Tag Archives: journalism

NoTW, responsible journalism and business journalism in China

Frontline ClubI’m not really writing about NoTW and NewsInt here, but rather using the case of their recent downfall to segway to a different story – that of Public Business Media, my friend Damian’s NFP charity aimed at supporting investigative journalism. I’ve written about it before.

I’m sure we’d all like to believe that what happened at NoTW was the result of a few, rogue, irresponsible journalists calling out for a no-stones-unturned investigation, no matter the cost. Practical experience tells me that most people are simply ignorant of the techniques and tools of their trade, and therefore aren’t so much lacking a moral compass as they are unable to read one.

Public Business Media is hoping to fund an open approach to investigative journalism that will see the transparent publication of data and the education and upskilling of journalists to do this job. It’s a job that needs to be done to ensure we have a responsible, educated voice in the media looking into the thousands of business issues that touch our lives on a daily basis.

The charity’s hosting a fundraiser and public launch tomorrow night. Go along, you know you want to.

Panorama – always finding scandal

Jeremy Vine presenter of Panorama

Caught a few minutes of Panorama the other night, investigating medical equipment labelled ‘made in the UK’ but actually manufactured by poverty-stricken (but surprisingly well-trained) metalworkers on the streets of Pakistan.

What I want to know is: how come these guys always find a scandal? I mean, every now and then they find one that isn’t there and overdramatize it – the wifi story from a few years back springs to mind, ditto the Primark story from 2008 – but I’d love to hear some of the stories they have to reject:

"How about this one… all Dyson hand dryers are actually a portal to another universe?"
"What’s the source?"
"A professor of some science I can’t pronounce,"
"Sounds good to me, look into it."

"Hello Mr Dyson? Is it true that your hand dryers spiral underage disabled workers into a parallel universe made entirely of cheese?"
"I WISH. But no."
"Oh ok. We’ll go then."

I’d love to know how that editorial process works.

A cynical part of me thinks they must reject some stories that are ‘important’, but not sympathetic or controversial enough to work on the programme. But that’s a separate issue….

Getting feedback from our readers at The Cambridge Student

When @damiankahya and I took on the editorial reigns of The Cambridge Student newspaper in 1999/2000, we stood on a platform of sweeping change and reform…. and, erm, well, mainly incremental improvement. One of the promises we made to secure the exalted and revered roles of editors-in-chief was to bring the paper online. After all, it was the dawn of a new millennium.

WordPress, however, and its fellow open-source CMS kin, were just twinkles in the eyes of their creators – and so we persuaded our friend (and Science Editor), codename ‘Horney’, to build a system for us from scratch. Which he did an admiral job of – and gave us a platform that provided us with some more instant feedback – primitive, article-specific reader stats. It was great to get this in an environment where we hardly ever received letters to the editor, and where comments, Tweets and ‘sharethis’ links were just a little too far into the future, never mind Google Analytics.

However, Horney had a more effective way of eliciting a response from his readers. In a classic example of ‘knowing your reader’ (and before the Internet ruined it for everybody), Horney would publish a ‘mindbender’ puzzle as a regular recurring feature. Sometimes physics or mathematics related, but more often just an absolute brain muddle, the puzzle elicited responses with the tantalising promise a piece of cheap confectionary of Horney’s choosing for the quickest or most elegant solution delivered by email. Dozens of readers would have responses to us within a few hours of the papers hitting the colleges on a Thursday morning.

Idle students? Or did Horney just gauge the target audience well?

The column doesn’t seem to have endured, telling us nothing (in fact, a science page seems to be missing from the pages of the latest edition of TCS). Maybe we just struck it lucky? Or maybe the current editors of TCS can’t stretch to the inflation busting cost of chocolate bars today, or are once against facing off against the arts/sciences journalism schism…

Sidebar: the application for the roles of editors-in-chiefs at TCS is a 400 word statement including relevant experience. I still have the 52 page plan that Damian and I developed, complete with design mock-ups, to win the top jobs. Young people these days…

Automating churnalism

RobotDanny, a freelancer I’ve worked with over the years, writes sagely on automated journalism – the idea of algorithmic “writers” interpreting standard corporate output (financial statements, press releases etc) and interpreting them automatically:

Narrative Science, a startup in Evanston, Illinois, wants to do just that, with data-intensive stories. Its technology uses natural language algorithms to craft rudimentary news articles about data-intensive subjects, such as sports and financial results.

I find this fascinating as a concept. Of course there are limitations, but given the concerns the industry has about the decline of ‘proper’ journalism – investigative reporting, in-depth analysis – basically anything beyond ‘churnalism’ – and the challenges new media presents in creative storytelling – demanding video, data visualisation and beyond – I hope this concept develops.

In practice, the market for human-written news (even churned) stories will remain, keeping that industry afloat (I think, if they can monetize well enough) – but imagine if a virtual writing assistant helps draw correlations and interesting facts out of a decade worth of financial reports to add some colour to the latest story, or automatically trawls through to get you the aggregate views the Internet has on a product you’ve been sent to test… Would make that industry more efficient and their output more meaningful.

Maybe Public Business should talk to these guys… Although the method of supporting the media is different (investment in training and specific types of journalism vs. creating an algorithmic automator for reporting the news) some of the goals will overlap – in terms of interpreting and presenting data back in a useful way that informs more insightful reporting.

The European Digital Journalism Survey 2011

Updated: to include my boss’ take on the survey and its findings, via Vimeo embed, below.

The EDJS 2011 – “Clicks, Communities and Conversations” – was launched today by my agency, Brands2Life, in coordination with the Oriella PR Network – our partner network of independent agencies around the world.  It examines the views of 478 journalists polled over the last few months.

Fronted by my esteemed colleague and Head of International @mistergrainger and our co-founder, @gilesfraser, we were joined by a panel made up of @kieranalger, @tphallett and @reutermarkjones to comment on the key findings of the study.

The headline trends:

The slump in advertising revenues is slowing. This year, barely 20 percent of the journalists surveyed expected their publications to see a fall in revenue. In 2010, however, 62 percent said this was the case, and in 2009 the figure was 66 per cent.

Those polled say that the popularity of online media is gradually eclipsing that of ‘offline’ publications. This year, the proportion of respondents who agreed their offline print or broadcast outlet had the biggest audience fell to 50 percent for the first time.

Social media are permeating the newsroom. Increasingly journalists are using digital channels such as blogs and Twitter to source and verify story leads.

You can read the study in full here and read SamKano’s take on the findings over on the Oriella blog, but I took a few notes and thought I’d share perspectives here too.

One of the things I found most interesting about the presentation and discussion was a conversation about the value of social media to newsrooms.

Reuters’ Mark Jones said: “I don’t think any serious professional journalist could do their job any more, without being on Twitter.” Talking about the Osama story (which Chris played his part in), Mark said: “One of the things that came out of this was that expert views came into the conversation very quickly. You didn’t have to wait for the TV broadcast or full form stories to get the analyst view. You could see the story being formed in front of your eyes on Twitter. That’s where news is going – and it has profound implications for what journalists and communicators do.”

By the same token, disintermediation in social media is an important development for journalists in sourcing expert views and validating stories.  Mark continued: “When people are looking for comments from experts or company representatives, time is of the essence. Twitter supercharges this. In a straw poll of my colleagues – [the delays are] their number one complaint. The answer is in the media.” The challenge to PR execs is to do what’s necessary to research and be hyperconnected with their media contacts.

The flip side to that question came up in discussion – does disintermediation threaten media, as it allows consumers direct access to news from the people making it, at the scene, et al? The panel didn’t come to a conclusion – though I have my views here – in that the role of the media needs to shift – less churnalism and more investigative reporting, less simple narrative and more dynamic storytelling, less straight reportage and more insightful analysis. Some of this relates to the Public Business agenda, in my view: ‘The People’ need to demand this sort of journalism, and allow publishers to fund it.

T3’s Kieran Alger made some interesting comments building on this – as a publication – T3 is working with brands on reciprocal promotion: “Today we have 20,000 followers on Twitter and 17,000 on Facebook. On any day they’ll deliver about 10,000 unique users or 20% of our overall traffic. We increasingly look to people running brands, Twitter feeds and so on to help out with that – asking PRs to help promote our stories to their followers. Big brands like Samsung, for example, have massive numbers of fans.”

Talking about the plethora of social media venues and communities that media outlets run – and the fact that survey showed a reduction in the number of reporters whose media outlets run their own communities – there was an interesting discussion as to what the different public social media outlets do for media publications. Talking about the rise of Facebook, CBS Interactive’s Tony Hallett said: “It’s horses for courses – some forms of content work on different platforms. Facebook works well for a particular type of very loyal users. Traffic that media gets from social outlets is still small compared to Google, for example, but you do get a certain type of super-user – people that interact with you in a big way. [These users] make for a very fun environment.”

Tony had given us another example of a passionate audience earlier in the discussion (making an entirely separate point): “On ZDNet, we have a subset of users that go crazy for photos of data centres – data centre porn… These are extremely secure, secretive environments, so we will take photography and video supplied to us – and are transparent about sourced material.” Which, whilst it makes the serious point that publishers are keen for more interactive comment, is amusing for the fact that it underlines the adage – that it takes all kinds.

For me, the overall takeaway is that the platforms and mechanics for engaging with media continue to shift, and professional communicators need to evolve their comms infrastructure – from the content they create to the way we pitch the media – to suit.

Also, spend more time on Twitter.

I’ll add my thanks to those of my colleagues for the fantastic discussion and encourage you to head over to the Oriella blog to join the digital debate.


Oriella Digital Journalism Study 2011 from Brands2Life on Vimeo.

European journalist study

Apologies for another work-related post but, hell, we’re just doing a load of interesting stuff. Brands2Life, and its International network of partner agencies the Oriella PR Network, has just done a study into the changing requirements of journalists across Europe. The study was conducted across multiple countries covered by the Oriella PR network, and had 347 respondents. There were some interesting findings, including:

Half of the respondents (46%) revealed they are expected to produce more content for their respective publications.
Video is having a growing impact on journalism with over 40% confirming they are now responsible for producing online television or video clips, despite only 3% of respondents being employed by traditional broadcasters.
European journalists are increasingly required to deliver their content in differing formats – 44% of outlets offer journalist authored blogs; almost a fifth (18%) are now producing audio podcasts; and almost one in four (24%) offer video podcasts.

You’d probably have noticed much of this if you’ve visited a news website lately. The message out of this for us PROs, obviously, is that the game has changed. My boss won’t thank me for telling this story, but he remembers a time when press releases were sent by post or (at best) fax — email shifted expectations of what we had to deliver then, and social media and the multimedia delivery platform that is the web is beginning to have an analogous impact on the nature of reporting in Europe today. Of course, in many instances, you don’t need the latest whizzy Social Media News Release or funky viral — but in some cases there’s scope to provide much more compelling content to support journalists in their endeavours.

Of course, to all them PR bloggers out there this is a no brainer — you’ve been living, eating and breathing this stuff for a couple of years. However, judging by several of the conversations I’ve had with comms directors lately, the message is taking its time to sink through. I love this sort of research because the theory is one thing — but having journalists actually tell you that they’d like to see more multimedia content, would like more b-roll (web journalists as well as broadcast and national media), well, it warms the heart.

Have a gander at the report at the study’s website, and you can read Journalism.co.uk’s write-up here.

From Shorthand to Broadband

For those of you with an interest in technology, public relations, marketing and the media, my agency, Brands2Life, has done a really interesting piece of research looking at how journalists’ jobs have changed in the 15 or so years the Internet has been around. The headlines on point to journalists across all media types (not just technology or online) working harder and having to manage multimedia content and reader communities — a very different brief to what “traditional” journalism usually entails on a day-to-day basis. You can read the story in depth by downloading the research report from here. There are some graphs up on Flickr if anyone wants them.

The name – “From Shorthand to Broadband” – inspired this video which summarises the development of the media story. Have we got the whole story in? Is there something else you would have included / subbed out?

My personal view? From a business perspective, we’re at a really interesting point; one business model (traditional, ad-sponsored, print and broadcast media) is struggling in the wake of having to share its revenue with the online world, and the online world hasn’t yet developed a business model more substantive than relying on Google adwords. From a consumer perspective, broadband and web technologies are available and accessible to the point where the way everyone interacts with media has changed, whether they realise it or not. Not everyone’s there yet, of course, but where a few years ago you wouldn’t have been that surprised if someone from a different generation didn’t know how to Google something, today I’m having conversations with my mother about Facebook, and helping her organise to deliver a plenary speech at a conference via Skype video conferencing.

From a PR perspective — with journalists having to work differently, is it surprising that PRs will have to as well? Conversations in the industry — even with technology companies traditionally on the edge of new things — indicate how early on we are with this part of the story. A lot has changed since the ‘Martini lunches’ of legend, and even more is set to.

Be interested to hear from people who’ve been in one side and out the other — whilst there’s a lot of “web 2.0” that’s hype, I have a feeling that where we are with “social” media today is a pale, pale precursor to the way we’ll interact online in the future.