Monday, 15 December 2008


I recently moved my blog to wordpress since I read that it allows you to do more sophisticated things and shows up higher in google lists. I know you shouldn't believe everything you read but it was a compelling argument. I would link to it here but I cannot seem to find the article again, sorry.

Come to my new blog and let me know what you think; better or worse?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Can contempt of court survive the internet?

The mob mentality threatens journalistic integrity.
(Image courtesy of google images)

Last week media forums, social networking sites and blogs were filled with posts by angry individuals wanting to know why the identity of Baby P's mother and her boyfriend could not be shared with society. Following this, there were postings naming and shaming the adults involved in this horrific case of child abuse.

In general, the Great British public are not aware of the legal ramifications of these actions. As far as they are concerned the mother of Baby P and her boyfriend should have no right to protection by the media and to the majority of society, the publication of their identity is acceptable and even desirable.

Shane Richmond, Community Editor at is familiar with the problem of moderating online content. In a lecture discussing online communities last week he talked of how difficult it was to keep an eye on the flow of information being put on My Telegraph each day.

He said part of the problem stems from the fact Telegraph readers do not see themselves as bloggers. They use the forum as a way of talking to other Telegraph readers, people who have similar interests and viewpoints. It is likely then, these bloggers do not realise what they are publishing may have considerably graver implications than a conversation with a friend.

In the UK contempt of court laws are in place to prevent jury members from becoming prejudiced towards a defendant prior to or during a trial. Professor Duncan Bloy says, "in the criminal justice system the assumption is that the jury is the weakest link." This is particularly true in high profile cases which have received a lot of media coverage.

For this reason, the media is bound by the Contempt of Court Act (1981) to act responsibly in terms of what it publishes, especially in the run up to a trial. A well known example of a newspaper failing to adhere to such legal prescriptions occurred during the 2001 trial of Leeds’ footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate. This infringement of the law led to a retrial and the Sunday Mirror was found guilty of contempt of court.

Back to Baby P. What the British public do not realise is that the last thing the media want to do is protect the perpetrators of such a heinous crime.

Journalists are obliged under law to adhere to reporting restrictions. If they do not, legal action can be taken against them or, more likely, their publication. By keeping in line with the judges's order not to identify Baby P, his mother and her boyfriend, journalists are attempting to maintain the legal framework to ensure that any further trials, which may yet take place, are not abandoned due to contempt of court.

The main worry is over whether the contempt of court laws can survive the internet age and if so how? But what is clear is the provisions are out of place in an era where people have instantaneous access to information and the means to distribute it worldwide. Earlier this week a woman was thrown off a jury for putting a poll on facebook including the details of the case she was sitting on and asking for advice on how she should act.

As Judith Townend points out, members of the public are uneducated about the laws and ethics of journalism and have no editorial controls to stop them publishing. Meanwhile, the professionals are restricted, and rightly so, by a code of conduct and the rule of law.

How will we reconcile this dichotomy; journalistic values of authority, autonomy and lack of bias against community values of transparency and honesty? If we can't then journalists may be faced with the reality of a conversation continuing without them.

One thing is for sure: the status quo cannot remain.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Breaking news and the Blog.

Sky News, famously "never wrong for long"
(pic courtesy of google images).

Last week Professor Justin Lewis was talking to us about a research project Cardiff University did on breaking news.

In the lecture Lewis observed:

"The obsession with breaking news threatens to impoverish the quality of journalism generally."

What was his foundation for this?
Basically, the study undertaken by Lewis and his team looked at the percentage of news stories BBC News 24 and Sky News branded as "breaking news" and what effect this may have on the way such news is received.

The team found on both channels the percentage of breaking news had gone up more than threefold between 2004 and 2006. The BBC breaking news coverage went up from three per cent to eleven per cent and on Sky News the percentage increased from 4.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent.

Lewis made the point that since "the world has not rearranged itself", there should not be such a dramatic increase in breaking news. Therefore, the threshold for what is considered to be breaking news must have been lowered.

What is the problem with this?
Because of this, viewers are in danger of becoming increasingly cynical towards the concept of breaking news. One of the precepts of the phenomena is that it should be unpredictable. However, in the two year period studied the percentage of breaking news which could be considered to be truly so fell by almost half. In other words, we are misbranding what is actually just "news" in the interest of hooking people in.

Ok, so we believe him, breaking news quality has decreased which is bad because the public will get bored of it and thus bored of news in general, and then we will be out of a job.

So what can we do about it?
Exploring blogs and forums as a medium for breaking news may be one way of adressing the problem. Journalists can use the web to get their first draft out quickly, for mass consumption, and once it is out there they can re-draft it as more information becomes available, whether this is through comment or as the story develops.

This would allow broadcast journalism to focus more on analysis and comment, something which Lewis found to be lacking on both 24 hour news channels. It would also mean that when the breaking news graphic came scrolling along the bottom of the TV screen, viewers may be more inclined to respond to it in the way intended.

Antony Mayfield, head of social media at icrossing discussed different treatments of journalistic material with our class last week. He talked about how originally on the web journalists were, "operating on the business model imported from print. But what has happened in recent years is that people have started to realise it's not a newspaper and it's not a TV programme, it's something better."

In some ways, the use of new multimedia methods for breaking news has already begun to proliferate. Classmates of mine recently used twitter as a way of breaking news while at the PTC New Journalist Awards 2008 and the Society of Editors Conference 2008. Press Gazette was also using twitter as a way of providing links to articles covering both of these events.

Is the web a better place to break news then?
It can be. As Mayfield said, "search is the starting point for most people's use of the web." If an individual wants to know about a topic they will, eight times out of ten, go to the google home page and type in what they would like some information on. Since google puts the user first, rather than the advertiser, users consistently get the results they want.

In a way then, the consumer is choosing the breaking news. Whatever is more relevant and interesting to them will gain more hits and thus move its way up the popularity ratings.

According to Mayfield, change like this has the potential not just to destroy companies but also entire countries. It is our job as journalists to make sure we straddle the fault line as best we can. We certainly don't want to be left behind as the individual rampages over the net, and that is why we had better get to grips with digital forms of media, for breaking news and beyond.

This article discusses many of the same innovation ideas as Antony Mayfield. I'm glad to see the big guns are being told to shake up their ideas as well. The good news? They tend to have entrenched practices and predjudices to work around while as fledgling journalists we can learn it all from the get go.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Paul Dacre's Daring Speech

(Image courtesy of google images)

I have just been reading a copy of Paul Dacre's speech from the Society of Editors conference online. The link was tweeted to me by one of my esteemed class mates lucky enough to hear it in person, ah the wonders of modern technology. So, following what Adam Tinworth said in our online lecture last week, I am going to blog about it and blog quickly, because tomorrow it won't be news any more.

Whatever one thinks of the man personally, or about the paper he works for, it has to be said that many of the issues he covered and the way he covered them resonated with me:

  • "Today I worry that too many journalists write only for other journalists"

Despite the continually repeated adage of "know your reader," have journalists become too insular and therefore isolated? Dacre says there are many columnists out there who have lost touch with who they are writing for. He says journalism is now populated by "a privileged elite of university graduates," who do not know how, or perhaps do not want to know how, to connect with their reader.

This would seem to concur with what Peter Preston said in our Reporters and Reported lecture on Friday. He told us the national newspapers were now threatened by a proliferation of inexperienced journalists, who are way out their depth because they simply by-pass working for regionals. With regional newspapers in decline it has made it all the more tempting to leap frog that stepping-stone job. And what is the result? Out-of-touch and over-cocky young reporters who are lacking a crucial lesson in how to communicate with the public.

  • ", newspapers...think long and hard before contesting actions, even if they know they are in the right, for fear of the ruinous financial implications."

Here Dacre is talking about an issue presented to Gordon Brown, with the aim of demonstrating the threat posed to freedom of speech if newspapers in Britain start to censor themselves for fear of going bust.

The Conditional Fee Arrangement (CFA) known to us law novices as "no win, no fee," was originally passed by government in order to allow the less affluent in society fair access to the courts. In recent times, however, there has been a feeling that some lawyers and their firms are exploiting the arrangement to bleed newspapers close to dry.

Basically, if a newspaper (or indeed any publisher) is taken to court for libel and they decide to contest the charge, under CFA they will be liable to pay the extortionate fees of the prosecution lawyers if they lose. If, on the other hand, the newspaper wins the case, it can still often lose money since claimants may have After The Event insurance which protects them if they cannot afford to pay legal costs.

According to Dacre, all this legal clap trap is leading newspapers to settle out of court rather than face lengthy and financially devastating law suits. From here then, it is not too much of a leap to consider editors choosing to leave a scoop out altogether to avoid potential claims against them. This leaves us with quite the dent in the freedom of speech aspirations our country is supposed to endorse. Luckily, it would seem the government is planning to take action. We shall keep our fingers crossed.

  • "The real enemy, if you like, is within...why is the British newspaper industry so full of self-loathing?"

I found this to be the most interesting point made by Dacre. In a world where we are fighting our way through a perfect storm with one hand, we steadily undermine ourselves with a "drip, drip, drip of self denigration" in the other. What does Dacre mean by this? Essentially, he is referring to certain portions of the British press who make it their main-stay to look on other publications with disdain and to lament as a whole the state of British media.

In this sense, Dacre is worried there may be an element of self-prophesy. By writing, sneeringly, about the dumbing down of Britain and its newspapers, are certain journalists making matters worse?

I have no quick answer for this one. But the almost iconic status held by the Guardian among my journalism peers does worry me slightly. Not that I think it's a bad paper, far from it. It's more that I fear the narrow-mindedness of the next generation of journalists, carrying it as a banner of their integrity and intelligence...or could that read pretension?


Here's a sample of Dacre's speech I found on you-tube. This was the most covered aspect of his speech in the national press:

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

How do you compare being a journalist to becoming president of the US?

Does what it says on the tin.
(Image Courtesy of google images)

'Newspaper circulation continues to decline rapidly,' When I read headlines like this one my first reaction is to smile smugly to myself, safe in the knowledge that I chose the right journalism option to study at Cardiff University. But then I read on. Alas, it's not only in the land of the dailies people are losing their jobs and reporters are being spread as thinly as a dieter's low fat spread on their 31 calorie crispbread.

Furthermore, it's not just the lowly juniors losing their jobs: the fat cats, well established in their roles, are also being thrown overboard as sales figures plummet and even the grandest of ships rock to and fro in the stormy seas of the magazine market.

So now I've set you up with a suitably dramatic and gloomy picture, how shall I turn this around? Because if I can't, I might as well give up now and high-tail it back to Scotland where I can settle down with the local Laird and in ten years time look back and laugh at my days trying to pursue a career in journalism.

But some how that's not really me, so here goes:

For one thing, if you are the type to turn and run at the first hint of a challenge I would hazard that you are not cut out for journalism. How many times as a journalist are you going to have to push that extra little bit to get the information you want? In such instances you wouldn't think to yourself, "Oh Damn I didn't get the quote or angle I was looking for, never mind I'll just go back to the office for a cup of tea and a slice of Battenburg," would you?

Two years ago if Barack Obama had decided the presidential race was too much of a struggle and thrown in the towel, then today we wouldn't have the joy of celebrating the demise of the neo-conservatives in America after eight years in office.

But now he has been voted as the next Commander in Chief, Obama should expect challenges which are arguably bigger than those faced by previous men holding the reins. This Times article provides a great summary of the changing role of America in international relations and the reality of the situation Obama is now confronted with. In another medium, this cartoon from illustrates the enormity of what President Bush is passing on to the Democrats.

Again, Obama is unlikely to look at this challenge, think "sod this for a game of soldiers" and run back to Illinois with his tail between his legs.

Similarly then, when faced with a competitive job market, you would be foolish to see the glass as half empty when you could see it as half full. It may be a daunting time to become a journalist but I find that to be part of the draw. To an extent, all journalists are egoists; we like what we write and we like others to read it and like it as well.

In some ways then, the current clime may be even better for massaging those egos. At least if you get a job you know you must be pretty damn good. Which leads me to my final point: what should we do to stop ourselves from trembling at the knees in the face of all the doom and gloom prophesising about the world of journalism? Be pretty damn good. Embrace change and change with it and I fail to see how you can be left behind.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The story-teller, or should that be "bletherer"?

"If we only give people half a chance they will take it."

When Daniel Meadows uttered these words he was referring to the idea of letting people tell their own story. He said that in the modern age we, as journalists, should be prepared to facilitate the stories of others as well as writing our own.

And I thought "great", because quite honestly I'm a bit sick of facilitating my own stories and hearing my own voice and anyway, as I said last week, I think that a major condition of having a voice is to use it responsibly.

Giving others the opportunity to tell their story seems as good a way as any. This is especially true if you are helping those who otherwise find it difficult to express them, people who aren't so good with the written word or just not used to using it.

My Dad is a very interesting man. He has been working on the same farm for almost forty years and living within five miles of where he was born, all his life. To some this might sound like a pretty tame life story. But the way I see it, he has spent his days driving all over the county watching the seasons change and talking to people from all different walks of life. The Scots definition for my dad would be a "bletherer", he wouldn't mind me saying this because he knows its true.

I have many a memory from when I was younger of being out and about with my Dad. Always a bit of a Daddy's girl, I loved it when he took me with him on his jaunts and now I realise that for him, it was a way of getting to spend more time with me because he worked such long hours. Much as I loved those times, more often than not they would end with me tugging on his arm and moaning "Da-a-ad" in an attempt to try and get him moving again and stop talking to whoever this boring person was (rude I know, but seriously he could talk for hours and I would be getting hungry).

Now that I'm all grown up, and encouraged to look into and think about these things a little, I've realised my Dad is a potential gold-mine of stories. Sorry if this all seems a little romanticised to you ("Aww, bless the Scottish lass who grew up on a farm, all rosy cheeked, with a dog and some hens") but I suppose thinking about multimedia stories has brought me over all nostalgic.

Initially, when introduced to the Capture Wales project, I thought the two minute time frame would be pretty limiting. But it is the snap-shot quality that makes these stories so effective. We get to know the person as much through what is not said as we do through what is. In this way the stories are reflective of real life. After all, we learn a lot about others through their body language and what they tell us implicitly, not just from their direct speech.

This video in particular struck a chord with me: "Life isn't about things, it's about people."

The fact that the statement comes from a rather burly looking gent makes it all the more poignant. I wouldn't expect Gavin Allen from Arabella Street (which, incidentally, is just round the corner from my home in Cardiff) to say such a thing. And this is why it is important to give that person a chance because more often than not they will tell you something which firmly dispels their stereotype

My siblings and I have a habit of referring to what we call Dad's "wise words of the week", any turn of phrase or comment which we deem to be spoken like a true parent. Now that I am living away from home I often hear an imaginary echo of my Dad's voice giving an up front and direct assessment of a situation.

So what would his take of the digital story-telling phenomenon be? "Well, the cat's out of the bag now, isn't it."

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The World of Photography and Flickr

Today I was in Bute Park taking photo's for my magazine production course. The sun was shining, the autumn leaves were gently cascading to the ground and all was right with the world. Network journalism, civic journalism, online journalism; these were the last things on my mind.

But once I was back in the maglab and had begun uploading my photos to Flickr, thoughts of how I could be contributing to all these types of journalism started to trundle through my head.

I had been out and about in Cardiff, taking photo's for the purpose of an assignment set to us by our tutors. I have never been massively into photography; I'm of the school of thought that you should live in the moment rather than see it through a lens. So I was surprised by how much I got into the assignment: two hours literally whizzed by as I was caught up in a world of angles, light and framing.

The shots I came back with were definitely worth the time and effort. Don't get me wrong, after one- albeit beautiful- morning in the park I am under no illusions of grandeur. But because of flickr, my shots are no longer limited to an audience of family and friends.

If someone was looking for a photo to tell the story of autumn, under the Creative Commons framework they could use mine. This is just one example of how the networks in journalism are extending and how we can use them in simple yet very effective ways.

And how proud I would be! Considering that until yesterday my experience with a camera was limited to holiday snaps and photos of my friends, taken almost solely to be put up on Facebook, if someone deemed my first attempts at "real" photography good enough to use alongside their article it would tickle me pink.

So I can quite easily see how one can catch the bug and it must be a similar experience for civic journalists. To be included within the process and not be just a mere onlooker gives a great amount of buzz. I think I understand what the motivation behind being a contributor can be. To be given a voice in this way is quite a heady ego boost; the trick is learning how to use your voice in an ethical and responsible way.

As a tool for online journalism, Flickr has to be the most useful I've come across so far and the fact that you can use the account for a combination of personal and professional activities is great too. Consider yourself warned though, once logged in it is just as easy for the time to whiz by as you absorb the snapshots of other people's lives as it is when you are taking the snapshots yourself. Embrace and enjoy!