Tag Archives: The Guardian

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: 20. Did That Really Just Happen?

This week’s lecture in Journalism Technologies was listed in the module handbook at the start of term as being about UGC and verification, an important skill which journalists increasingly need when sorting fact from fiction on social media. But with the growing focus on fake news since then – a term which has had an extraordinary half-life, taking it from little-known buzzword to over-used cliche in a matter of months – I thought this was a good opportunity to explain to the students that recent history.

For an academic concept to help illustrate these overlapping areas of fake news and UGC verification, I turned to a great book by my PhD supervisor Stuart Allan, Citizen Witnessing. Students are often familiar with the idea of ‘citizen journalism’, something often taught in A-Level media classes. Stuart’s book offers a nuanced evolution of that rather broad concept, and examines more closely those who record, post and share content when they find themselves caught up in dramatic news events.

A key difference from the ‘citizen journalists’ of Indymedia who came to prominence covering the Seattle protests of 1999 – who can arguably be described in turns as cousins of the sport and music fanzine writers of years gone by – is that citizen witnesses aren’t actively trying to do journalism as such.  To me, the greater journalistic act takes place when a newsroom attempts to verify that material, before publishing it as part of a news report. So I agree that those witnesses are better not described as journalists of any kind. But regardless of the terminology, journalists are increasingly under pressure to do that verification, and quickly, and the emergence of a skills gap in this area within journalism has led to the outsourcing of that task to growing players such as Storyful.

Rather than getting all the students to take a look at Stuart’s book though, I decided to get them to read Guardian editor Kath Viner’s essay of last summer. Even though it was written largely before the Donald Trump-based rise of fake news, it’s still a good read, especially for an audience with little prior knowledge of this area. One interesting aspect of that: plenty of students were more than a bit surprised to discover the rather uncertain provenance of the infamous David Cameron/pig story.

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.

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.

Coding For Social Change Conference In Cardiff

Alan Rusbridger (centre) was among those taking part.

Alan Rusbridger (centre) was among those taking part.

I was in Cardiff on Friday, and apart from continuing the early stages of my PhD I was there to attend an event called Coding For Social Change, which served as the launch of the department’s two new MAs.

There were three panels during the afternoon, and the keynote session featured outgoing Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and freedom of expression campaigner Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. On the screen behind them, as they chewed over the various rights and restrictions of the post-Edward Snowden era, was an image showing a whiteboard Rusbridger has scrawled all over with all sorts of headings and buzzwords, in an attempt to show just how complicated all this stuff really is.

Rather dryly (and Rusbridger gives the impression of rarely being anything other than dry), he noted that the government committee nominally charged with oversight of all this only meets on Thursday afternoons and is under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Rifkind. The former Foreign Secretary may be a “fine man” as Rusbridger conceded, but he’s not perhaps the best person to have such a job. Even if he was, the framework that exists isn’t really up to that particular task.

Rusbridger sprang a surprise by admitting he’d consider moving his paper’s HQ from London to New York if it became harder legally to do more Snowden-style stories in the UK. He doesn’t have long left in the editor’s chair so he won’t be doing this personally, but that remark does at least offer another example of The Guardian’s international focus. It will never again be the Manchester Guardian, but it might not always be the London Guardian either.

What I’m Reading: WWI Anniversary Coverage, Phil Collins and The Alamo, And More

The picture shows Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in June 1914, minutes before they were assassinated in an incident which ultimately sparked off World War I. The 100th anniversary has been much in the news lately, and some of the best coverage I’ve seen has been provided by the BBC.

It used a very 21st century tool, the liveblog, to tell the story of that day in real time, including some new videos shot by BBC correspondents pretending they were reporting at the time. This sounds all a bit worthy-but-dull-schools-programme, but actually worked really well. NPR’s newish London correspondent Ari Shapiro is well worth a follow on Twitter for his perceptive insights on Britain, and he was in Sarajevo for the anniversary too.

Sky News has started its own ‘real time’ WWI Twitter account, although it’s been a little disappointing so far – just a daily tweet with no links to anything to put it in any context, let alone a mini-site to rival the BBC’s. Hopefully it will improve as time goes on. Reuters looked into its own archive for this fascinating piece on how close it came to confusing the assassination with the result of a French horse race.

An eye-catching story from the WTF department was this one about Phil Collins (yes, that one) and his obsession with The Alamo. The story behind the story is well told by Texas Monthly here.

On the subject of curious obsessions, this Newsweek article on the tunnel king of Brooklyn is great. Guardian-backed collaborative journalism project Contributoria is well up and running, and this Jon Hickman article on social capital is well worth a read this month. And, joy of joys, this classic 2011 Vanity Fair piece on how Chad Harbach’s modern classic baseball novel, The Art of Fielding, came to be published is now free to read online. It’s the best insight into the world of publishing I’ve ever read.

What I’m Reading: Books About Sport On TV

The best, and admittedly only, book I've ever read about snooker.

The best, and admittedly only, book I’ve ever read about snooker.

Three of the books I’ve read lately are about sport’s relationship with the media, and in particular TV. All very good, the best of them might be Black Farce and Cue Ball Wizards, an account of snooker’s unlikely rise to national prominence and the years of internal strife that followed, written by veteran snooker journalist and commentator Clive Everton.

It’s highly readable and there are plenty of revelations, including how Everton himself blew the whistle on a match-fixing scandal that ended an early experiment with televised snooker on ITV. The book offers an interesting case study in the relationship between sport and TV, especially when that sport’s success is so inextricably linked to certain broadcasting contracts. Just how interesting you find the book as a whole probably depends on your personal threshold for reading anecdotes about Doug Mountjoy, but happily it turns out mine is surprisingly high.

ESPN has retreated from the British market for televised sport, but in the US it remains the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader. A brilliant oral history of its rise from humble origins at the end of the 1970s is Those Guys Have All The Fun, by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. The book made headlines in America, particularly on Gawker Media’s sport spinoff blog Deadspin, for its claims about various incidents of sexist behaviour down the years at ESPN. The oral history format certainly seemed to help loosen a few tongues of those being interviewed.

Another book to recommend is Martin Kelner’s history of sport on British TV, Sit Down And Cheer. It’s as enjoyably written as Kelner’s columns on this topic, which for a long time appeared in the Guardian and are now in the Racing Post. There are plenty of memorable nuggets, including the detail that there was barely any pre or post-game coverage of the 1966 World Cup Final, and some magnificent passages taken from the autobiography of Frank Bough. Ask your parents.

Storify: BBC Sport Online v Newspaper Websites

I spotted an interesting discussion on Twitter, which has stretched over several days since last week. It’s about the scope of BBC Sport’s online activities, and its impact on newspaper websites. The debate is mostly between Matt Slater of BBC Sport and Matt Scott, former sports reporter with the Guardian and Daily Telegraph, with some others chipping in.

There were some interesting points made on both sides, so I thought I’d collect the tweets together in a Storify. It was slightly tricky because there were various threads to the debate going on at the same time, but I think I’ve more or less managed to get things into a coherent order.

What I’m Reading: Connected: The Power Of Modern Community

Well worth £1.99.

Well worth £1.99.

I was very kindly sent a review copy of the new ebook from Guardian Shorts about online communities. Called Connected: The Power of Modern Community, it’s by the Guardian’s Hannah Waldram, Ed Walker of Trinity Mirror, and the Cardiff-based publisher and journalist Marc Thomas. And having read it over coffee in Huddersfield this lunchtime, here are some brief thoughts about it.

Cardiff’s a bit of a recurring theme here, because Hannah and Ed both worked there on Guardian Cardiff and Your Cardiff respectively. And the book kicks off with a great story from the city, about how a remarkable trove of old pictures was found and then shared both online and off, culminating in exhibitions and the tracing of the original photographer.

The blend of online and offline features throughout the book. In the conclusion, there’s a list of ten principles for managing an online community, the first of which is ‘get offline’. This excellent advice might seem counter-intuitive, but the rise of Meetup among other similar services has helped take a lot of the hassle out of organising real world events.

A group I’ve joined this year, the Manchester Whisky Club, which runs tastings in a Northern Quarter pub and in members’ homes using Twitter, is a classic example of how those tools and others including Blogger and Paypal can all be harnessed to create a lively community. Even though the main aim is to get drunk and talk about whisky, rather than do something worthy like save the local swimming baths.

The book also touches on Reddit, Mumsnet and some good examples of current hyperlocal news activity in London such as the Brixton Bugle and the evergreen london-se1.co.uk.

You can get the book here. It’s well worth £1.99 of your money.

What I’m Reading: Fire In The Night, Nieman’s Riptide, And More

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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.