Last week was our data journalism week on the Journalism Technologies module, and my colleague Caroline Pringle gave the lecture. Data journalism is probably not the ‘future of news’ flavour of the month it was a few years back – but then, what is? – but a series of recent developments mean it’s becoming increasingly prominent in the UK’s local media.
The BBC’s Shared Data Unit, part of its Local News Partnerships initiative which includes the higher profile Local Democracy Reporters, has begun publishing its first stories. The unit acts as a sort of training ground for journalists on local papers, who spend three months at a time working on the team at BBC Birmingham, creating stories from data for use by various outlets. Then there’s the increasing profile of The Bureau Local, a Google-funded offshoot of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which recently made a splash with a detailed analysis of council budgets around the country.
Teaching this stuff is harder than it might sound, not least because teaching it properly involves spreadsheets and some quite tricky maths, exactly the sort of thing that journalism students who dropped Maths as soon as they could after GCSE, aren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of. Our solution for this first year class is to give seminar groups a publicly available dataset, such as BBC Sport’s Price of Football, or data from RAJAR and UCAS. Then, they have to write stories in groups with either a local, national or regional angle. It’s a fun session and works well in the time allowed, but it only scratches the surface of the sort of tasks you might get into in a data or investigative-type module. But then again, a little bit of looking at numbers is more than enough for a lot of media students.
After a break for reading week and then a snow week which put paid to my colleague Caroline Pringle’s lecture on online communities, Journalism Technologies resumed at the University of Huddersfield last week with my lecture examining the related fields of UGC verification, citizen witnessing and the context of what is often described as fake news.
In some ways, the debate around all of this remains in a similar position to when I addressed this topic a year ago. Then, with Donald Trump newly in the White House and Facebook scrambling to work out what to do amid mounting criticism of its perceived role in the spread of various nonsense before polling day, it seemed as though some significant changes might happen, in particular to the look and feel of Facebook’s news feed (with checkmarks for ‘approved’ sources, or warnings of potential fakery, perhaps). As it is, the main change to Facebook’s algorithm since then has seen a general downgrading of news of all kinds. Good news if you’re a fan of other people’s baby photos, but a notable risk to publishers large and small in terms of traffic, and therefore money.
But it still seems to be Facebook under pressure, rather than publishers. This is probably no surprise considering its enormous scale. But not for nothing was 2017 arguably the toughest year in its history. It will go to great lengths to avoid the cold hand of regulation from the US, EU, or anyone else, knowing well that it was long-running anti-trust legal issues that did as much as anything else to nobble tech’s last undisputed giant, Microsoft, in the late 1990s. Facebook also still wants to break into China, and having all kinds of news content swilling about will do nothing for its prospects there. Squaring all of these complicated, overlapping circles still looks out of easy reach.
I had to be away from work last week so the usual week 16 lecture in Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield was delayed until week 17. It was a look at the online pure players who have shaken up digital publishing in recent years, from the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed to Breitbart and The Canary.
I kicked the lecture off by showing a large backdrop image of Grumpy Cat, one of the breakout internet stars that we might commonly associate with this breed of media company, and then following it up with a clip of Vice’s memorable fast turnaround documentary on Charlottesville from last year. The message being that while these outlets may have developed a reputation for trivial viral nonsense, they’re just as capable of investing in quality journalism in ways that more traditional media companies find it hard to match.
I included a reflection on academic Mark Deuze’s 2006 call for media companies to embrace what he described as ‘liquid journalism’, which he defined as interacting with the audience, coming up with different ways of creating journalism and embracing the fact that things change rapidly. BuzzFeed for example, which began that year, could be seen to have mastered all three of those points. But as I also noted in the lecture, the recent job cuts there demonstrate that native advertising has not proved the silver bullet to commercial success that some had hoped it might be. Whether there’s room for all of the new players in digital publishing to survive is, as ever, in question.
Wayne and Lauren talking to the first year students.
This week in Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield, we welcomed two guest speakers from Britain’s biggest newspaper publisher, Trinity Mirror, to get the inside track on how the company is continuing to push forward online and on social media.
Wayne Ankers is the editor of the Huddersfield Examiner and has also been serving as the launch editor of Leeds Live, a new online-only offering from TM based in a city where it has not had a presence before, parking its tanks firmly on the lawn of the Johnston Press-owned Yorkshire Evening Post. Wayne talked the students through the aims of the site, with a strong focus on Leeds United coverage as well as more timeless, going-out-in-Leeds material.
One point Wayne made about football reporters made me ears prick up in particular. Traditionally students who want to become sportswriters are told to leave their allegiances at the door of the press box, to become professional observers of the action. But Wayne actively wants his Leeds United journalists to be Leeds fans, or at the very least have a depth of background knowledge about the club that would match that of a fan. In an age when being active on social media and engaging directly with readers is a key part of the job, Wayne believes it’s vital for regional sports journalists to have a passion for, and deep knowledge about, the club they cover, to help give them the credibility they need when interacting with fans.
Lauren is the Executive Editor of the Examiner and took the students through how she has helped oversee the transition from a newspaper-focused newsroom to one that is truly digital first. She pointed to this recent Shorthand story the Examiner published, as an example of the kind of top class online storytelling both the Examiner and Leeds Live are striving to do. She also offered these handy tips for the students.
They were two great talks and both Wayne and Lauren kindly stayed to answer some questions from the students, too. Thanks again to them both.
It’s the last week of term before Christmas and it’s also been the conclusion of the first half of the Journalism Technologies module here at the University of Huddersfield. This meant a look at the tech and media giant that is something of the odd one out among Google, Facebook, Apple and the rest: Amazon. But although it was traditionally an online bookshop, it’s rather more than that now.
In the year since I last gave a lecture on Amazon, its various reputational challenges – from the alleged poor treatment of both office and warehouse staff, to its assorted tax avoidance measures – have not really bitten the company’s bottom line as they might have done. We still can’t help but use it to buy, well, just about everything. A quick show of hands in the lecture revealed plenty of first year students doing much of their Christmas shopping with Amazon, not least because they get a free introductory spell of Amazon Prime if they sign up with their academic e-mail addresses.
On Amazon Prime, the second series of The Grand Tour has begun, notably on the same day as Netflix’s flagship The Crown began its second offering, and the market for streaming has grown ever more competitive in the last year. The announcement that Disney is buying the significant entertainment arm of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, hints that at least one old media player is bulking up to try to compete. In the short-term, the next television battleground between these players could turn out to be for the next set of rights to the Premier League, with Amazon – soon to be showing ATP men’s tennis – surely at least taking a look at picking up some of the rights now held by the soon-to-be-Disneyfied Sky, and BT. Who comes out on top in that particular auction will be one of the most interesting media stories of early 2018.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Amazon, ATP, BT Sport, Disney, Fox, Journalism Technologies, Netflix, Premier League, Sky, The Crown, The Grand Tour, University of Huddersfield
The focus of week 10 of our first year Journalism Technologies class at the University of Huddersfield switched to viewing to listening, with my colleague Caroline Pringle’s lecture on audio and podcasting.
One of the benefits of holding workshops on a module like this, is getting your own personal focus groups of 18-year-olds about their media consumption. This time last year, Joe Rogan’s podcast was by far the most popular among the groups (admittedly most of the ones I take do Sports Journalism). Now, it’s much more varied, with lots of different podcasts getting a shout, but virtually none having more than one listener. Those being listened to range from the well-known, such as My Dad Wrote A Porno, to a whole host of fan-produced ones about a range of lower league football clubs. I’m sure the Lions Roar podcast at Guiseley is a cracker, but I have to say it was a new one on me.
I picked out various podcasts for the students doing different courses to listen to and review. For the Sports groups, I chose one of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries, now that the brand has extended from the acclaimed series of TV histories (shown here regularly on BT Sport, if you’ve splashed out for it but can’t face watching any more of the Ashes) into audio. I think the series has got off to an impressive start, and I’ll be interested to see what the students make of it.
After a break for reading week, Journalism Technologies has resumed at the University of Huddersfield with a lecture and workshops about sharing video online, with a particular focus on the giddy rise of YouTube. As with many of the platforms we’ve looked at in this module, such is the impact of it on our lives it’s easy to forget it was created as recently as 2005.
Not that everything’s universally rosy for YouTube. A Times investigation earlier in the year that revealed how Google Ads for various blue chip, high-profile companies were being served alongside extremist videos, led to a bump in the road as many took their advertising cash away, at least for a time. A bit of a follow up came more recently, with questions about how some significant YouTubers who have developed large followings for videos of their children are actually treating their kids. This related warning by James Bridle written – where else – on Medium, got plenty of traction online.
YouTube has taken some steps in this area. The YouTube kids app offers a much safer environment for younger children, and seems to do a solid job at filtering out anything that is potentially dodgy – no easy task when so many of the videos concerned bear a lot of similarities to the more benign child-friendly content (toy unboxings, dolls talking to each other, and so on). But as more of these stories come along and hurt YouTube in the pocket, it’s going to have to work longer and harder on making the platform safer for both advertisers and viewers.
In the workshops this week we’re getting students to upload a basic video to YouTube, then do some of the more straightforward annotations, such as subtitles and adding ‘cards’ – which is those little links and such which appear at the top corner of YouTube videos. Surprisingly few of the students had ever actually uploaded anything to YouTube themselves before, despite all being avid viewers. The trend of this generation towards lurking online rather than being active content creators is something I’m seeing more and more as the years go by, and part of my job when teaching first year journalism and media students, is to gently get to them embrace being more confident in making and posting material for themselves.
It was Caroline’s turn to give the lecture in our Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield this week, on the subject of how we share photos online, from Flickr to Instagram and all points in between.
None of the students in the room – and there are 100 or so doing the module this time – have a Flickr account. It’s a bit of a shame because it wasn’t so long ago that Flickr was really setting the standard in photo sharing and online communities. It’s still a useful resource, though, with about 300 million Creative Commons images, often of high quality, available for anyone to use in, say, blogposts or whatever.
Flickr remains a key part of the story though, and it was central to Clay Shirky’s initial formulations of concepts such as ‘mass amateurisation’ and ‘mass democratisation’ which he helped popularise a decade and more ago. As a reading we got students to watch this 2005 TED talk of his, which remains eerily prescient, and still well worth watching.
We were talking Twitter for week six of Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield. I first taught at a university in Leeds back in 2011, and I remember prefacing one of my early sessions by saying something to the effect of: ‘Twitter may not be the most important online tool for journalists forever, but it is right now, and that’s why I’m going to show you how to use it’. Then I sort of imagined it would have slipped from favour by now, but despite all kinds of headwinds, it remains as central to the day-to-day work of media professionals as it ever was.
The lecture took students through some of those headwinds, something which has been an almost constant feature of Twitter’s history, dating back to the in-fighting between the four co-founders and technical challenges which marked its early years. To be honest, Twitter became huge almost in spite of everything, and its utility as the best place on the internet for live, instant communication, remains its unique, and just about only, selling point.
One of Twitter’s thorniest issues is: what, if anything, it should do about Donald Trump. Having tweeted his way to the presidency, he spends his early mornings firing off all kinds of messages as these things take his fancy. Overnight, a Twitter employee, apparently on their last day, deactivated the account for 11 minutes, to widespread amusement. Not everyone within Twitter is happy to let the President keep on tweeting.
Meanwhile, I once again ran a contest to see who could come up with the best tweet on the #journotech hashtag during the lecture. As I was hobbling about with a dead leg after falling over on Saturday, the winner was undoubtedly this from Josh Lees.