Monthly Archives: January 2017

Using Balsamiq In The Classroom

One of my final year students using Balsamiq.

One of the tools which I learned about during my recent visit to Arizona for the Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute, was Balsamiq. It’s an online tool which allows you to create a mock-up – a wireframe – of what your planned website or app would look like. We used it when putting together our pitches, so we could give a flavour of what we were proposing without having to go through the actual process of knocking up even a basic version for real.

I found it easy to use, and so I’ve already incorporated it into my new final year module, Journalism Innovation. Students are working on their second and last assessment of the academic year, which is to work in groups to create a business plan for a proposed media start-up company. They’ve got formative pitches to do next month, and so I decided to use some class time both last week and this week, to get them doing a few Balsamiq wireframes, so they could include a couple in their pitch decks.

And it’s worked well. The software is easy to use and the students really took to it. Although it would be easy enough to get them to start websites for their projects (and many will anyway), it would be time-consuming, and also pointless if they’d rather do an app (which neither I nor they have the skills to create) or have an idea that lives on social platforms only. An added bonus: for the 30-day trial at least, it’s free. And for this sort of student project, the basic 30-day version is more than enough.

I’ve also made up a helpsheet, which can be downloaded here for anyone to use.

Journalism Technologies: 14. This year’s model

Having looked last week at how journalism was traditionally funded and how those models have been eroded (or, if you prefer, blown apart) by recent developments, this week’s Journalism Technologies lecture took the story on to the present day with an examination of what media companies have been doing to try to make money.

One thing that struck me about the material when delivering it, was actually how slowly some of the themes have moved in recent years. The Daily Mail and The Guardian are still pursuing a strategy of going for huge global audiences and trying to monetise those eyeballs, and while the former is still just about making a bit of money off the back of its sister Mail Online, the latter is, yet again, facing some kind of impending cliff-edge cash crisis. The Times’ paywall is holding firm and the paper just about makes a profit, while the Financial Times and The Economist continue to enjoy more success from their focus on the sort of quality that can’t be easily replicated elsewhere.

I remember mentioning most or all of this stuff to students when I first did some university teaching five or six years ago, and it feels as though we’re still waiting to see how it’ll all be resolved. If there was ever going to be a silver bullet to solve traditional journalism’s funding crisis, the fact it still hasn’t been fired rather suggests it never will be. This great list of 52 potential money-making ideas for local journalism by Josh Stearns offers as good a roadmap as any to the variety of ways in which digital publishers will have to raise revenue now and in the future. I’m slightly more confident than I was before that when it comes to hard cash, quality journalism might end up offering better prospects than the alternatives.

My Week At The Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute 2017

It’s me.

So, I spent the first week of 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona, as a fellow of the Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship Institute. There were 15 of us taking part, with 12 lecturers drawn from around the US, one each from the UAE and Mexico, with me rounding out the group. We’re all either in the early stages of, or about to start, teaching a class in journalism and entrepreneurship, and the week was all about making connections, sharing best practice, and learning from thinkers and trendsetters in both education and journalism.

Prof Jeff Jarvis appeared via Skype.

The event was overseen by Prof Dan Gillmor, and he invited a range of excellent speakers to participate in person or via Skype. There was a particular focus on the role of verticals – that is, digital media companies focusing on a niche, rather than attempting to match the broad scope of the legacy organisations and some of the better-known pure players such as BuzzFeed.

The great man’s famous sign-off.

Steven Levy, veteran Silicon Valley journalist and now Editor of Backchannel, delivered a keynote address with the hopeful conclusion that high-quality reporting could just be the very thing that eventually sustains business models for more publishers. From a UK perspective, The Economist, the Financial Times and, to an extent, The Times have all demonstrated the possibility of this. But on the other hand, The Sun’s paywall was a failure. The Blendle model which has worked so well in Holland, has in its favour the fact that there is little global competition for Dutch language content.

Which arguably brings us back to verticals. One of the week’s most interesting sessions was courtesy of Rafat Ali, the one time founder of Paid Content, and now the person behind travel site Skift. For shame, I’d not heard of it, but it already employs more than 30 people, with a mixed revenue model consisting of paid-for insight reports and conferences, alongside a focus on more traditional forms of distribution including e-mail newsletters. Doing things that others can’t or won’t do, and to a level that customers are prepared to pay for, was a key theme of this and other talks.

The Cronkite School, early on a mild winter morning.

The week finished with all of us having the chance to pitch our own ideas to Dan. One of the most useful aspects of that process was being introduced to Balsamiq, a tool which allows you to create wireframe mock-ups of apps and websites. I’ve already incorporated it into my teaching on the Journalism Innovation class here at Huddersfield, and students have found it a very helpful bit of software. The connections I made with all of the other fellows are due to continue over the next few weeks too, with a series of webinars hosted by Michelle Ferrier of Ohio University, so the benefits of the Institute didn’t stop when I left Phoenix.

All that’s left is for me to record my thanks to all of the fellows, the Scripps Howard Foundation for picking up the tab, the University of Huddersfield for my flights to the US, as well as Dan and Joanna Sanchez-Alvillar at the Cronkite School for all their hard work organising the week.

Journalism Technologies: 13. Disruption!

Christmas has long since faded into the background and we’re well into the second term of the academic year at the University of Huddersfield. The Journalism Technologies module resumed on Monday with a change of focus. The first term was all about looking at different social tools and online platforms each week in both the lectures and workshops, whereas the classes now look much more closely at the response of the journalism world to those significant technological changes.

I’ve found in the past that students have only a sketchy idea of how the career they want to pursue is actually funded, so the opening lecture of the term was all about traditional business models in journalism, and how those have been disrupted. Looking back at the development of commercial media companies in the UK, I couldn’t resist including this classic ITV Yorkshire Calendar report on the opening day of Radio Aire in 1981, fronted by none other than Richard Madeley, and featuring an interview with news editor Mike Best (later of Calendar himself, now a lecturer at Leeds Trinity University).

The sheer concept of a ten minute news bulletin at 7am and 8am on a local commercial radio station is quite something. These days only Today on Radio 4 manages that.

In the middle part of the lecture I got into the decline in classified advertising, and lamented the failure of newspapers to capture very much of the market for digital classifieds. Rightmove, established in 2000 as a partnership between four leading property agents, successfully cornered the market in property, and now has a market capitalisation of (wait for it) £3.8 billion. Trinity Mirror, the UK’s largest newspaper publisher, is on £280 million. Here’s what you could have won, as Jim Bowen used to say.

The session finished by introducing a classic business theory, the Innovator’s Dilemma, first coined by Clayton Christensen. Applying it to some well-known examples from technology, I highlighted the failure of Xerox to capitalise on the incredibly innovative computers it developed in the early 1970s but never released, and then the fall from grace of Kodak. Posing the question, have newspaper companies suffered from the innovator’s dilemma, I left the students to do a bit of reading in time for next week. The spoiler alert is, of course, that they pretty much have.