Tag Archives: University of Huddersfield

Journalism Technologies: 22. Hyperlocal

Before the Easter break, my attention in the Journalism Technologies module at the University of Huddersfield turned back to one of my favourite topics, hyperlocal media. In a past life I set up and ran Saddleworth News, which well over eight years later continues as one of the UK’s leading examples of independent local media (I can’t claim any credit for most of that!). The sector is still as interesting to me now as it was then, even if it has far less of the ‘flavour of the month’ feeling in media circles than it did in 2010.

It has attracted academic interest over the years, not least from Andy Williams of Cardiff University and Dave Harte of Birmingham City who, along with Rachel Howells, former editor of a hyperlocal in Port Talbot who completed a PhD on the subject, have written a book about it which is due out in the summer. It should be great.

Looking at the sector today, and encouraging students to find sites local to their hometowns in the seminars, it was fascinating to see just how much it continues to thrive. On websites, blogs, Facebook groups and Twitter accounts, covering villages, suburbs, towns and more, some updated daily, others rarely, some defunct, others thriving, the world of hyperlocal has perhaps proved more resilient than some of us feared, especially when it became harder for smaller publishers to get any play at all in Facebook newsfeeds.

The forebears of hyperlocal websites are probably the alternative papers and fanzines which flourished during the latter part of the last century. The slow death and eventual collapse of the alternative printed press from the late 70s through the 1980s is apparently not really being repeated with hyperlocal, though. This is no doubt because of lower costs and barriers to entry, and perhaps too because sites today are less keen to focus on politics and antagonism down at the town hall, than providing timely information about events of an ultra-local interest. I’m looking forward to still reading hyperlocals in decades to come.

Journalism Technologies: 21. Data Journalism

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.

Journalism Technologies: 20. Did That Really Just Happen?

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.

Journalism Technologies: 17. How Journalism Is Being Saved (The Ending Will Shock You!!!!!!1)

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.

Journalism Technologies: 15. Wayne Ankers And Lauren Ballinger From Trinity Mirror

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.

Carrie Gracie Gives Evidence To MPs About Equal Pay

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I’ve been asked to write another article for the University of Huddersfield View from the North blog, this time about the gender pay row at the BBC and Carrie Gracie’s appearance before MPs yesterday. And here it is.

THE BBC is in a bind over how much it pays its journalists.

In particular, Auntie’s accused of giving prominent female reporters a raw deal, by keeping them on salaries far lower than men doing similar jobs.

The issue – rumbling for months – exploded to prominence at the start of the year when China Editor, Carrie Gracie, announced she would leave that role in protest at discovering she was paid significantly less than, for example, US Editor Jon Sopel.

Gracie’s intervention demonstrates the BBC was in the wrong twice over.

First, she underlined the uncomfortable reality that the BBC was indeed short changing its female journalistic talent.

Radio 5 live Breakfast presenter Rachel Burden revealed last summer she was paid a third of the salary of her co-host, Nicky Campbell.  Sure, he has a long history as a Radio 1 DJ and TV star and his pay is certainly a legacy of that, while Burden’s relatively modest wage reflects her more conventional background in BBC local radio.

Campbell is a hugely experienced and capable presenter, but is he three times better than Burden?  Of course not, and he’s acknowledged as much by joining Sopel in agreeing a pay cut.

Second, the idea that BBC journalists need to be paid more to prevent them being poached by rival organisations is nonsense.

This does happen from time to time – see Robert Peston’s switch to ITV – but if commercial broadcasters really are prepared to pay top dollar to get leading BBC names, then what’s the problem?

It’s an organisation full of journalists like Rachel Burden, ready to take the step up from local radio or regional TV, who have lacked only the chance to prove their abilities on a national stage.

BBC News is already trying to find savings of £80m a year as part of BBC-wide cost cutting.  I’d expect to see far fewer big salaries and more internal promotions from here on in.”

Sky-Fox Deal Not In Public Interest, Says Regulator

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The University of Huddersfield press office asked me to write something about the latest twist in the Fox takeover of Sky. It’s for the uni’s View From The North blog. This is the article in full.

ONE of the longest-running sagas in media has taken another turn, with Rupert Murdoch’s latest bid to take full control of Sky hitting a new setback.

The Competition and Markets Authority has provisionally ruled such a move would give the Murdoch family too much control over the UK’s media.

The Murdochs already own newspapers including The Sun and The Times, along with radio stations from talkSPORT to Bradford’s The Pulse.

They’ve got 39% of Sky too, but putting Sky News completely into their hands is proving to be the sticking point.

Since it launched in 1989, Sky News has established itself as a lively and valued competitor to the BBC, popular with politicians and viewers alike.

Broadcasting rules mean there’s no chance of it becoming a British version of the right-wing U.S. channel Fox News.

But even in its current form, Sky News has a big enough share of the TV and online news market to make regulators balk at allowing it to fully join a larger news empire.

One option would be to try to sell Sky News or spin it off as a completely separate company. But with the channel traditionally losing tens of millions of pounds each year, it’s tough to see anyone willing to take it on.

This inquiry is already being overtaken by events, though.

Rupert Murdoch sprung one of the biggest surprises of his long career last month by announcing he planned to sell most of his media assets – but not his cherished newspapers – to Disney.

The biggest threat to consumer choice might come from Disney deciding the cost of running such a loss-making news brand is an unnecessary distraction from its entertainment businesses.

Disney boss Bob Iger has already insisted that Sky News “absolutely” has a future. Viewers who routinely turn to it for breaking news will hope that’s true.

Journalism Technologies: 13. Disruption!

We’re into the second term of the academic year at the University of Huddersfield and the Journalism Technologies module resumed with the focus switching from the major online and social media platforms, to how media companies are adapting to the rapidly changing technologies which have turned their worlds upside down. Arguably the most significant impact has come on the balance sheet, with the old business models that funded journalism if not destroyed, then certainly coming under significant and sustained strain, and that was the subject of last week’s lecture.

First year university students, born at around the turn of the millennium, have grown up in the smartphone, on-demand, social media era, so I spent much of the lecture filling in a few of their blanks on how things were before. As I did, I was thinking to myself that newspaper classified ads, extended one-minute TV ads and local radio spots for double glazing all seem like media from decades ago. It’s so long since even I read, watched or heard one, trying to explain how significant they once were (and, in some cases, still are) to a room full of 18-year-olds is a bit of an odd thing to find yourself doing.

When having a go in the seminars at analysing the local newspaper’s website (ahead of a visit from the editor the week after next), this became even more clear. The ads were almost universally the bit everyone hated. Too prominent and too irrelevant, the students said, and that was just the verdict of the ones not routinely using ad blockers. When I covered this topic last year there was still some optimism that BuzzFeed’s extensive use of sponsored content might offer one way through the financial mire for under-pressure digital publishing executives. But its recent round of redundancies, and admission it is again seeking to diversify its business model yet further, suggests that making news pay is as tough now as it has ever been.

Journalism Technologies: 12. Amazon – The Everything Store

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.

Journalism Technologies: 10. Audio and Podcasts

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.