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.
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.
We were talking Twitter for week six of Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield. I first taught at a university in Leeds back in 2011, and I remember prefacing one of my early sessions by saying something to the effect of: ‘Twitter may not be the most important online tool for journalists forever, but it is right now, and that’s why I’m going to show you how to use it’. Then I sort of imagined it would have slipped from favour by now, but despite all kinds of headwinds, it remains as central to the day-to-day work of media professionals as it ever was.
The lecture took students through some of those headwinds, something which has been an almost constant feature of Twitter’s history, dating back to the in-fighting between the four co-founders and technical challenges which marked its early years. To be honest, Twitter became huge almost in spite of everything, and its utility as the best place on the internet for live, instant communication, remains its unique, and just about only, selling point.
One of Twitter’s thorniest issues is: what, if anything, it should do about Donald Trump. Having tweeted his way to the presidency, he spends his early mornings firing off all kinds of messages as these things take his fancy. Overnight, a Twitter employee, apparently on their last day, deactivated the account for 11 minutes, to widespread amusement. Not everyone within Twitter is happy to let the President keep on tweeting.
Meanwhile, I once again ran a contest to see who could come up with the best tweet on the #journotech hashtag during the lecture. As I was hobbling about with a dead leg after falling over on Saturday, the winner was undoubtedly this from Josh Lees.
For the fourth week of this year’s Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield, I was in Dubai for a work recruiting trip and so my colleague Caroline Pringle not only did the lecture, but also led all six workshops. Thanks Caroline!
I’ve embedded her lecture on Facebook at the top of this post. And even since the lecture was delivered last Thursday, the Facebook Effect on the media has become even more pronounced. Tests of a different form of news feed, with all non-friends and sponsored posts hived off elsewhere, has prompted panic among news executives in the six countries where the trial has been taking place. This Medium post by a Slovakian journalist reports a drop in post interactions to just a quarter of previous levels, virtually overnight.
The days of Facebook being a simple firehose for traffic aren’t quite what they once were, and occasional tweaks to the algorithm have from time-to-time prompted similar palpitations among social media editors, but this appears to be another step closer to a ‘pay to play’ regime, with only publishers and others willing to pay for the privilege getting real estate in your news feeds. This may be superficially attractive to Facebook as a way of tackling arguably its biggest ever challenge – fake news – but would have an immediate and serious financial impact on publishers which have spent years trying to build traffic through Facebook, in turn using that to raise advertising revenue.
Facebook’s head of news feed, Adam Mosseri, has used this blogpost to try to reassure nervous publishers. The key line is: “We currently have no plans to roll this test out further.” But ‘currently’ doesn’t mean forever.
This week in Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield, I enjoyed telling the first years the story of blogging. In some ways it’s a bit of a rise and fall of blogging, from the very earliest experiments with personal blogs (before they were even called blogs) in the mid-1990s, through the rise of Blogger and WordPress, to its gradual decline in the era of social media to become just another part of the media landscape. The title is from Jay Rosen’s memorable 2006 article about all this published on – what else? – his blog.
When considering the impact of blogging on journalism, there’s still only one place to start: the publication by Matt Drudge in 1998 of the fact Newsweek had dropped its investigation into President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. When I asked the room whether the name Monica Lewinsky was familiar to everyone, there were quite a few shaking heads. This was all before most of the new first year students were even born, after all.
In the practical workshops we’ve been setting up blogs for the students to use in their first assessment of the module, in which they write a series of posts about the tools we’ll be using in future weeks. Once again I gave them the choice of Blogger, WordPress or Medium, the latter having the continued benefit of being extremely user friendly indeed, despite the various pivots and changes taking place with its financial model.
Even though blogging is far from being the most exciting part of today’s media landscape, it’s still worth students doing, I think. In part because you quickly pick up how to handle a standard CMS, as well as other associated skills born from running a website (moderating comments for example, and tweaking the layout). And also because a decent blog might well be the top result on Google for some students, or at least those with less common names. I still like blogs as a way to have a professional showcase for the right audience, even if the days of traditional personal blogs getting big traffic are receding into the distance.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Blogger, blogging, Drudge Report, Jay Rosen, Journalism Technologies, Medium, Monica Lewinsky, University of Huddersfield, Usenet, web 2.0, WordPress
My final year classes used Flow XO this week.
The first few classes of my final year Journalism Innovation module at the University of Huddersfield focus on some different bits of media and journalism skills the students may not have come across earlier in their time at university. This year we did making gifs, creating socially shareable graphics, doing subtitles for Facebook videos and, this week, another Facebook-based challenge: creating a chatbot for Messenger.
To guide students through the process I chose some local software in the form of Flow XO, a company based at Padiham in Lancashire. It’s got an easy to use interface and plenty of pre-set elements, allowing students to use it more or less off the shelf. The basic version is also free, and that was more than enough for the purposes of one two-hour class session.
Some students had already come across Messenger bots in the wild. Not from the few and mixed experiments that media companies have so far undertaken – the Wall Street Journal’s may be the best one I’ve used – but with some businesses who have already taken the leap into this area.
But with Amazon Alexa and its rivals signalling an increase in voice services around the home, and either WhatsApp or Messenger giving Facebook the number one messaging app in more than 150 countries worldwide, making content available in a form that will fit one or both is likely to become increasingly important for the news business too. Chatbots in and of themselves might not be the future, but I think we’ll soon be seeing more of them. Perhaps it won’t be long before we’re adding this to the lengthening list of ‘essential’ skills to be taught on a journalism course.
‘Don’t Be Evil’ is the memorable phrase often attributed as a sort of internal company motto at Google, and one of the points behind lecture 2 in my Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield is to get students to actively consider a bit more about the search engine they use morning, noon and night.
Looking to the writing of Evgeny Morozov to provide a little fly in the ointment, I pointed up his use of the term ‘technological solutionism’ as a critique of our desire to let tech solve problems which perhaps don’t really exist in the first place. Activity tracking apps such as Fitbits are an example I used to illustrate this – we’re all told that doing 10,000 steps every day will help keep us healthy, but studies have begun to imply that some users take that as an excuse to be less healthy in our areas of their lives, such as diet, so the effect is in fact negated. Google has examples from its own stable of products, not least the now partly abandoned Google Books project.
In the workshops I asked students about the other Google products they used. Gmail was almost unanimous, it seems to have had notable growth at the expense of other email providers over the past year or two. When I asked why, the responses were all of the ones you might expect – “it’s free” “it’s simple to use” “it’s just easier” – and are all the same reasons why the main Google search engine product first scaled the heights back in the early 2000s.
Displaying Canva on the screen in my classroom.
My final year Journalism Innovation class is running for a second year, and as was the case last time round, there are more than 50 students spread across three seminar groups. They’ve all chosen the module as an option, which is great.
The module begins with a few weeks of learning various more advanced social media and digital skills, with which they may not already be familiar. Week one was making gifs using Giphy, and today for the second session we made subtitles for Facebook videos as well as socially shareable graphics, the latter with Canva.
It’s one of the best free tools available for quickly making shareable content and is particularly useful for the range of size templates it allows you to play with, including Instagram images and website banner ads as well as the more normal Twitter and Facebook posts. Canva operates on a freemium basis, with certain fancier patterns and backgrounds costing small sums of money, but plain ones come free.
I asked each group of students to suggest someone in the news, then took them through how to find a copyright-free image before adding a quote to create a suitable graphic. Then, I let them do one on their own, before sharing to Twitter. I had produced a helpsheet in advance, too, and that helped keep this part of the sessions to a brisk 30-40 minutes or so. The students all picked it up very quickly and I’d definitely use Canva to do this again.
One sign of the times: groups were split roughly equally between those who wanted to produce Tom Petty tributes, and those who had never heard of him.
We’re back and the second edition of my Journalism Technologies module for first year students at the University of Huddersfield has begun. As last year, the first week served as an introduction, with the lecture looking at the development of personal computing from the introduction of the Altair in 1975, to the Microsoft-Apple deal of 1997.
We’ve got slightly more students than last year and the lecture room was absolutely packed. When I asked what the phrase ‘Silicon Valley’ meant to people, someone piped up with “isn’t it what they put in breast implants?” If they learned nothing else during the 50 minutes or so I was talking, at least I was able to put everyone right on that.
In the seminars I kicked off by asking everyone their three favourite apps, according to how much battery life they’d spent on them over the past week. The big riser this year was undoubtedly Spotify: not only do roughly half of the students in my groups use it, all of those who do subscribe to the Premium service (students get this half price, but still). A couple of years back YouTube was the main way in which 18-year-olds were accessing music. Since then, Spotify has just got too good for many to turn down. Who says people don’t pay for content online?