Journalism Technologies: 17. How Journalism Is Being Saved (The Ending Will Shock You!!!!!!1)

I had to be away from work last week so the usual week 16 lecture in Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield was delayed until week 17. It was a look at the online pure players who have shaken up digital publishing in recent years, from the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed to Breitbart and The Canary.

I kicked the lecture off by showing a large backdrop image of Grumpy Cat, one of the breakout internet stars that we might commonly associate with this breed of media company, and then following it up with a clip of Vice’s memorable fast turnaround documentary on Charlottesville from last year. The message being that while these outlets may have developed a reputation for trivial viral nonsense, they’re just as capable of investing in quality journalism in ways that more traditional media companies find it hard to match.

I included a reflection on academic Mark Deuze’s 2006 call for media companies to embrace what he described as ‘liquid journalism’, which he defined as interacting with the audience, coming up with different ways of creating journalism and embracing the fact that things change rapidly. BuzzFeed for example, which began that year, could be seen to have mastered all three of those points. But as I also noted in the lecture, the recent job cuts there demonstrate that native advertising has not proved the silver bullet to commercial success that some had hoped it might be. Whether there’s room for all of the new players in digital publishing to survive is, as ever, in question.

Journalism Technologies: 15. Wayne Ankers And Lauren Ballinger From Trinity Mirror

Wayne and Lauren talking to the first year students.

This week in Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield, we welcomed two guest speakers from Britain’s biggest newspaper publisher, Trinity Mirror, to get the inside track on how the company is continuing to push forward online and on social media.

Wayne Ankers is the editor of the Huddersfield Examiner and has also been serving as the launch editor of Leeds Live, a new online-only offering from TM based in a city where it has not had a presence before, parking its tanks firmly on the lawn of the Johnston Press-owned Yorkshire Evening Post. Wayne talked the students through the aims of the site, with a strong focus on Leeds United coverage as well as more timeless, going-out-in-Leeds material.

One point Wayne made about football reporters made me ears prick up in particular. Traditionally students who want to become sportswriters are told to leave their allegiances at the door of the press box, to become professional observers of the action. But Wayne actively wants his Leeds United journalists to be Leeds fans, or at the very least have a depth of background knowledge about the club that would match that of a fan. In an age when being active on social media and engaging directly with readers is a key part of the job, Wayne believes it’s vital for regional sports journalists to have a passion for, and deep knowledge about, the club they cover, to help give them the credibility they need when interacting with fans.

Lauren is the Executive Editor of the Examiner and took the students through how she has helped oversee the transition from a newspaper-focused newsroom to one that is truly digital first. She pointed to this recent Shorthand story the Examiner published, as an example of the kind of top class online storytelling both the Examiner and Leeds Live are striving to do. She also offered these handy tips for the students.

They were two great talks and both Wayne and Lauren kindly stayed to answer some questions from the students, too. Thanks again to them both.

Carrie Gracie Gives Evidence To MPs About Equal Pay

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I’ve been asked to write another article for the University of Huddersfield View from the North blog, this time about the gender pay row at the BBC and Carrie Gracie’s appearance before MPs yesterday. And here it is.

THE BBC is in a bind over how much it pays its journalists.

In particular, Auntie’s accused of giving prominent female reporters a raw deal, by keeping them on salaries far lower than men doing similar jobs.

The issue – rumbling for months – exploded to prominence at the start of the year when China Editor, Carrie Gracie, announced she would leave that role in protest at discovering she was paid significantly less than, for example, US Editor Jon Sopel.

Gracie’s intervention demonstrates the BBC was in the wrong twice over.

First, she underlined the uncomfortable reality that the BBC was indeed short changing its female journalistic talent.

Radio 5 live Breakfast presenter Rachel Burden revealed last summer she was paid a third of the salary of her co-host, Nicky Campbell.  Sure, he has a long history as a Radio 1 DJ and TV star and his pay is certainly a legacy of that, while Burden’s relatively modest wage reflects her more conventional background in BBC local radio.

Campbell is a hugely experienced and capable presenter, but is he three times better than Burden?  Of course not, and he’s acknowledged as much by joining Sopel in agreeing a pay cut.

Second, the idea that BBC journalists need to be paid more to prevent them being poached by rival organisations is nonsense.

This does happen from time to time – see Robert Peston’s switch to ITV – but if commercial broadcasters really are prepared to pay top dollar to get leading BBC names, then what’s the problem?

It’s an organisation full of journalists like Rachel Burden, ready to take the step up from local radio or regional TV, who have lacked only the chance to prove their abilities on a national stage.

BBC News is already trying to find savings of £80m a year as part of BBC-wide cost cutting.  I’d expect to see far fewer big salaries and more internal promotions from here on in.”

Sky-Fox Deal Not In Public Interest, Says Regulator

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The University of Huddersfield press office asked me to write something about the latest twist in the Fox takeover of Sky. It’s for the uni’s View From The North blog. This is the article in full.

ONE of the longest-running sagas in media has taken another turn, with Rupert Murdoch’s latest bid to take full control of Sky hitting a new setback.

The Competition and Markets Authority has provisionally ruled such a move would give the Murdoch family too much control over the UK’s media.

The Murdochs already own newspapers including The Sun and The Times, along with radio stations from talkSPORT to Bradford’s The Pulse.

They’ve got 39% of Sky too, but putting Sky News completely into their hands is proving to be the sticking point.

Since it launched in 1989, Sky News has established itself as a lively and valued competitor to the BBC, popular with politicians and viewers alike.

Broadcasting rules mean there’s no chance of it becoming a British version of the right-wing U.S. channel Fox News.

But even in its current form, Sky News has a big enough share of the TV and online news market to make regulators balk at allowing it to fully join a larger news empire.

One option would be to try to sell Sky News or spin it off as a completely separate company. But with the channel traditionally losing tens of millions of pounds each year, it’s tough to see anyone willing to take it on.

This inquiry is already being overtaken by events, though.

Rupert Murdoch sprung one of the biggest surprises of his long career last month by announcing he planned to sell most of his media assets – but not his cherished newspapers – to Disney.

The biggest threat to consumer choice might come from Disney deciding the cost of running such a loss-making news brand is an unnecessary distraction from its entertainment businesses.

Disney boss Bob Iger has already insisted that Sky News “absolutely” has a future. Viewers who routinely turn to it for breaking news will hope that’s true.

Journalism Technologies: 13. Disruption!

We’re into the second term of the academic year at the University of Huddersfield and the Journalism Technologies module resumed with the focus switching from the major online and social media platforms, to how media companies are adapting to the rapidly changing technologies which have turned their worlds upside down. Arguably the most significant impact has come on the balance sheet, with the old business models that funded journalism if not destroyed, then certainly coming under significant and sustained strain, and that was the subject of last week’s lecture.

First year university students, born at around the turn of the millennium, have grown up in the smartphone, on-demand, social media era, so I spent much of the lecture filling in a few of their blanks on how things were before. As I did, I was thinking to myself that newspaper classified ads, extended one-minute TV ads and local radio spots for double glazing all seem like media from decades ago. It’s so long since even I read, watched or heard one, trying to explain how significant they once were (and, in some cases, still are) to a room full of 18-year-olds is a bit of an odd thing to find yourself doing.

When having a go in the seminars at analysing the local newspaper’s website (ahead of a visit from the editor the week after next), this became even more clear. The ads were almost universally the bit everyone hated. Too prominent and too irrelevant, the students said, and that was just the verdict of the ones not routinely using ad blockers. When I covered this topic last year there was still some optimism that BuzzFeed’s extensive use of sponsored content might offer one way through the financial mire for under-pressure digital publishing executives. But its recent round of redundancies, and admission it is again seeking to diversify its business model yet further, suggests that making news pay is as tough now as it has ever been.

Journalism Technologies: 12. Amazon – The Everything Store

It’s the last week of term before Christmas and it’s also been the conclusion of the first half of the Journalism Technologies module here at the University of Huddersfield. This meant a look at the tech and media giant that is something of the odd one out among Google, Facebook, Apple and the rest: Amazon. But although it was traditionally an online bookshop, it’s rather more than that now.

In the year since I last gave a lecture on Amazon, its various reputational challenges – from the alleged poor treatment of both office and warehouse staff, to its assorted tax avoidance measures – have not really bitten the company’s bottom line as they might have done. We still can’t help but use it to buy, well, just about everything. A quick show of hands in the lecture revealed plenty of first year students doing much of their Christmas shopping with Amazon, not least because they get a free introductory spell of Amazon Prime if they sign up with their academic e-mail addresses.

On Amazon Prime, the second series of The Grand Tour has begun, notably on the same day as Netflix’s flagship The Crown began its second offering, and the market for streaming has grown ever more competitive in the last year. The announcement that Disney is buying the significant entertainment arm of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, hints that at least one old media player is bulking up to try to compete. In the short-term, the next television battleground between these players could turn out to be for the next set of rights to the Premier League, with Amazon – soon to be showing ATP men’s tennis – surely at least taking a look at picking up some of the rights now held by the soon-to-be-Disneyfied Sky, and BT. Who comes out on top in that particular auction will be one of the most interesting media stories of early 2018.

Journalism Technologies: 11. brb

Week 11 of the first year Journalism Technologies class at the University of Huddersfield was all about direct messaging, a form of communication that seems even more pervasive than the major social networks. Which certainly helps explain why so many have become dominant players, not least Facebook’s own Messenger and WhatsApp, which it memorably bought for an absolute fortune almost four years ago. And when better to look back than in the week when texting turned 25.

Snapchat has been the focus of a lot of scrutiny this year, after turning out repeated overtures from Facebook and going through an IPO. Early highs have been followed by a few months of downbeat news, with reports of less interaction with power celebrity users and a possible dwindling of interest in its key under-25 demographic, mainly because of the way in which Facebook has ruthlessly copied many of Snapchat’s central features for its own Instagram platform. There’s no evidence of it in my seminar groups – Snapchat remains almost unanimously used, and in many cases by far the most popular app around.

With references to the Uses and Gratifications Theory and the 2016 paper by Vaterlaus et al on why teenagers in particular actually use Snapchat, posing this question to students drew some interesting responses. But if there was one theme above the others, it was that Snapchat was the best way to communicate with a select group of maybe four or five friends, often in a group chat, and often using just text. In a sense not much different from WhatsApp or Messenger, and students said they quite regularly have the same friends in chats on those platforms too. All very confusing if you’re my age and older but then, Snapchat’s still not really for us.

Journalism Technologies: 10. Audio and Podcasts

The focus of week 10 of our first year Journalism Technologies class at the University of Huddersfield switched to viewing to listening, with my colleague Caroline Pringle’s lecture on audio and podcasting.

One of the benefits of holding workshops on a module like this, is getting your own personal focus groups of 18-year-olds about their media consumption. This time last year, Joe Rogan’s podcast was by far the most popular among the groups (admittedly most of the ones I take do Sports Journalism). Now, it’s much more varied, with lots of different podcasts getting a shout, but virtually none having more than one listener. Those being listened to range from the well-known, such as My Dad Wrote A Porno, to a whole host of fan-produced ones about a range of lower league football clubs. I’m sure the Lions Roar podcast at Guiseley is a cracker, but I have to say it was a new one on me.

I picked out various podcasts for the students doing different courses to listen to and review. For the Sports groups, I chose one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries, now that the brand has extended from the acclaimed series of TV histories (shown here regularly on BT Sport, if you’ve splashed out for it but can’t face watching any more of the Ashes) into audio. I think the series has got off to an impressive start, and I’ll be interested to see what the students make of it.

Journalism Technologies: 9. YouTube: Broadcast Yourself

After a break for reading week, Journalism Technologies has resumed at the University of Huddersfield with a lecture and workshops about sharing video online, with a particular focus on the giddy rise of YouTube. As with many of the platforms we’ve looked at in this module, such is the impact of it on our lives it’s easy to forget it was created as recently as 2005.

Not that everything’s universally rosy for YouTube. A Times investigation earlier in the year that revealed how Google Ads for various blue chip, high-profile companies were being served alongside extremist videos, led to a bump in the road as many took their advertising cash away, at least for a time. A bit of a follow up came more recently, with questions about how some significant YouTubers who have developed large followings for videos of their children are actually treating their kids. This related warning by James Bridle written – where else – on Medium, got plenty of traction online.

YouTube has taken some steps in this area. The YouTube kids app offers a much safer environment for younger children, and seems to do a solid job at filtering out anything that is potentially dodgy – no easy task when so many of the videos concerned bear a lot of similarities to the more benign child-friendly content (toy unboxings, dolls talking to each other, and so on). But as more of these stories come along and hurt YouTube in the pocket, it’s going to have to work longer and harder on making the platform safer for both advertisers and viewers.

In the workshops this week we’re getting students to upload a basic video to YouTube, then do some of the more straightforward annotations, such as subtitles and adding ‘cards’ – which is those little links and such which appear at the top corner of YouTube videos. Surprisingly few of the students had ever actually uploaded anything to YouTube themselves before, despite all being avid viewers. The trend of this generation towards lurking online rather than being active content creators is something I’m seeing more and more as the years go by, and part of my job when teaching first year journalism and media students, is to gently get to them embrace being more confident in making and posting material for themselves.

Journalism Technologies: 7. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

It was Caroline’s turn to give the lecture in our Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield this week, on the subject of how we share photos online, from Flickr to Instagram and all points in between.

None of the students in the room – and there are 100 or so doing the module this time – have a Flickr account. It’s a bit of a shame because it wasn’t so long ago that Flickr was really setting the standard in photo sharing and online communities. It’s still a useful resource, though, with about 300 million Creative Commons images, often of high quality, available for anyone to use in, say, blogposts or whatever.

Flickr remains a key part of the story though, and it was central to Clay Shirky’s initial formulations of concepts such as ‘mass amateurisation’ and ‘mass democratisation’ which he helped popularise a decade and more ago. As a reading we got students to watch this 2005 TED talk of his, which remains eerily prescient, and still well worth watching.