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Thursday, November 09, 2006

New year at City University

It's the new academic year, and I've got a new set of students for my Online Journalism class. So now we do some blogging... and they should all read this before they start

The students in my online journalism class at City University are all building weblogs this week.

Some have them already, of course, since they’ve realised that engaging with the new media is a sensible option for any journalist, but the others are taking their first tentative steps into posting entries, commenting on what other people say and trying to attract an audience, however modest.

They don’t have to write personal journals or reveal anything about their private lives: they’ve been asked to blog interesting stories in the area of online journalism and new media, which may be a bit self-referential but is at least relevant to the course.

So it’s more like John Naughton’s Memex 1.1 than Belle de Jour’s confessions.

The idea is to give them a better understanding of how the technology works, and show them just how easy it is to publish online even if you have no idea how the web works
or what HTML is.

There are many good reasons for any journalist to have a weblog – or two – although I don’t believe that they’ll need blogs when all the mainstream media sites go out of business. I think that professional journalism will endure, even if it has to change.

It’s useful for my students to understand how things get online, since most online publications these days insulate the content creators – whether journalists or not – from the detail of website creation by offering content management systems of more or less sophistication.

The BBC News website isn’t build by hordes of dedicated coders who carefully hand-craft each page but uses such a system to let editors copy and paste text into standardised page layouts.

It’s also important for any journalist or would-be journalist to have an online presence to supplement their cv and portfolio, since more and more people looking for jobs are going to find their online activities scrutinised as part of the application process.

And of course having to write a blog entry as part of their coursework forces students to read the papers, look around websites and generally take an interest in what is happening with new media, something I want to encourage.

But the real point of getting a journalist blogging at this early stage in his or her career is that the bloggers, in all their variety, with all their different skills and abilities and interests and biases, are reshaping the world in which professional journalists operate just as much as the telephone shook up the profession in the first half of the twentieth century.

On some stories, like the provenance of the letters claiming to be from George W Bush’s commander in the National Guard, or the use of white phosphorus as a chemical weapon by US troops in Iraq, careful digging by bloggers has done a job that the mainstream press failed to tackle.

Elsewhere every journalist now knows to expect comment and criticism from the blogosphere, and those who might once have cut corners by not checking facts or cutting and pasting phrases from other people’s work should now find their lives less comfortable.

A few years ago readers of the Cluetrain Manifesto were exhorted to see the market as a conversation where customers engaged with sellers. This was presented as a break with the one-way advertising and marketing model that used to hold sway, made possible by the internet.

The blogosphere is doing the same sort of thing for journalism, whether in print or broadcast. It’s no longer enough to write or say something and consign any responses to the letters page or occasional ‘have your say’ programme.

My students have to get used to this. They have to engage with their readers in a way that respects the shared values of the online world. They have to get used to being harshly criticised and dissected by those who disagree with them, and they have to accept that sometimes the people reading their work will know more about the subject than they do and may have a valuable contribution to make to their thinking.
At a later stage they’ll need to come to terms with Flickr and the other photosharing sites, and the way that any event attended by large numbers of people effortlessly generates it’s own online community, with hundreds of photos linked by common tags.

I noticed it vividly last month at WSIS, the World Summit on the Information Society, but its just as true for a White Stripes gig or a major sporting event. And of course, it’s true for newsworthy events, no matter how tragic.

Figuring out the relationship between the press and those who see the news happening and post their photographs of it is the next major challenge
But we can’t expect to adapt to this changed world unless we engage with it now, and understand it from the inside as well as observing it from our editorial offices.

The growth of internet use and the emergence of easy-to-use publishing tools could well be the best thing that has happened to journalism since radio and then television offered new ways to reach people, but that requires a certain degree of modesty and a great willingness to learn on the part of a profession that is not noted for either attribute.


Khong, Loan said...

What would you like me to comment?
I definetly agree to the idea that blogging is important to reporters' lives.
However, i am wondering how the blogs are automatically fed up with news and updates, so that I do not have to spend time manually feed the site.
Keeping fingures crossed for your response.

Aaron Davies said...

Interesting post and I definitely agree that journos need to get a grasp of the whole concept of web 2.0, it's so much more interactive and versatile than simply reading static websites. Interactivity is the future of media. As the professional journalist becomes one voice among a cacophony of voices, how do they make themselves heard?

Khong, Loan said...

- what do you think about citizen journalism?
- people say that any one can be journalists with the help of blogging, and the world would be confused by that news which sometimes is true, sometimes not.so far, any law that restrains people from spreading false information?
- citizen journalism is a result of press freedom, or the internet? or both? what do you think?

Khong, Loan said...

what is web to be call 2.0? wat is its characteristics? how other kinds of webs? 3.0? 2.1????

Hans Bodacious said...


To be honest i skim read it and don't feel qualified to comment properly. I will say that i was dissapointed not to see some Belle d'Jour confessions. I thought that's what everyone had blogs for now anyway?

Arara said...

bollocks! i'll have to start stopping to be lazy : )

louisquinze said...

If you think you're not getting any Belle de Jour confessions, think again. The Caffe Ritazza on Northampton Square is a hotbed of smouldering looks and sizzling pasteurised milk.

More seriously, I am pleased we are online. It is an inevitability, we may as well get on with it. It all needs a good bit of editing though, this internet thing.


andrea said...

I would say there is something to be said for two blogs - one for those confessions and one you want everyone else to read, right?

I do wonder how difficult it is to ever get an unbiased story from a blogger, since the whole point is to be able to express your thoughts and opinions.

thom said...

My main problem with blogging is the same as with most kinds of journalism: there's almost definitely someone out there doing exactly the same thing as you, only far far better.

It's quite frighteningly easy to publish blogs, but so many lack any form of quality control which makes trying to digest (or define) "the blogosphere" super-problematic.

Belle de Jour's clearly a man, in any case. Louis's following a fine tradition.

Khong, Loan said...

Andrea, what is wrong with your blog? i could not open it. it is hidden somewhere.

Anonymous said...


christy said...

This article is very interesting.

camille said...

My first time doing and commenting on a blog, I am ashamed to admit it, but definitely not the last time. Your comment are all very interesting, so let's stay on that.

Anonymous said...

Hi, again!