Tag Archives: Facebook

Journalism Technologies: 22. Hyperlocal

Week 22 of Journalism Technologies brought me back to a subject I know a bit about, hyperlocal journalism. I was very closely involved in this area during my time setting up and running Saddleworth News in 2010 and 2011, and I’ve maintained an interest in it ever since.

It’s probably true to say that the hyperlocal sector has, in general, not lived up to some of the expectations which certain commentators ascribed to it back then. With some very honourable exceptions, it hasn’t really replaced some of the declining ‘district’ coverage offered by local newspapers. Experiments conducted by legacy media companies in this space, such as Guardian Local and Sky Tyne & Wear, have been scrapped despite some critical acclaim. Nor has there been much outside cash, whether through investment, grants or advertising, for UK hyperlocals, which has left our sector looking rather impoverished when compared with the US.

But on the other hand, I don’t think many of us involved in hyperlocals really believed the hype back then. Hyperlocals at their best, then and now, and whether on a WordPress site or a Facebook page, offer information which helps bind communities together, information that may not be readily available anywhere else. Sometimes this is journalism, and research by Andy Williams, Dave Harte and Jez Turner shows that council coverage is a key part of many hyperlocal sites, while at other times it’s probably not – that same research demonstrates the eternal popularity of posts about community events and local history. Hyperlocals may not be the flavour of the month these days, but they are a part of the media landscape and will certainly remain so.

In the workshops this week, I got students to find a hyperlocal from their hometowns and discuss their strengths and weaknesses, before searching for new ones to add to the Local Web List directory. This is the best online resource available to navigate the UK hyperlocal sector. There are more than 600 entries, and after a bit of work from my students this week, there’s a few more on there now.

Journalism Technologies: 19. The Power of the Crowd

We’ve moved onto the final part of the inaugural first year Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield. The opening term before Christmas was all about introducing the students to different platforms week by week in the lectures, then taking them through how to use them in the workshops, before they submitted a reflective learning log on their blogs. Next, we examined the ways in which changes in technology have impacted on media companies both old and new, and students produced content analyses comparing legacy journalism outlets with pure players.

Now, students will be required to do a third assessment by Easter, in which they complete a piece of journalism using at least two social tools to help tell the story. And the first lecture to support this part of the module came from my colleague Caroline Pringle last Monday, on how to make the most of online communities.

Caroline took the students through some of the ways in which people gather online, and the places where they do that, from more traditional forums to Facebook groups both public and private. Mumsnet remains a classic example of how a strong community can become not only a thriving forum, but a significant media brand in its own right. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, of those of us in the room only me and Caroline would admit to ever actually going on it, but I suppose 18-year-olds aren’t really in their target demographic (I went on Mumsnet occasionally in my past life as a stay-at-home dad, although really only for recipe tips – the rest of it seemed a bit impenetrable, even for me).

For concepts to help students understand the power of online communities, Caroline turned to both the classic idea of the wisdom of crowds, as well as Clay Shirky’s idea of cognitive surplus: that many of us use much of our increased spare time in order to create and share things online, just as in the past we’d have used that time to, perhaps, inadvertently become experts on TV shows. For Shirky, it’s a typically optimistic view of how the development of technologies is generally a positive thing in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Journalism Technologies: 17. BuzzFeed’s Luke Lewis

The winning entry, from the first year Broadcast Journalism students.

This week in Journalism Technologies we welcomed the second guest speaker of the term, Luke Lewis, the founding editor of BuzzFeed UK and now the company’s Head of European Growth. Luke graciously joined us by Google Hangout from London and gave students an overview of how he spearheaded BuzzFeed’s remarkable growth here since it opened in London just four years ago.

Among the key takeaways from Luke’s talk and the Q&A which followed was the large and growing importance BuzzFeed is putting on video content. On the face of it, that’s not too dissimilar from the similar emphasis at Trinity Mirror which we heard about a fortnight ago. But there are differences in purpose and execution.

TM is particularly interested in the greater value of ads which it can sell around its videos, while the different business model of BuzzFeed favours community and sponsored content. Luke gave some valuable insight into the development of BuzzFeed’s extraordinarily successful Tasty videos, and how relatively few of the people who look at them on Facebook ever actually end up making one of the recipes (a show of hands in the room confirmed Huddersfield students back up this part of the analysis).

It’s perhaps no surprise Tasty’s been such a hit. Luke noted that content around food, as well as sexual health, tends to do well regardless of the country, even if distribution platforms can vary (curiously, Facebook is “nowhere” in Japan). Luke also did a spot of futurology, looking ahead to a future where even conventional desktop websites gradually disappear in a mobile-only world.

Our workshops looked back at a more traditional aspect of BuzzFeed though, the listicle. We got each group to work together to make one during their sessions, then challenged them to get as many views as they could within a week.

The winners were the Broadcast Journalism group for this effort, although the total number of clicks (fewer than 300) meant it didn’t exactly set Facebook on fire. I’ve done these sessions often with school and college groups over the years, and the undisputed champions remain a group of students from Wakefield College, who last year clocked up more than 8,000 viewers for this list of the worst things about their hometown. It even got its own YouTube response video. The corresponding ‘best’ list didn’t do nearly as well, although surely that tells us more about people’s sense of humour than what that fine city is actually like.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

What I’m Reading: Dave Eggers’ The Circle

The Circle.

The Circle.

I’ve finally got round to reading The Circle. Now it’s being turned into a movie with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, no doubt lots more of us will be familiar with it soon. But if you haven’t come across it yet, it’s by Dave Eggers (he of Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius fame) and is set in a near-future world in which one Silicon Valley tech firm has triumphed over Google, Facebook and the rest and has become almost omnipresent in everyone’s lives.

The protagonist is a young woman who manages to blag a job at The Circle courtesy of her college room-mate, but who quickly moves through the ranks until she is soon selected to go ‘transparent’ – have wearable tech on her every day, broadcasting everything she does live to millions of followers. At this point, things start to get ominous, but I won’t give any more away.

It’s good. Eggers can’t resist making some unsubtle points about the dangers of where-we’re-all-heading-if-we’re-not-careful, but it doesn’t detract too much from the enjoyment of actually reading the thing. He does a good job of capturing the general feeling of antsiness that can be a side effect of being offline for any significant period of time, and the Circle engineers’ view that tech can solve everything and don’t worry too much about the consequences (a critique often made of Google in particular) comes over, too.

The book was actually published in 2013 and it seems even more prescient now. I suspect the novel and, when it’s released, the movie, will be useful teaching aids as I try to make some of these points to students on a couple of new tech-related modules I’m planning at the University of Huddersfield. It’s well worth the £4 I paid for it from, naturally enough, the Kindle Store.

What Next For Community Journalism? Cardiff Conference 2015

Cardiff.

Cardiff. It was a nice day.

I was at JOMEC in Cardiff yesterday for the What Next For Community Journalism? conference, being held as something of a warm up for the Future of Journalism event taking place there today and tomorrow. Although to describe it as a warm up is doing the conference a real disservice. It was packed with interesting speakers from the UK community media scene and further afield, and huge credit must go to the team at Cardiff’s Centre for Community Journalism for organising such a successful day.

The centrepiece of the occasion was the launch of the latest report on hyperlocal by Damian Radcliffe, called Where Are We Now? (yes, another question – there were more questions than answers at this conference but, as a veteran of quite a few of these things, it was ever thus). He noted that many of the issues facing the sector remain similar to those which have existed for some years, back to when I set up Saddleworth News in 2010 and even earlier – including money, sustainability, relationships with the BBC, newspaper publishers, Facebook and others, potential legal and regulatory threats and more. Damian called for more academic research in the area, building on that already done by Andy Williams, Dave Harte, Jerome Turner and others, and I’ll certainly be contributing to that as part of my PhD on local court reporting.

Will Perrin of Talk About Local picked up on one key theme touched on by many speakers, which is that Facebook isn’t what it used to be for hyperlocal publishers. I well remember it as something of a gusher of views to Saddleworth News in 2010 and 2011, which allowed the site’s audience to grow quite quickly. But algorithms can and do change, and these days organic reach from Facebook posts can be as low as 1-2% of your ‘likers’ on Facebook. So, for a hyperlocal with, say, a Facebook community of 2,000, each post may initially only be seen by as few as 20 of those.

Will and his colleague Mike Rawlins also revealed an updated version of the old Openly Local map of UK hyperlocal sites. They’re currently populating the Local Web List, and estimate the number of local sites offering civic information, news and other things, may actually be a lot higher than previously thought – perhaps in the 1,500 to 2,000 range. They need help finding all the sites, and more details are at the Local Web List site.

Dan Gillmor giving the keynote address.

Dan Gillmor giving the keynote address.

The outsider’s view came from Dan Gillmor, over from Silicon Valley. He also discussed Facebook, describing it as the biggest competitor to independent local publishers. This part of his argument really came back to the idea that whenever someone else has a significant control over the way in which the audience sees your stuff, you’re putting yourself at some risk. The slightest tweak to a line of code in Menlo Park, even if it’s aimed at solving some entirely unrelated problem, can have a potentially disastrous impact on a hyperlocal.

Gillmor was sceptical about Google and Facebook but conceded he didn’t believe the current leadership of those companies was necessarily “evil”, although he did reserve some harsher words for Apple. After explaining he tries to avoid products from those companies as far as possible, he admitted he still uses Google Maps because there’s nothing else nearly as good. He closed by saying “I try to manage my hypocrisy”, which I thought was quite a nice way of putting it.