All 71 entries tagged Journalism

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May 21, 2009

Why journalism and the market don't fit together

Robert Picard’s piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay (published Tuesday) will go down with the NUJ like a lead balloon. He argues that journalists deserve low pay because:

Wages are compensation for value creation. And journalists simply aren’t creating much value these days.

If we accept his first point – that wages are compensation for value creation – then his second point is right on the money.

But that’s a slavishly ‘markets-rule-the-world’ kind of mindset. In the real world, wages are compensation for our time, effort and experience. We get paid more (unless we’re a banker) because we put in the time, the graft and have the knowledge and qualifications to do the job that’s required.

Basically, my point is that if we’re going to pay people because of the value they create, then teachers and doctors would be multi-millionaires and journalists would earn 50p per hour.

Neither of those things are the case.

But let’s ignore that for now and move down Robert Picard’s piece, because much of it is a wake-up call to the struggling media industry.

Journalism must innovate and create new means of gathering, processing, and distributing information so it provides content and services that readers, listeners, and viewers cannot receive elsewhere. And these must provide sufficient value so audiences and users are willing to pay a reasonable price.

Like much of the article, this is so right it hurts. But written from an American’s perspective (albeit via Oxfordshire), Mr Picard’s argument ignores the importance of public service broadcasting, which is fairly thin on the ground in the US.

There are lots of stories out there for everyone to chew on, many of them original, worth reading and worth paying for. But with public service organisations to compete with, commercial news providers find that the pool of original journalism is reduced in size and harder to find.

This makes it hard to have such a diverse, privately-owned, profit-making media in the UK. But I’m not going to complain about that. Too much of the commercial world (whether television, radio, print or online) has given up the fight and has little energy left for original, value-creating journalism. They should be left to wither or should face up to radical change.

But Mr Picard’s scenario, combined with the UK’s exceptional circumstances, make me think that the Guardian’s model of ownership (through a not-for-profit trust) might be the best way forward. It recognises the necessity for a pluralistic media industry while not relying on the distraction of profit above-all-else that most organisations have to live with.

Mr Picard’s article calls on journalists to change their mindset, and he’s right to do that. But the ownership model needs to change too. Unless journalism is taken away from shareholders and investment funds, it won’t just fail to create value. It’ll fail to exist.


January 27, 2009

Doing things differently… some of the time

Writing about web page http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2009/01/27/intv.obama.arabiya.alarabiya

President Obama is certainly doing things differently. His first broadcast interview was with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, one of the most watched TV channels in the Middle East.

Watching it though, there were a few parallels with the past.

He often listens to a question, and begins his answer with “Well what I think is important is this…”

Mr Obama’s message to the Muslim world is that America’s now listening.

As an interviewee, not so much.


January 15, 2009

The wacky world of newspaper ownership

Ordinarily, the news that a Russian billionaire is buying one of Britain’s best-known newspapers, the Evening Standard, would be cause for surprise, and maybe even concern.

But Alexander Lebedev is no ordinary Russian billionaire.

True, he is ex-KGB, as almost any successful Russian seems to need to be nowadays.

But Lebedev also owns Novaya Gazeta – the newspaper that Anna Politkovskaya was reporting for before her assassination in 2006.

Lebedev’s fought back against a suffocating regime in Russia – he should have no problem dealing with City Hall and Westminster.

His bigger challenge will be trying to make money out of the Standard, whose finances apparently resemble a leaky bucket.


January 13, 2009

BBC–ITV marriage is probably a good thing

It’s looking more likely that the BBC and ITV are going to merge some of their regional TV news operations.

In a year or two, it’s more than possible that your local BBC and ITV bulletins will come from the same building, using many of the same pictures and one or two of the same staff.

I think this is probably the only way the duopoly of regional television news can be saved.

ITV is trying to shed some of its responsibility for producing public service television. I feel that’s partly because they’ve got a good point that in a country with 700 television channels, the iPlayer and the internet, ITV can’t maintain the level of service they had in the 1970s. But I think it’s also because they’re trying to be a bit cheeky and squeeze more profit out of what remains a privileged position.

This deal, if it goes ahead, could well prop up the status quo, and might even improve bulletins. There should be more pictures to go around. More small-scale events will find a cameraman is available, and you’re more likely to be featured twice on the telly, rather than once.

But some staff – particularly, I would guess – cameramen, will probably go as a result of this.

That’s more bad news for journalism – an industry that’s shrinking faster than Northern Rock’s share price did last year.

But the deal to share resources will give us two competing bulletins until 2016 at least. That’s good news – and should give us better news.

P.S. The technical aspects of this are hilarious. I’d imagine a merger of their operations will only work if they’re using the same systems. ITV use something called iNews. The BBC use something called ENPS. Both are completely different, and I’m not sure they can share things very easily while using two. In the short term, this deal could be more expensive than it looks.

P.P.S. The deal will be a bigger culture shock for the BBC than for ITV staff, I reckon. The number of press conferences that the BBC still sends three teams to is mind-boggling.


January 02, 2009

The future of news… BYOB

Time for a gaze into my crystal ball.

I think I’ve seen the future of television news… and it’s called BYOB.

Nothing to do with beer, though. It’s my acronym for Build Your Own Bulletin.

The more TV news bulletins I watch, the more frustrated I get. There’s next to never any technology news, increasingly little foreign affairs and too much speculative ‘cure for cancer’ health news.

TV news is also frustrating because I’ve got a fair idea how expensive it is to produce. The number of people sat in a room behind Huw Edwards or Fiona Bruce would beggar belief. Running a 24-hour news channel is a mammoth undertaking. BBC News 24 costs somewhere between £40-50m per year, Sky News a little less.

So, what’s the alternative?

Rather than a linear, 24-hour operation with 30-minute showcase ‘bulletins’ at regular intervals, the televisual equivalent of RSS feeds. Seamlessly stitched together in a Flash video (like BBC iPlayer), a series of news reports, pre-recorded two-ways and interviews selected according to your tastes. You choose the type of story you’re interested in (UK, Politics, Health, Sport) and rank them according to importance. Then a broadcaster (let’s call it the BBC) makes stories for each of those categories, and ranks them according to their editorial importance. Some sort of algorithm works out how to order your news bulletin, and with the help of some recorded studio links for each piece, a 5, 15 or 30 minute news bulletin is delivered to your computer screen or TV. The unfussy could just choose a generic ‘top stories’ bulletin.

The best bit of all of this is the cheap method of distribution means there’s more money to go out and do journalism. Lengthy news packages might come back into fashion, and consumers would have far greater choice. Imagine a world where every Premiership football game has its own TV preview, every major speech in Parliament gets the analysis it deserves and every important judicial decision is explained in full.

My idea would have seemed a bit implausible a couple of years ago. But things have changed. IPTV (internet protocol television) is a reality, and works. It’s like YouTube on your telly, and it’s not sci-fi. I’ve got it at home and it’s great. It’ll be popular within a year, and widespread within five.

So after 75 years, linear TV channels could become a thing of the past. But surely the news channel, with its enormous costs, small audiences and one-size-fits-all model to news, should be the first to go.


November 26, 2008

What the f**k?

Check out tonight’s Inside Out England on BBC iPlayer later.

How many people must have watched the programme through before broadcast without noticing the ‘f’ word, clear as day, five minutes in?

Lesson One: If sampling Fatboy Slim songs, don’t use this one. (They used the first five seconds of it.)


October 29, 2008

Race for 2008: Is the media rooting for Obama?

The Republicans have been facing an uphill battle ever since George W. Bush won the 2004 election.

The media hunt as a pack, and the collective pendulum has been swinging towards the Democrats for the last two years.

I might have called it just a little bit wrong when I said of Joe Biden: “[calling Obama ‘clean’ will] probably be his only notable contribution to the campaign”, but I wasn’t alone when I predicted whoever won the Democrat primary would take the White House.

But the ease with which Obama has got this far is starting to worry people.

Michael Malone writes that as a journalist, he’s ashamed of the bias shown towards Obama.

While the media has gone through Sarah Palin’s bins, trashed John McCain’s wife Cindy and given anything John’s said little serious attention, Obama and Biden have had it easy.

Malone says it’s not because of journalists, but because their editors have only been selecting – and commissioning – stories which help smooth the wheels of the Obama campaign, and perpetuate the narrative that appeals most.Obama worship

Why?

The media pack loves a good story. America’s first mixed-race President is an incredible one, which everyone (including the British media) have got caught up in. This is only the biggest, most expensive, most anticipated election in decades because of Barack Obama’s colour.

There’s also a slightly more sinister side to this. McCain dying in office would be an enormous story. Obama dying in office would make the death of Princess Diana look like a footnote in history.

No matter what happens, an Obama presidency will bring with it more drama than President Bartlet managed in seven seasons of The West Wing.

A changed dynamic in Congress also appeals to their instincts. It’ll give them a common enemy in just a few months, and a filibuster-proof 60 seats for the Democrats in the Senate means the effective opposition isn’t the Republicans, but the media.

Put simply, if Obama wins next week, it’s the end of business as usual.

And that’s why virtually every newshound is rooting for him.

News coverage of George Bush – in fact his lame duck status – has come about because the media got bored with him. The war in Iraq isn’t working. The war in Iraq isn’t working. The war in Iraq isn’t working. Say it several times, and people get bored of that story. You can change Iraq for ‘financial stimulus package’, ‘healthcare’ or really any other Bush policy, and it becomes tiresome pretty quickly. News coverage of the White House has been minimal since early 2007, when the race for 2008 really began.

The narrative of the past six years has been full of failure. Obama might not have intended to woo the media with it when he came up with his slogan, but change is exactly what they want, never mind the electorate.

The bias in the coverage of this election looks more than likely to help bring that change about.

> Politico in the States defends itself against pro-Obama bias


July 04, 2007

Relief

I have to say I’ve never been so relieved to change a poxy bit of HTML.

After 114 days, I can drop the ‘Free Alan Johnston’ banner I had on my blog. I suspect I wasn’t the only journalist who pumped my fists with relief this morning.

It sounds like the experience was pretty traumatic, as you’d expect. I hope he gets some rest and is back on our screens when he’s ready for it.


June 12, 2007

Blair: Media is 'a feral beast'

Alastair Campbell The media is threatening politicians’ “capacity to take the right decisions for the country”. Modern media means that reports are “driven by impact”. The relationship between the media and politics has been “damaged”.

Blair’s back in cuckoo land. His first statement assumes that politicians always know what the right decisions are. The second one is a joke when you consider how the Alastair Campbells of this world have timed announcements for maximum impact. And finally, politicians are equally to blame for the damaged relationship.

Contrary to popular belief, there wasn’t a snap change overnight in May 1997. The Thatcher era expanded the divide between reporters and the reported. But 24-hour news did make a difference. It led to constant analysis of decisions, so that the cooling-down period offered by the newspapers’ life-cycle was destroyed. The new diversity of media sources also made a difference. There is now an outlet for every viewpoint, however extreme or forthright.

But the preferential treatment and spinning dealt out by New Labour put unbearable pressure on the always difficult relationship between journalists and politicians.

It’s right that journalism should ask challenging questions of the powerful. In its perfect form, journalism is the voice of the people, although in practice it only sometimes achieves that aim. But Tony Blair and co took these challenges as a personal slight.

It is the way in which modern politicians react to the modern media which has damaged the relationship between the two.


June 11, 2007

I'm a Journalist, Get Me Out of Here!!!

A reality TV show in the States is to give a swimwear model a job as a TV journalist and see how she gets on. She’ll start by anchoring the main news bulletin tonight.

[Insert predictable joke about Natasha Kaplinsky]

Locals are up in arms about the affront to their local broadcaster’s integrity. But then this is a news station that apparently has “Stormy the Weather Dog” every day. I think the integrity boat has set sail.

Perhaps the show will reveal how hard it is to be a journalist. I might even give it the benefit of the doubt if it was a British show. But I’ve seen loads of American TV shows before. They’re going to make the locals look stupid, the job look easy, and the swimwear model look like Ed Murrow.

But if you’ve seen local TV news in the States before, you’ll realise that not even a bikini-clad model can dumb down the news.

Only some people will find this funny, but the model’s name is Lauren Jones. I kid you not.


June 02, 2007

Not news

On the boards around Cardiff advertising today’s Western Mail:

CARDIFF: WOMAN LEAVES HUSBAND IN WILL

Sensational!


May 12, 2007

Wishful thinking

This was a genuine screen-grab from CNN International.

Adam, I hear there may be a vacancy going…


May 10, 2007

Hmm… I wonder

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/

At 9.12am, I wonder to myself: “I wonder if the Guardian will use today to change the ten-year old look of their website…”

At 9.13am, I wonder to myself if I’m psychic.


May 09, 2007

The beauty of trespassing

I’ve just been revising the law of trespass ahead of my exciting Law exam next week. I probably should have revised this topic before this morning.

It turns out I’m fairly safe – I can only be sued for trespassing by the landowner himself, and seeing as he’s not likely to read this blog (nor am I likely to identify him!) I think I’ve got away with it. I also didn’t cause any damage, except a few muddy footprints.

I’m working on an exciting (can you hear the sarcasm?) story set in the middle of nowhere. Literally. The GPS system I’ve borrowed got as lost as me. I spent about two hours driving around, looking, quite simply, for an empty field which I needed to film in the pouring rain. It turned out to be at the end of a dark, muddy track and completely invisible from any man-made road.

Eventually, with a bit of help from the knowledgeable locals I found it. I didn’t trust them to begin with. I’ve heard that people with English accents will often find themselves given completely the opposite direction to the one they require while in parts of Wales. I could see on their faces a look of ‘ooh… well… shall I give him the Welsh answer or the English answer?’. Luckily the two locals both gave the same answer and it turned out they sent me the right way. Without them I would never have found it.

Not even Google Earth helped – I checked that out yesterday and it bore no relation to the roads I was looking for. Utterly useless. Maybe it was out-of-date.

Hopefully the fruits of my labour will be finished in a couple of weeks – I’ll upload them here, just so long as a certain landowner doesn’t find me first…


May 08, 2007

The news after Virginia

At 7.15am, Seung-Hui Cho walked into Emily Hilscher’s room and shot her and another student dead with a semi-automatic handgun. He then walked across the Virginia Tech campus to post a parcel to the New York offices of NBC, post-marked 9.01am. Inside was his ‘multimedia manifesto’. He then murdered another thirty people, before killing himself.

Even during the most appalling atrocity, the perpetrator found time to contribute to news bulletins around the world and make himself a star. Even after they asked ethical questions of the material – Should we show it? When should we show it? – most news organisations showed the tape. Even while dead, the killer took the credit, and offended the victims’ families even more.

It’s probable no-one has questioned the benefits of the modern news more than those families.

Cho’s video was a clear sign of the times. Broadcasters now compete for user-generated material, each keen to better reflect their audiences and imbue a sense of belonging with one outlet rather than another.

Not all of the material broadcasters use is sent to them directly. During the Virginia shootings, broadcasters relied on social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube for first-hand accounts of what was happening.

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis believes that the role of the journalist in the event of breaking news is to ‘link’ between reports, some of them from newswires, many from the public. But does this require more skill or less? Jarvis suggests that in time, citizen journalists will be capable of broadcasting live to the internet. Under what circumstances would broadcasters use this material live?

These changes set the scene for rolling news channels to become news aggregators. As the number of potential news feeds grows to include every person on every street, the role of the traditional broadcaster might be little more than to choose between them, rather like the now-unpopular concept of users choosing ‘alternate angles’ on a DVD. Bulletins, in turn, might become the place for a ‘best of’ compilation of the day’s best bits, with senior journalists behaving as ‘analysts’ of the day’s events rather than ‘reporters’. The appointment of Roger Harribin as BBC News’ Environment Analyst symbolises the trend.

Many traditions continue though. Hundreds of satellite trucks rolled into the Virginia Tech campus, transporting news anchors to the heart of the story. As much as the public wants to see every angle, every nugget of information, from every source, they also want it packaged together by someone that they trust.

But where does all of this leave the investigative story? The citizen journalist doesn’t have the resources to investigate the news in any depth, and is less likely to check their facts properly. Political blogger Guido Fawkes has found this out the hard way after suggesting the BBC’s political editor was one of his sources, when he was anything but.

CNN has been most explicit in its wooing of potential citizen journalists. Its ‘i-Report’ project has received hundreds of videos and photos from viewers who want to be on the cable news channel. The project’s TV trailer boasts of how you can say “I-Report for CNN”.

Many students at Virginia Tech did just that, sending in many of the most iconic images of the media ‘event’. But in the days that followed the tragedy, families and friends grew increasingly tired of the media’s gaze. Psychologists spooled through every frame of Cho’s words, and the relative anonymity of the internet was invaded as the media sought to ‘cover’ people’s emotions.

But it seems there are lines that still can’t be crossed.

Viewers expect quality as well as quantity. Few would be comfortable with the intrusion that the media’s stare brings, and audiences seem to rebel against invasion of privacy almost as often as the victims of it. And surveys of viewers’ opinions often suggest they want more foreign affairs, suggesting that they tune in to learn about the unknown rather than to hear about the mundane. It is up to editors to mediate between what people say they want, and what they actually expect.

When participatory politics is little more than a concept in a textbook, participatory media should be a good thing for society. Except neither broadcasters nor viewers quite know the parameters of this dialogue yet. Only through events such as the Virginia shootings is this new relationship being tested to its limits. And based on the evidence from Virginia Tech, broadcasters need to proceed with great caution. An unfortunate slip, and they could easily lose the trust of the audiences they pursue.


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