Tag Archives: Google

Journalism Technologies: 2. Google: Good or Evil?

‘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.

Journalism Technologies: 24. Your Future Is Arriving Now

And so to the last week of term, early this year because of a late Easter, and the final week of teaching in the inaugural Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield. Wrestlemania overnight on Sunday cut the lecture attendance a bit (although some students came straight in having not been to bed, which shows a remarkable commitment to both professional wrestling and academic life).

The lectures up until now had been preoccupied with the present day and the very recent past. So it seemed sensible to use the final one in the series to look into the future, and speculate on some of the developments we might be able to expect in media in the coming years. Likely to play an increasingly significant role in our world more generally is the sharing economy, and with its tradition of freelancing and part-time work, there’s no reason to doubt that more journalism will be done this way. At the centre of this part of the economy are the rising giants of Uber and AirBnB, and so the first section of the lecture traced their stories, the problems they’ve recently faced, and where they might go next.

One intriguing battle dominating the thoughts of many industrial leaders, from Uber to Google and GM and Ford, is to be first on the grid with a driverless car that really works. The reason why this is potentially vitally significant for the media: a potentially dramatic increase in the amount of leisure time for commuters and drivers, which they will probably spend, well, consuming media. Might an Uber TV be the next Sky or Netflix? If it is, then a taxi company which doesn’t own any taxis will suddenly become one of the world’s most important media companies. But then, companies that already fit that bill used to be just social networks, computer makers and online bookshops, so Uber would just fit into a well-established trend.

If there is a lesson, is that’s to see the future of media, we probably need to look outside what we currently think of as the media.

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: 9. Broadcast Yourself

It’s just over a decade since Jawed Karim stood in front of some elephants at a zoo in San Diego and mumbled into his friend’s camera for 18 seconds. It was the first video uploaded to YouTube, which Karim co-founded along with two other former employees of PayPal. A year and a half later, it had already grown to become the fifth largest website on the internet, and was sold to Google for $1.65bn – a fortune at the time, but cheap at the price considering its continued impact on the media landscape.

This week’s lecture in Journalism Technologies took in the story of YouTube’s rise and rise (there still hasn’t been a fall), by way of its various battles with the old big media companies, angry at how their content was being shared and shared again. YouTube, with Google’s help, was ultimately able to resist years of legal pressure and avoid going the same way as Napster. The final irony is that YouTube has become much more like broadcast television – a home for professionally made content rather than the ‘broadcast yourself’ homemade videos on which it made its reputation – while any TV station you care to name has a platform which somewhat resembles YouTube, not least the BBC’s iPlayer.

For a theoretical approach, I turned to Spreadable Media, a 2013 book by the father of participatory cultures, Henry Jenkins, along with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. Explaining the way certain videos spread on YouTube, they draw a contrast with sticky content, a term popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his memorable book The Tipping Point. Jenkins and the others say that no matter how good – sticky – a piece of content is, these days it still needs people to share, recommend and remix it to their networks, so it can reach a large audience.

The practical sessions involved getting students to actually make quick and easy YouTube videos, using the platform’s basic in-built editor and some of the copyright-free footage and music available on there. Despite being big consumers of YouTube, only relatively few students in the groups had ever uploaded anything themselves before. At least now they know where all that tinkly music so beloved of vloggers comes from!

Journalism Technologies: 6. Twitter: What’s Happening?

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.

#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: 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.

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.