots about economics, for example. Paul Tomkins, who runs the The Tomkins Times, knows lots about Liverpool Football Club. Knowing a lot more than most people means that many specialists have knowledge and skills that people will pay for. The TomkinsTimes charges £3.50 a month subscription and, I understand, has a growing subscriber base in the thousands.
The geek is becoming increasingly important to the future of journalism. Yet there is a good chance that s/he (though more often a he than a she) does not even think of himself as a journalist. More likely the public spirited geek simply wants to do things that make information more accessible (e.g. theyworkforyou.com), enable people to tell the council about a pothole in their street (e.g. fixmystreet.com), tell people about planning applications in their area (e.g. planningalerts.com), or allow people to audio record and publish from a mobile phone in 3 clicks (e.g. audioboo).
A few things stand out from this list of seven:
- Only two out of seven are fully employed by a professional news organisations (the hamster and the specialist)
- Two more get a proportion of their income from news organisations (the uber brand and the portfolio-ista), though wouldn’t starve if the organisations disappeared / went under.
- Two more are not doing journalism for the money (the campaigner and the communitarian), and the final one could be employed by any number of people, including the State (the geek)
All of the journalists on this list, even if they earn little or no money from journalism, have a baseline of journalism skills. The communitarian will know how to use open source software to build and help fill a website. The campaigner will probably be adept at tweeting, blogging, and crowdsourcing support for a cause, and so on.
The list also raises ethical questions. How open should the portfolio-ista be about the jobs they do outside journalism? What happens if they have to write about one of their current or former employers?
There is an eighth archetype that I didn’t include but could have done. That is ‘the editor’. Some people consider the journalist and the editor to be synonymous, and it is certainly true that today’s increasingly autonomous journalist has to have many of the skills of an editor. Most journalists now ‘curate’ – i.e. make recommendations via twitter and elsewhere. Many edit and publish their own work. Yet, at the same time there is a strong argument to say that the importance, and distinctiveness, of the editor ought to make it a separate category. What do you think?
The San Francisco Chronicle was founded in 1865. It is the only daily broadsheet newspaper in San Francisco – and is published online at SFgate.com. In the 1960s Paul Avery was a police reporter at the Chronicle when he started investigating the so-called ‘Zodiac Killer’. And, earlier this year Mark Fiore won a Pulitzer Prize for his animated online cartoons for the paper (well worth watching his cartoon with Snuggly the security beardemonstrating how to make the internet ‘wire tap friendly’).
The Chronicle is also one of 577 US news sites now publishing articles with hNews(full list here).
hNews is the news microformat we developed with the Associated Press that makes the provenance of news articles clear, consistent and machine readable. A news article with hNews will – by definition – identify its author, its source organisation, its title, when it was published and – in most cases – the license associated with its use and a link to the principles to which it adheres (e.g. see AP essential news). It could also have where it was written, when it was updated, and a bunch of other useful stuff.
Essentially, hNews makes the provenance of a news article a lot more transparent – which is good news for whoever produces the article (gains credit, creates potential revenue models etc.), and good news for the end user (better able to assess its provenance, greater credibility etc.).
Up to now, though we have been aware that many sites have been integrating hNews, there has not been a published list of these sites. This seemed to us a little unsatisfactory. So we went out and found as many of them as we could and have now published them on a list as an open Google doc.
There are, I understand, a few hundred more sites that have either already integrated hNews or are in the process of integrating it. We haven’t found them yet but will add them when we do. If you know of one (or if you are one) please let us know and we’ll add it.
If you’re interested in integrating hNews and are wondering why you would, you can read a piece I wrote for PBS MediaShift (‘How metadata can eliminate the need for paywalls’), see the official specification at hNews microformats wiki, watch an hNews presentation by Stuart Myles, view a (slightly dated) slideshow on why it creates ‘Value Added News’, or see how to add hNews to WordPress.
hNews was developed as part of the transparency initiative of the Media Standards Trust, which aims to make news on the web more transparent. The initiative has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation. You can read more about the transparency initiative elsewhere on this site.
This post was first published on the Media Standards Trust site on Tuesday 12th October, 2010
Update: I’m grateful to Max Cutler for spotting a number of duplicate entries in the original list which have now been cleaned up. It’s still 577 sites since in the process of cleaning we found a few more. And, as I wrote in my original post, this number is by no means final. There are almost certainly a lot more sites publishing with hNews, it’s just a matter of finding them (through sweat and scrapers). So if you spot any that aren’t on the list, please let me know
Orkney Today has announced it is closing. The paper, which served the small islands of Orkney just off the Scottish coast, was — like countless other local papers — battling against declining circulation and disappearing ad revenues. “Orkney Media Group management and the newspaper’s excellent staff have tried a number of initiatives to reverse the fortunes of the newspaper,” the paper reported, “but to no avail.”
If the news industry as a whole isn’t exactly the picture of good health, local news is in the emergency room. News problems at a national level — falls in circulation, and collapse in classified and advertising revenues — are acute at a local level.
This has serious political implications, particularly in terms of who acts as the democratic watchdog, which is why this concerns not only news bosses but also politicians.
“We are concerned that … the problems in the local media industry are leading to a scrutiny gap,” read a report, Future for Local and Regional News, from the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport.
The problem is, when thinking about what to do about it, how do you define local? For Orkney Today this was pretty easy. It served a clearly defined geographic area — the Orkney isles — that is run by the Orkney local council, and that has a long established sense of community. But what about places that aren’t surrounded by sea, that don’t have a single local authority, and may not have such a long established sense of community?
This isn’t an academic question. In political — i.e. public policy — terms how you define local will determine what you do and how you do it. How can a government, for example, even consider direct or indirect subsidies, for example, without knowing who to give them to and what parameters to set?
Boil it down and you can probably define “local” in three different ways: Politically, economically, or socially. (I’m deliberately ignoring random geographic boundaries even though that’s how regional broadcast news appears to be defined right now). The way you choose to define local then has fundamental implications for the type of journalism you end up with.
If you’re in government you’re probably most worried about the health of democracy and so it makes logical sense to define “local” in political terms — i.e. at the ward level, or the local authority or county council boundary, or the constituency. This way you highlight the watchdog role of journalism. You make clear that, as a society, you believe in the idea of a “Fourth Estate” — a section of society whose role it is to scrutinize local politics, uncover corruption, and tell truth to power.
The problem with this is that political boundaries don’t necessarily make economic sense or correspond to what people think of as local. Take my ward in England, called “Kingham, Rollright and Enstone.” I don’t live in Kingham, Rollright or Enstone, I live just outside Chipping Norton. So a news service called The Kingham, Rollright and Enstone Times wouldn’t seem very relevant to me. On top of which my ward is pretty spread out (it’s rural) and there are only about 4,000 people in it in total. That’s too few for most professional news organizations to bother with, unless they can get costs close to nil.
Because if you’re a news organization then while you’re thinking about local politics you’re also thinking economics. You have to be if you’re going to survive. You have to think about how many eyeballs you need to make enough revenue via circulation, subscriptions, classifieds, etc. You’re making a calculation that, say, you need to sell 10,000 print copies a week to get by. With 10 percent penetration that means you need to serve an area of about 100,000 people. Multiply the numbers considerably for bigger publications or for broadcast. But the problem with an economic definition of local is that it’s unlikely to match the public’s perception.
If you’re a member of the public then local probably means your street, your neighborhood, your town. What the news industry likes to call hyper-local. As a participant in a recent Birmingham focus group said, “If it’s not within a 10 mile radius, it’s not local news as far as I’m concerned … it might as well be national.” That quote comes from “Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities,” a research report released this month by Media Trust. News at this level is great for building community cohesion and for making people feel a part of a bigger society, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but volunteers and non-profits providing it in a sustainable way.
Recipe for success
That’s why it’s so hard for a government, or a news organization, to know what to do. You can’t create this sort of genuine hyper-local news service from the top down. Neither the government nor a news organization can direct the public to produce news about where they live. This sort of news has to be from the ground up. It has to be participatory. It has to be by and for the local community.
Which is why the local news organizations/co-operatives/forums most likely to work are those that start from the bottom, and that build participation, collaboration, mutualization, and partnerships into their DNA. This is very hard indeed for legacy news organizations to do. And it means that the best a government can do is to create a framework in which people are able to fill the vacuum being left by the disappearance of local news, rather than trying to subsidize the existing industry or provide top-down direct support.
This post was first published on PBS MediaShift IdeaLab on Monday 27th September, 2010
There has been rather a lot of heat, and some light, about Welsh media this week. Good. It needs it.
Dr Andy Williams lit the touch paper with an article on Open Democracy about the decline of Trinity Mirror in Wales. Williams cited the drop in circulation of Wales’ Western Mail from 94,000 in 1979 to below 30,000 in 2010. Wales’ other ‘national’ daily, the Daily Post has also fallen, from 41,000 in 2004 to below 34,000 now. Though structural problems such as the internet are partly to blame, Williams said, the declines are also the result of ‘sustained mismanagement’ by Trinity Mirror.
Alan Edmunds, editor of the Western Mail, attacked Williams in response, saying the Cardiff academic’s research was ‘full of ill-informed statements, old chestnuts, tired cliches and 1970s rhetoric’. It should be noted that Edmunds did not cite any errors in Williams’ research, despite the uncompromising language. Williams has since strongly defended his article and research.
But the spat between a Cardiff academic and a Welsh newspaper editor needs to be seen in the wider context of Welsh news media. This wider context is bleak. Very bleak. Yet it normally excites almost no debate within our London –centric media.
Very few people in Wales now read a newspaper with news about Wales. The Institute for Welsh Affairs found that 1,760,000 people in Wales (nearly 90 per cent of the population) are reading papers with virtually no Welsh content. ‘No London newspaper publishes a Welsh edition’ (IWA). The combined daily circulations of the Western Mail and Daily Post are less than 65,000 copies, equivalent to one copy sold to every 27 people in Wales.
The situation in commercial broadcasting is no better. ITV, which used to produce 624 hours of programmes per year for Wales now produces 286, 208 hours of which are news (from IWA). ITV has said it intends to withdraw altogether from regional news production. Since the proposed Independently Funded News Consortia have been scrapped by the coalition government it is far from clear what, if anything, will replace ITV Wales.
Therefore Wales is precariously reliant on the BBC for much of its news. Precariously because it is not even clear that Wales is a priority for the BBC. The current BBC Strategy Review hardly mentions Wales (a little embarrassing after Anthony King’s 2008 criticisms). Moreover, even the mighty BBC cannot be relied upon to gather and publish all the news in Wales.
There are parts of Wales that could now be considered news black holes. Take Neath Port Talbot in South Wales. It has a population of 137,400 people and a decent sized council, and yet there are now no professional news organizations based out of Neath Port Talbot or focused on the area. The Port Talbot Guardian and the Neath Guardian, both Trinity Mirror newspapers, closed down in 2009. The South Wales Evening Post, based in Swansea (owned by Northcliffe), adjusts its daily edition slightly for the Neath Port Talbot area (though most of the paper remains non-local news). There is also a weekly insert, the Neath Port Talbot Courier. The South Wales Evening Post had a total circulation, in early 2009, of 46,000. There is a free monthly paper, the Neath & Port Talbot Tribune (Tindle). The Western Mail, regarded as the national newspaper of Wales, is printed out of Cardiff (owned by Trinity Mirror). It carries occasional news from Neath Port Talbot.
The BBC dominates in television and radio news. There are some commercial radio stations in the area, including Swansea Sound and the Wave (out of Swansea) and AfanFM. These are a mixture of music and talk, though there is very limited original local news gathering (Swansea Sound and the Wave take Sky News content).
There is some evidence of nascent grassroots journalism initiatives. Local News South Wales (LNSW) has been trying to set up a workers’ co-operative for journalists, photographers and other media operatives, although this is – according to newmodeljournalism.com – ‘struggling to get off the ground’.
There is also evidence that what most people would consider public interest news is not being reported. For example, a biomass plant is currently being built in Port Talbot. The plant is of particular interest for three reasons: it will be the biggest such plant in the world; it is an environmental experiment that could have significant impact on future energy policy; and it has evoked considerable local anger and protest.
Yet there has been almost no coverage of the plant in the news. Search for ‘Biomass Plant Port Talbot’ on Google and you find fewer than 10 stories since the plant was given the go ahead in 2007 – including just two on BBC news online and 3 short pieces on Reuters, This is South Wales, and Wales Online.
Of course if it is not reported it is not news, and if it’s not news then attracts no attention, and so news provision contracts further. So a bit of heat, as well as some light, is more than a little needed in Wales right now.