#TAL16: Talk About Local’s Latest Hyperlocal Unconference

Will Perrin and Dave Harte kick off the day's proceedings.

Will Perrin and Dave Harte kick off the day’s proceedings.

To Birmingham last Saturday for the latest in Talk About Local’s successful run of hyperlocal unconferences. In a past life I set up and ran one of the UK’s better known local independent sites, Saddleworth News, and even though I’ve long since passed the site on to a new editor, I’m still very interested in the sector.

The event was hosted in Birmingham City University and lecturer, hyperlocal blogger and researcher Dave Harte got us going, along with co-organiser Will Perrin of Talk About Local. Along with a handful of academics, journalism students and others, sites from across the UK were represented by their editors, ranging from the well-established such as On The Wight to newer entrants including Alt Blackpool.

The agenda.

The agenda.

I facilitated a small session on covering the local courts, which is the subject of my ongoing PhD research. It was a good opportunity to share a key test case from earlier in the year, when the High Court ruled that note-taking from the public gallery is permissable (full judgment here). Often, court staff, journalists and others have held to the traditional view that only reporters sitting at the press table may do so, but the Ewing case firmly established otherwise.

Other interesting sessions that I caught included Will demonstrating the Local News Engine, which has recently won funding under Google’s Digital News Initiative. Also, local MA student Sandro Sorrentino gave a great presentation on the nuts and bolts of getting hyperlocal sites onto Apple News, which given its higher profile in iOS10 is likely to become a bigger driver to traffic to news sites than has so far been the case.

Matt Abbott from Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism managed to get round a bit more than me, and has comprehensively written up the day on the C4CJ site.

Journalism Technologies: 4. The Rise And Fall And Rise Of Apple

This week in Journalism Technologies we’re looking at Apple as well as the use of apps to help us do journalism. I didn’t expect the students would have had much experience with read later apps or using browser extensions (as it happened, I don’t think any did), so giving them the choice of Kindle or Pocket and getting them to send next week’s reading from the desktop to the app using Chrome’s Send to Kindle widget, worked well as a class activity.

On face value it might have seemed weirdly indulgent to devote an entire academic lecture to a single company. And, within that, really just the second part of Apple’s existence (week one’s lecture took us up as far as the return of Steve Jobs and the Microsoft deal in 1997). But as I pointed out to the students, the run of success that Apple has had since that time is unmatched in corporate history, by any company, of any type.

No bank, no oil company, no military supplier, has ever turned in numbers as Apple has, boosted by products ranging from the iMac and the iconic iPod, to today’s almost ubiquitous iPhones and iPads. Even if Apple were a company which had virtually no involvement in media and technology, it would still be worthy of a study for a room full of trainee journalists. The fact it has had and is having an inevitable impact on journalism, too, just makes it all the more relevant.

The week’s key concept was the debate over open vs closed in tech, and the increasing use of vertical integration by Apple and its main rivals, Google, Facebook and Amazon. Underlining this in the workshops, I asked students how many had ever smashed their iPhones, and what they’d done about it. Some soldiered on with a broken phone, others got a dodgy repair job from an unofficial operator, while others stumped up the not inconsiderable cost of going into the Apple Store and getting it done there. The fact that you have to pay Apple to fix the Apple phone you bought from Apple in the first place, is a good example of a hidden (but very real) cost of the vertically integrated, closed system which has helped propel Apple to such success.

Journalism Technologies: 3. The People Formerly Known As The Audience

It’s blogs week on our new Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield. And that means setting students up with their own professional blogs – from a menu of WordPress, Blogger and Medium – as well as the above lecture tracing the recent history of how the audience turned into something a bit more than that.

Putting the lecture together a few weeks ago, I was struck by how old hat it all seemed now. I made Web 2.0 the week’s key concept, but even as I was discussing it during Monday’s class, I was struggling to remember the last time I’d even had cause to say the term out loud. Blogs have been around long enough to have passed from flavour of the month to workmanlike part of internet furniture.

I actually spent the lecture and the practical workshops posing the question: why blog today? Basically as a way of justifying why I’m making each of the students do it for their first assessment this term. I still think blogging is hugely valuable, in particular for journalism students. It allows them to learn straightforward tools of online publishing and sharing, gives them a professional-looking online home, and even offers the more ambitious the chance to tinker with a bit of html around the edges of their customisable templates.

The danger is that students are encouraged to start a blog, but after they post once or twice, it just sort of withers, unloved and never updated. While it’s important for students to blog, the only thing worse than not bothering is doing so half-heartedly, as it hints at disengagement from the world the students want to enter after their courses. By the end of this first term everyone on the module will have a busy-looking blog with a series of (hopefully) interesting posts reflecting on current trends in journalism and tech. I’ll report back on how they get on.

Using CardKit In The Classroom

I made this using CardKit in about two minutes.

I made this using CardKit in about two minutes.

As well as my new first year module called Journalism Technologies, I’m teaching a second new class at the University of Huddersfield this year. Journalism Innovation is an optional module for final years doing journalism and media courses, and includes themes of entrepreneurship and using social and online tools to do journalism in new ways. I’ve got 50 students doing it, which is great.

It’s being taught in two-hour workshops, and I used this week’s to cover a couple of skills which are increasingly vital for young media graduates to know about – adding subtitles to a Facebook video, and creating a social media-ready graphic to display a quote.

For the latter we used CardKit, which has been created by the excellent digital development team at The Times for their own use, and put on GitHub for the rest of us to play with. It works within any browser (although a couple of students had a problem downloading it from within Internet Explorer – as with most things, Chrome and Firefox are a better bet) and easily allows a few tweaks to make an appealing graphic for either Twitter or Facebook.

Even allowing for a bit of time dotting around the class helping individual students here and there, everyone had created a suitable image and posted it within about half an hour. But you could do it much faster once you’re familiar with the tool. Plenty of the students are doing placements which require them to make social content, so hopefully it’ll come in useful for some of them at work before too long.

The developer, Chris Hutchinson, has been working on a CardKit 2 and has posted about it on Medium.


The CardKit dashboard.

Journalism Technologies: 2. Google: Good or Evil?

It’s week two of our new first year module at the University of Huddersfield, Journalism Technologies. And it’s Google week.

In the practical sessions we’re focusing on some simple tips to make Google work better for journalists, ranging from Advanced Search to Google Alerts to Google Trends.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s lecture posed the question in the title of this blogpost: is ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Google a force for good or, well, evil? There was a reading from Christian Fuchs’ book Social Media: A Critical Introduction, while the concept introduced towards the end of the lecture was Technological Solutionism, coined by another sceptical voice in Evgeny Morozov.

Most of the students seemed to appreciate that I wanted them to take a more critical eye to a tool they have used for virtually every day of their lives for as long as they can remember, but still generally came down on the good side of the ledger in the end.

When I asked for a show of hands on who had a Google Account, and picked one student to explain why, she said honestly that she just got fed up with being asked whether she wanted a Google account every time she went on one of their myriad services, so gave in and got one. Anyone who spends any time on the internet, or indeed has ever tried shopping in Tesco without a Clubcard, an probably appreciate that.

Journalism Technologies: 1. The Triumph of the Nerds

I’ve got two new modules running at the University of Huddersfield. One is a final year optional class called Journalism Innovation, based around applying themes of both innovation and entrepreneurship to journalism. The other is a core part of the first year of all our journalism courses, and it’s called Journalism Technologies. A mixture of lectures and workshops, each week myself and my colleague Caroline Pringle are going to be exploring the key players and themes in online and social media, and teaching students the practical skills to help them get the best out of platforms from Google to Snapchat.

The first lecture was yesterday and was a bit of a background one, covering the development of personal computing from the Altair in 1975, through the Microsoft and Apple battles, ending roughly in the mid-1990s. Each lecture follows a three-part structure, with an opening narrative followed by a section outlining the impact of that particular thing on journalism, before concluding with a look at a particular theory or concept which the students can then delve into more with a reading or two.

I’ve embedded the presentation above (the title is borrowed from Robert Cringely’s memorable 1996 Channel 4/PBS series of the same name, which can be found on YouTube). Being delivered first thing yesterday morning, this was also jointly the first session at the university to be recorded for the new lecture capture system, HudStream.

Book Review: All The Truth Is Out, by Matt Bai

Gary Hart speaks at Cornell University, late 1987. (picture: K. Zirkel/Wikipedia)

Gary Hart speaks at Cornell University, late 1987. (picture: K. Zirkel/Wikipedia)

I’ve had a book review published in Journalism Education, the journal of the Association of Journalism Education.

It’s a look at one of my favourite politics books of recent times, All The Truth Is Out by Matt Bai. It examines the scandal which ended the US presidential hopes of Democratic Senator Gary Hart, and the lasting impact which Bai believes it has had on American public life.

I’ve uploaded my review to my page on Academia.edu.

The Sun Sets On The New Day

Not much more than two months after it first appeared, Trinity’s Mirror’s The New Day is coming to an end. It’s closing tomorrow after circulation fell to a reported 40,000, making it the shortest-lived national paper in almost three decades.

I blogged about it here on the University of Huddersfield’s View from the North.

I was also asked on to the Andrew Edwards show on BBC Radio Leeds this lunchtime to discuss the story:

Me For The Conversation: Six Ways Twitter Has Changed The World

I'm at the bottom of the list of academics on the right, which seems reasonable enough.

I’m at the bottom of the list of academics on the right, which seems reasonable enough.

I’m back on The Conversation, as one of six academics offering a short bit of insight on how Twitter has changed the world, on the occasion of the little blue bird’s 10th birthday.

As I’ve previously written, Twitter is in some trouble these days with flat user growth and an apparent lack of clarity over what to do with the product. On the other hand, Donald Trump’s unlikely bid for the US presidency, fuelled by much free media coverage generated by his remarkable tweets, suggests that Twitter’s power to shape the news agenda remains undimmed.

Me For The Conversation: Tech Companies Are Eating Journalists’ Lunch. Shouldn’t They At Least Pay For It?

Look, I did a hot take.

Look, I did a hot take.

I’ve had my first piece for The Conversation published today. It’s about whether the giants of Silicon Valley should share some of their wealth with struggling news companies to help support journalism (my conclusion: not really). The piece is part of a series at The Conversation on business models for the news media.

I’m sure it won’t be the last thing I write for them. The Conversation, which gets academics to write stuff about their areas of interest, is a start-up I’ve admired for a long time. There’s usually something good on there to read, and besides, getting lecturers to publish outside the opaque world of academic journals is the sort of thing I generally approve of.