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?
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.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Advanced Search, Apple, Emily Bell, Ev Williams, Followerwonk, Google, Habermas, Jack Dorsey, Journalism Technologies, Kempton Park, Larry Page, Maria Ward-Brennan, Public Sphere, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs, Twitter, University of Huddersfield
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.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, iMac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Journalism Technologies, Microsoft, Steve Jobs, University of Huddersfield
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.
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.
Posted in Articles
Tagged Apple, Facebook, Facebook Instant Articles, Google, Instagram, Jack Dorsey, Jeff Bezos, Rockstar North, The Conversation, The Scotsman, Twitter, University of Huddersfield, Washington Post, WhatsApp
The Piper Alpha memorial in Aberdeen. (picture: Lizzie/Wikipedia)
If you grew up in Aberdeen you remember Piper Alpha. I was six at the time, in July 1988, and I vividly recall hearing the rescue helicopters flying directly over my house from the airport out to sea. They returned with just 61 survivors; 167 men were killed.
In the 25 years since, the tragedy has perhaps not been revisited by the media as often as others from that time, such as Hillsborough and Lockerbie. But there was an excellent documentary, Fire In the Night, shown on BBC2 earlier this year. And as a result I’ve read the source material for the film, a book by Scotsman journalist Stephen McGinty. It’s thorough but highly readable, with the descriptions of the chaos on board the platform as the fire took hold particularly devastating. Recommended.
Also recommended is Nieman Lab’s oral history of the impact of digital technologies on journalism, Riptide. It’s been criticised for being too simplistic and lacking a suitable variety of voices, but it’s still a useful guide to some of the key developments and experiments in the news business over the past three decades. And this video of a 1981 news report on an early digital experiment in San Francisco is ace.
Elsewhere, Damian Radcliffe published another useful assessment of the UK’s hyperlocal scene at the BBC College of Journalism, an abridged version of his chapter in the new edition of What Do We Mean By Local?. This guide from the BBC’s Marc Settle to using Apple’s new iOS7 is also worth a read.
A couple of sport-related articles which I’ve enjoyed lately: Andy Bull in the Guardian on cricketer Scott Boswell’s battle with the yips, and some interesting speculation from the New Yorker on whether playing American football might have contributed to Jack Kerouac’s early death.
The always-good This American Life radio show had another cracker earlier this month, too. Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame) tells the remarkable story of how Bosnian immigrant Emir Kamenica got into school and then college in the US. Listen to the whole thing: the podcast is here.
Posted in What I'm Reading
Tagged Andy Bull, Apple, BBC College of Journalism, Damian Radcliffe, Emir Kamenica, Fire In The Night, Hyperlocal, iOS7, Jack Kerouac, Marc Settle, Michael Lewis, Nieman Lab, Piper Alpha, Riptide, Scott Boswell, Stephen McGinty, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The Scotsman, This American Life, What Do We Mean By Local?