Journalism Technologies: 10. Audio

We’ve been looking at audio and podcasting in Journalism Technologies this week. My colleague Caroline Pringle delivered Monday’s lecture, which explored the origins of platforms including Soundcloud and Audioboom, as well as how podcasts including Serial and Radiolab have led to a renewed interest in longform documentary-style journalism.

The workshops involved getting students to record and upload a basic piece of audio to Audioboom using their phones, but also listening to a podcast. This was something that a small group of students had never done before. By contrast, some were keen podcast listeners (my three groups of Sports Journalism students had a lot of love for Joe Rogan’s UFC podcast), but most had only dabbled occasionally in podcasting. Often it was simply that they didn’t know where to start, and needed a recommendation or two.

I aimed to provide that by picking out a podcast for each course group for them all to listen to and review on their blogs. The Sports Journalism students got a recent one from FiveThirtyEight, for Music Journalism it was a vintage episode of This American Life, Broadcast Journalism students are listening to one of Malcolm Gladwell’s recent Revisionist History episodes, with Journalism students getting the classic opening episode of Serial series 1. I’m looking forward to reading what they all think.

Journalism Technologies: 9. Broadcast Yourself

It’s just over a decade since Jawed Karim stood in front of some elephants at a zoo in San Diego and mumbled into his friend’s camera for 18 seconds. It was the first video uploaded to YouTube, which Karim co-founded along with two other former employees of PayPal. A year and a half later, it had already grown to become the fifth largest website on the internet, and was sold to Google for $1.65bn – a fortune at the time, but cheap at the price considering its continued impact on the media landscape.

This week’s lecture in Journalism Technologies took in the story of YouTube’s rise and rise (there still hasn’t been a fall), by way of its various battles with the old big media companies, angry at how their content was being shared and shared again. YouTube, with Google’s help, was ultimately able to resist years of legal pressure and avoid going the same way as Napster. The final irony is that YouTube has become much more like broadcast television – a home for professionally made content rather than the ‘broadcast yourself’ homemade videos on which it made its reputation – while any TV station you care to name has a platform which somewhat resembles YouTube, not least the BBC’s iPlayer.

For a theoretical approach, I turned to Spreadable Media, a 2013 book by the father of participatory cultures, Henry Jenkins, along with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. Explaining the way certain videos spread on YouTube, they draw a contrast with sticky content, a term popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his memorable book The Tipping Point. Jenkins and the others say that no matter how good – sticky – a piece of content is, these days it still needs people to share, recommend and remix it to their networks, so it can reach a large audience.

The practical sessions involved getting students to actually make quick and easy YouTube videos, using the platform’s basic in-built editor and some of the copyright-free footage and music available on there. Despite being big consumers of YouTube, only relatively few students in the groups had ever uploaded anything themselves before. At least now they know where all that tinkly music so beloved of vloggers comes from!

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

“How many of you in the room have a Flickr account?” asked my colleague Caroline during her lecture on photo sharing in Journalism Technologies this week. Not a hand went up, other than ours. An indication of how selfies, filters and apps have taken over this space, since the days a decade ago when putting pictures on the internet meant looking at those familiar blue-and-pink dots.

The stories of Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram took up much of Caroline’s lecture. The key concept she introduced was that of mass amateurisation, memorably applied to the social web by Clay Shirky. Because reading lists don’t always have to feature readings, we made his 2005 TED talk on the subject required viewing this week. The workshop featured a bit on how to take your own smartphone photos and embed them, before some guidance on searching Google Images and, yes, Flickr, for Creative Commons images.

Getting journalism students to keep their heads up and look out for interesting things in the world around them is a perennial challenge. When you’re a journalist, all sorts of things can seem like potential stories – from the planning sign pinned to a lamppost, to all those posters on the community noticeboard. The next homework task is to get them to take just such a picture while walking around Huddersfield, do a bit more research into the story, then write it along with the embedded image in their blogs. I’m looking forward to seeing what they all find.

Journalism Technologies: 6. Twitter: What’s Happening?

I gave Twitter the big build-up during Journalism Technologies this week, echoing Emily Bell’s memorable statement that it’s the most significant invention for journalism since the telephone. I’ve been saying something similar since I first started teaching at universities five years ago.

Back then, I used to say then that while Twitter probably wasn’t going to remain the key journalistic tool it had become, it was something students had to learn to be successful in 2011. And I can still say the same now. Despite Twitter’s many boardroom battles and other business woes in the years since, it’s still an essential part of a media professional’s daily life.

That corporate strife was a theme of much of the lecture I gave on Monday. The origin stories of these major tech companies can be instructive about the sort of operations they have become: Apple at the intersection of technology and art like Steve Jobs, and Google where engineers like Larry and Sergey are king. For Twitter, it’s a confused mess, with a group of bickering rivals who stumbled on a remarkable communications tool with a user base which developed most of its key strengths (from the @ reply to retweets) while its creators fumbled through trying to turn it into a business.

The Public Sphere was the week’s key theory, important not just because it’s a concept which helps explain Twitter’s centrality to modern public life, but also as the students had already looked at Habermas in another module in week two, and this was a timely refresher for them. But alongside a discussion on that, the workshop featured some quick practical tasks as we ran through more advanced Twitter features including Advanced Search, Lists and Followerwonk, as well as embedding tweets and making your own personal profile look a bit more professional.

One of Monday afternoon’s classes with a group of Sports Journalism students coincided with the horrific pile-up involving four horses and jockeys at Kempton. Quickly, I was able to show the students how to use the location filter on Advanced Search to track down a journalist tweeting from the course. It’s yet another new important skill, in a career more full of them than ever before.

Meanwhile, it’s congratulations to Journalism first year Maria Ward-Brennan, who won a £10 app store voucher in a little competition I ran during Monday’s lecture. I challenged the students to find a creative way to use Twitter while I was talking, and to post their entries on #journotech. Maria won for this, which was annoyingly accurate.

IMPRESS, Regulation and Hyperlocal News

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Saddleworth News.

Should we be impressed by IMPRESS? Four years after the Leveson Report into press standards, a new regulator has finally won formal recognition by the independent body established to do the recognising. But there is some derision from Fleet Street for a body which is, after all, funded by sex scandal ex-motorsport boss Max Mosley.

Most newspapers and magazines around the UK have thrown in their lot with a different body, IPSO, while others including The Guardian and Financial Times continue with their own arrangements. Those publishers aren’t happy with running anything past a recognition panel, and would prefer their own forms of self-regulation.

In a past life I set up Saddleworth News, now at nearly seven years old one of the country’s best-established hyperlocal news sites. Even though I’ve long since moved away, I keep an interest in the site and the sector more generally. This is relevant because of the 50 or so publishers currently associated with IMPRESS (either being regulated by them, or having applied to be), most are hyperlocal.

The original idea was that being part of an approved regulator would offer publishers a carrot: quick and easy resolution of libel disputes, settled cheaply before anything got to court. Along with this, a stick: if you don’t join up, you’ll have to pay the costs, even if you win. This latter sanction is included in section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, but has yet to be invoked because of the lack of a formally validated regulator. Now IMPRESS has been recognised, the prospect of section 40 has risen back up the political agenda. Although a story in Tuesday’s Times hinted that the government may now back down.

So, confusion for a bit longer. But it’s hyperlocal publishers who have much to lose here. The News Media Association, which represents the newspaper and magazine industry, has claimed that the hyperlocals who have thrown in their lot with IMPRESS have done so unnecessarily, because they don’t meet the government’s own definition of ‘relevant publisher’ which includes a requirement of at least 10 members of staff. But those criteria also feature being subject to editorial control, publishing news content, engaging in commercial activity and having different authors – all of which apply to, say, Saddleworth News, the sort of organisation which could theoretically be wiped out by a vexatious litigant angry at coverage of a contentious local matter. Having the institutional support of an official regulator could offer welcome and much-needed back-up.

As the-then Culture Secretary Maria Miller put it in the Commons in 2013: “Those exempted by virtue of the fact that they are a micro-business can choose to gain the benefits of the costs clauses by joining the regulator, providing an incentive for them to join if they so wish and a choice to small organisations, perhaps before they grow in size and inevitably become a relevant publisher.” For all its faults, IMPRESS is probably even more appealing for a hyperlocal now than it was then.

There’s more on this from Matt Abbott over at C4CJ.

Journalism Technologies: 5. The Facebook Effect

You can’t discuss social media for very long before you arrive at Facebook, so in a way it’s a surprise we’ve waited until five weeks into our Journalism Technologies module to get onto it. This was the lecture delivered by my colleague Caroline Pringle on Monday, focusing in particular on the development of the platform. It’s tempting to think that it’s been around forever, and for 18-year-olds it just about has, so going back and exploring how it became what it is today is really worthwhile. And, as a show of hands confirmed, not that many teenagers have seen The Social Network.

The key concept introduced was that of The Filter Bubble, a term coined by Eli Pariser – best known for his role at MoveOn.org – and explained by him in this TED talk. Roughly speaking, it describes what happens when algorithms, such as those which power Facebook’s news feed, increasingly show us only content it thinks we’re going to be interested in, based on our previous online behaviour. It’s ironic that Pariser went on to co-found Upworthy, one of a series of BuzzFeed rivals which suffered a big drop in traffic thanks to a Facebook algorithm tweak in 2014.

The workshops focused on using Facebook for practical journalistic purposes. In part, this is about finding appropriate groups and pages to like, helping to turn the news feeds of our students into ones more useful to trainee journalists. Less Unilad and more, well, everything else. The highlight though was the section on using Facebook for broadcasting, when everyone had a go at Facebook Live. Even though I reminded all the groups to set their privacy to ‘Only Me’ to avoid spamming confused family and friends, one was enjoying himself so much he let everyone in his network see his stream. “Are you sure you’re supposed to be doing this in a lesson?” wrote his mum in a comment. I can vouch for him: he was.

#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.

cardkit

The CardKit dashboard.