Category Archives: Articles

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.

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.

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.

#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.

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.

Me For BuzzFeed: 61 Thoughts All Aberdonians Have Had On Union Street

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I’m on BuzzFeed today, doing my first proper post as an official contributor. Yes, it’s a listicle, and it’s called 61 Thoughts All Aberdonians Have Had On Union Street.

I’ve done the odd piece for them before using their community feature, mainly as a way of trying out the content management system so I could then use it for classroom exercises. One of mine in particular about Aberdeen did pretty well, so I was asked to do another. Hopefully I’ll do some more, too, and I’ll post them here when I do.

James Naughtie And The Enduring Power Of Radio

I’m in today’s Yorkshire Post, discussing why radio still matters. The paper’s Chris Bond gave me a ring yesterday for a feature off the back of James Naughtie’s last broadcast on the Today programme.

The general thrust of what I said was that radio has been remarkably resilient over the years. Predictions of its demise have been around since the early days of television, but the latest RAJAR figures show that almost 90% of us still tune in once a week. The quality that allowed Today’s millions of listeners to feel as though Naughtie was talking directly to them, is something that TV has never matched. Perhaps more surprisingly, in an era when we reveal much more of all our lives on social media than ever before, the intimacy of radio still has a special power, at least sometimes.

But on the other hand, there’s trouble ahead for traditional radio. While 41% of 15-24 year olds say they listen to the radio on a tablet or mobile once a month, it’s not immediately clear how many tune into linear radio in the way their parents and grandparents do. Certainly, the days of sitting poised over the cassette player during the Top 40 are over. Young people I teach at the University of Huddersfield are still interested in radio, and love podcasts, but even as it seems outwardly to be in rude health, I suspect traditional radio is also at the beginning of a gentle decline.

Streaming and social media won’t kill linear radio any more than TV did, but it will cannibalise its audience, and in time Naughtie’s successors will be a less significant part of our national conversation.