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.

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: