Journo-coders

A couple of months ago I wrote an article for Wannabehacks asking if it was time for journalism students to ditch short hand and learn to code instead.  I’m still keen to gather more responses (do take part in the survey below if you’re a student journalist or just starting out in journalism).  But in the meantime, here are a few follow-up thoughts and responses to questions people asked me.

cnorthwood left a comment on the article.  He’s a developer and is wondering if he should be doing more journalism (he’s already worked on some interesting-looking projects).  He raised a valid point about journalists learning to code:

It’s a very useful skill to have in their arsenal – making tools to help you do your job better, ability to analyse information in a new way (particularly large amounts of data coming available under the open data movement), but maybe the best way to do it is to team up with a developer and do it that way. It seems the way journalism is going is to make journos a jack of all trades – you’re now expected to have camera skills, editing skills, and lots of other things that would previously have been handled by specialists. Coding just seems another piece of that puzzle.

My response would be to say that some “trades” are in danger of becoming obsolete in newsrooms and are instead becoming “skills” that all journalists need to possess.  It’s an organic evolution.  A “jack-of-all-trades” is just a pejorative word for a multi skilled member of staff who’s a boon on any news team!  But I do agree that journalists – who understand a bit about what code does – working alongside developers is a good way to go.

One participant in my survey said they weren’t sure what programming could do for journalism.  A good way to answer that is to ask why would a programmer/developer want to work in a newsroom.  Daniel Sinker gives a great response to that question.  He leads the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project for Mozilla.  From 2008-2011 he taught in the journalism department at Columbia College Chicago where he focused on entrepreneurial journalism and the mobile web.  He’s recorded some really interesting video testimony from developers working in newsrooms in New York in the “news apps community” as one of the interviewees describes it.  You can see all six videos here but here are a couple of examples I’ve pulled out.

I got these from Knight-Mozilla Open News which organisers Fellowships (the deadline for 2013 has just ended) which:

embed developers and technologists in newsrooms around the world to spend a year writing code in collaboration with reporters, designers, and newsroom developers. Fellows work in the open by sharing their code and their discoveries on the web, helping to strengthen and build journalism’s toolbox.

So I think the news apps community sounds like a pretty exciting place to be and one which the current batch of student journalists AND computer scientists should really think about.

Chris Hutchinson got in touch after reading my article on Wannabehacks.  He’s a student journalist at Birmingham University and online editor for the student news site, Redbrick.  He seems a really good example of a new generation of journocoders – self-taught because he understood the way journalism was going and the way code could really connect stories to their communities.  So he wrote this follow-up article on his own blog which develops some of the points I made but, more impressively, he describes his own experience and insight as a genuine journalist who codes (I’m just an impostor, remember)

lolitician got in touch to say she’d have LOVED to do a journalism/comp sci degree had such a thing existed –

Perfect vocational combination of arts and science, and I would have rocked at it! Currently doing distance NCTJ and CodeYear.

Good luck!

I’m still interested in hearing from student journalists and wannabe hacks about this subject so please comment or tweet me.  And, if you haven’t already done so, please take part in the survey!

If you answered yes, please describe your level of knowledge and where you learnt to code.

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How much multimedia and digital journalism content is there on University student news websites?

I came across a blog post last week by Mu Lin who writes about how journalism schools in the US are teaching multimedia journalism.  He compared the multimedia and digital journalism content of twelve news sites which are affiliated to or sponsored by universities or J-schools “in an effort to tell how their affiliated journalism schools and programs are embracing the ongoing digital revolution in the journalism profession.”

It was an interesting exercise so I decided to copy develop the idea by looking at some equivalent UK sites.  I’ve broadly followed Mu Lin’s method although I’ve tweaked it a little, as I’ll explain.

How I selected the 7 news sites

I started with the Guardian’s Student Media Awards 2011 shortlist for Website of the Year. I dropped SUSU.TV because that’s specifically video content and more entertainment than news (it’s worth a look!).  I also dropped the Oxonian Globalist because it consists of Economist-style, long-form analytical articles with no multimedia content (on the day of my analysis, at least).  So that left me with Redbrick (University of Birmingham) which was the 2011 winner, The Student Journals (University of Warwick) which was the runner-up and LSMedia (University of Liverpool)

I then added Quays News which is the University of Salford’s website.  (I had to include that, didn’t I!)

I included EastLondonLines which is run by the media department of Goldsmiths.  I like this website, set up in 2009, because of the community it covers.  The East London Line is a new-ish train line which runs from Dalston in East London down to Croydon so the website is an experiment in creating a community out of a transport link.  Nice idea, eh?

I included my old alma mater, the University of Sheffield’s, website, Forge Today.

Finally, I added Gair Rhydd (“Free Word” in Welsh) which is run by students at Cardiff University which has a prominent journalism school.

Method

I’m using the same categories that Mu Lin used for his analysis and, like him, I’m not including text and photos as multimedia content.  Instead, the focus was on video, audio, audio photo slideshow, photo gallery, data visualization, infographics, web-specific writing technique, social media use, etc. (MuLin)

I just looked at the front page of these websites and the content which was linked on there.

Unlike MuLin, I do look at interactivity and engagement e.g. share buttons, comments sections, polls.

Caveats/excuses

I analysed the websites on Tuesday 19th June.  This is not the best time of year to look at student websites since most universities are like ghost towns at the moment.  Some websites I discounted from the analysis for this reason;  they hadn’t been updated in months.

I’m not analysing the quality of the journalism in this exercise.  I’m simply looking at how much multimedia content there is on the front page.

I know I’ve omitted some excellent websites.  If you’d like to suggest some others I should have included, I’ll see if I can carry out this analysis again using some other examples.

I’m not always comparing like with like.  Some of these websites are more closely tied to journalism departments than others (Quays News, for example)

Aims  

I think it’s important to see whether the next generation of journalists is already embracing the digital era, innovating, pushing boundaries, multiskilling.  It’s one thing to learn this in the classroom but are they then applying it to their own journalism practice outside?  Not all the contributors to these websites are journalism students which is refreshing and it’s good to see students from a variety of backgrounds embracing multimedia.

THE ANALYSIS

DATA VISUALISATION (interactive maps, graphic, timeline)

The only example on the day I looked was Gair Rhydd’s very simple pie chart representing the way Guild fee money was spent.  (It’s spoilt by the fact that they couldn’t write £3000.00 accurately!)

I should mention though that the reason Redbrick won the Website of the Year was for its excellent live coverage of the August riots in Birmingham.  It looks like they made good use of interactive maps and time lines (plus CoveritLive and social media) so there are definitely good examples out there of students willing and able to grasp this new-ish area of journalism.

But I thought I’d find more examples of students experimenting with data and visualisation. It would be a great USP for fresh-out-of-college students who need something that makes them stand out from the crowd.  Most newsrooms are full of people (like me) who know very little about data journalism and might well be very keen to take on somebody who can show them a portfolio of work in this field.

VIDEO (Only video originated by students rather than stuff they’d sourced from YouTube and embedded)

4 of the websites had links to video content on their front page.

Quays News – Monton residents campaign against pay-and-display car parking.  This was a new report that had been tweeted about the day before.  It contained interviews with key people and a script narrated by the reporter.

Food hygiene report.  Again, this was a video report with interviews, scripted narration and a piece-to-camera.

Both videos are embedded into the online article and to some extent enrich the story rather than simply reversion it on a different platform.

Latest TV news bulletin.  Quays TV is produced and presented by students and broadcasts every Wednesday afternoon from MediaCity.  It features a mix of live interviews and reports.

Article on plans to redevelop St Peter’s Square contains an originated video of a walkaround showing what the square looks like now.  There is no narration or interviews, just natural sound.  It sits well in the article and is a really good use of video to tell an important side of the story which can ONLY be told in video.  But it’s spoilt by the poor sound quality.

LSMedia – There was no video in their main news items but LSFilm and LSRadio (all under the umbrella of LSMedia) feature on the front page and have videos about their participation in Liverpool Soundcity.  LSFilm’s is just video on a music bed – very creative.  The second from LSRadio centres round a nicely informal discussion with participants.

ForgeToday – Videos are in a separate section on the right hand side rather than embedded in articles.  On the day of the analysis, these were exclusively sports matches with commentary.

Redbricks – has an article about the British tennis pro, Laura Robson.   A video of quick fire questions is embedded into the article.

PHOTO SLIDESHOWS

3 websites featured photo slideshows (without audio.)

Quays News – The article on the Chester Food Festival includes a photo slideshow.

Report on plans to redesign St Peter’s Square contains a photo slideshow.

Redbricks – The review of five different video games uses a Slideshow format which works really engagingly for this subject matter.

Forgetoday – used a standalone slideshow to capture the essence of Sheffield Pride 2012.

SOCIAL MEDIA REPORTING (Storify)

Only Quays News had a social media story on its front page but do see my notes on Redbrick’s Birmingham riots coverage above which used Coveritlive etc.

Quays News – The article on homelessness featured a Storify curation of the reporter’s live tweets about spending a night on the streets of Manchester.  Storify is embedded in the online article and really enriches the online experience.  It includes several YouTube video updates of him talking about his experience.

STANDALONE AUDIO

Quays News – Salford students produce various podcasts using Soundcloud.  “Added Time” is part of a regular series in which students discuss the latest football issues.

The article on the Chester Food festival contains Soundcloud interviews with one of the organisers and a chef.  The article itself had short quotes from the interviewees but the audio went much further and deeper so enriched the online offering.

EastLondonLines – There was a Soundcloud recording of a house sparrow embedded into the article on the decline of the Cockney Sparrow but I suspect it was not originated!

EastLondonLines – The online article about a local college head getting a CBE had a Soundcloud interview with a student at the college.  The interview certainly enriched the online experience but it wasn’t properly incorporated into the article.  It was just tagged on to the end with nothing to tell the reader what it might contain.

INTERACTIVITY (polls, comments)

Most of the websites gave readers a chance to leave a comment, the exception being Quays News.

Redbricks – had a comments option at the end of articles.

Redbricks – poll asking if Usain Bolt will break World Record.

StudentJournals – Quick poll – Was this the best Premier League Season you have ever watched?

Student Journals – had a comments option at the end of articles and a “Best Comments” column on the front page.

LSMedia –  had a comments option at the end of articles

LSMedia – poll – Should the UK follow the ECHR’s ruling on giving prisoners the vote?

East LondonLines –  Featured videos on home page shows creative side of students’ work.

ForgeToday – had a comments option at the end of articles

Gair Rhydd – had a comments option at the end of articles

Conclusion

It was good to see Salford doing so well in the use of multimedia on the day I observed!  Phew!  But the majority of websites were looking for ways to enrich and expand the delivery of their stories on a digital platform and that’s a really good thing to see.

There were some glaring missed opportunities.  Gair Rhydd’s article on the 30th anniversary of the university’s bellringing society surely cried out for a video/audio of the bell ringing?!

On the writing for the web side, some articles were still too long with no sub headings and few pictures to ease the reader through and keep them engaged.  Only Redbrick used a “fact box” for example to add a bite size extra bit of information and had links to related articles. Several websites made good use of hyperlinks.

Redbrick and LSMedia a ticker feed at the top of the website carrying the latest news.

I thought there would have been more interactivity on the front page in the shape of polling, for example.  I didn’t see any instances of websites reaching out to the audience to ask for their stories/experience on a particular subject.  It seems to me that the nature of a university community, especially a campus, lends itself to this kind of collaborative journalism project and could act as a springboard for all kinds of innovation.  For example, websites could ask students for their experiences – good and bad – about getting jobs to fund themselves through their studies.

I look forward to your comments and do please pass on any really good examples of innovative multimedia journalism on university websites.

How can universities and the news industry work together?

  1. Share


    Arrived at white city with @SueNorth1 for #bbche event http://pic.twitter.com/NnkaJBVd

    Wed, May 02 2012 04:25:25
  2. There often seems to be a gap between what we do at journalism schools and what actually happens in the real world.  So on 2.05.12. the BBC Academy invited journalism lecturers from around the country to throw some ideas around.
    The great thing about bringing a load of journalists together for a conference is that lots of them will live tweet about the event (#bbche) giving the rest of us a chance to eavesdrop without having to get on a train to White City.
  3. Share

    @SueNorth1 discovering how great iPads are at #BBCHE event! http://pic.twitter.com/tLiOyXj4

    Wed, May 02 2012 07:18:48
  4. The discussion played into all my current areas of interest.  I stopped being an actual BBC newsroom broadcast journalist about twelve months ago and have been teaching radio journalism since then so I’m still very much in transition.  I’m forever asking myself whether I’m teaching stuff that is relevant, transferable and applicable to a real-life job in the broadcast industry.  Alongside this, I’m working on a research paper which is looking at how the organisation of newsroom jobs is changing with the advent of social media and how that could/should impact on the skills students are taught at university.
  5. Share
    Future BBC staff need to be adaptable, mentally agile and able to work in many areas says Lucy Adams, director of Biz Ops, BBC People #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 05:27:57
  6. Share
    Persevere, watch television, have opinions, ideas, &communicate – employment tips from Pat Younge, chief creative officer, BBC Vision #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 05:33:20
  7. Share
    Pat Younge asks what is a public b’caster when all can b’cast. Adds that essays have a place: they teach you to structure argument 🙂 #BBCHE

    Wed, May 02 2012 05:35:58
  8. Share
    Attitude, agility, flexibility… ability to challenge… IDEAS… talents BBC looking for #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 05:39:38
  9. David Docherty is the Chief Executive of the Council for Industry and Higher Education but he’s held many top-level jobs in media organisations.  He was the BBC’s first director of new media Deputy Managing Director of TV.  His talk looked into the role a university education should play in the development of future workers in the media industry.
  10. Share
    David Docherty Universities about learning how to learn. Skills will be defunct. #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 05:55:21
  11. Share
    Docherty: need leaders, not employees. Grads need to learn how to learn, be interdisciplinary and lead interdiscipline teams #BBCHE

    Wed, May 02 2012 05:56:11
  12. Share
    Docherty: collaborative working is not a soft skill (take note @JUS_News) #BBCHE

    Wed, May 02 2012 06:00:07
  13. Share
    Docherty: expertise is more important than skills. A skill is a repeatable process, expertise is application of theory to practice #BBCHE

    Wed, May 02 2012 06:03:21
  14. Share
    Lots of nods around room as David Docherty tells #bbche what industry wants from graduates: expertise, flexibility, international outlook

    Wed, May 02 2012 06:13:42
  15. Share
    Need for students to learn ‘how to think’, not just get skills, a recurring theme at BBC uni open day #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 06:43:58
  16. Next up, the head of the BBC’s College of Journalism, Jonathan Baker.  He was the Deputy Head of Newsgathering for BBC News prior to this appointment so he was particularly interested in how students should be prepared for the real world of journalism.
  17. Share
    Baker: new entrants to journalism must be familiar with the changing way newsrooms work #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 07:20:10
  18. Donna Taberer is the Head of the BBC’s College of Production.   That’s part of the BBC Academy and the sister site of the College of Journalism.
  19. Share
    Taberer: youneed the confidence to be shot down and shot down again #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 07:29:44
  20. I second that!  It hurts though.

    Sandy Smith looks after the One Show at the BBC.  Camilla Lewis joined the independent media production company, Cineflix, about a year ago.  They’re both looking for people with a bit of flair that makes them stand out from the crowd.
  21. Share
    What we look for in new recruits – curious, sceptical, team players, ideas, make props with scissors and glue – Sandy Smith #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:04:25
  22. Share
    Smith: wants life experience in grads; Lewis: watch our output and critique it. Have something to say. Passion, drive and interest #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:06:46
  23. Share
    Not an industry for introverts – Camilla Lewis, Cineflix #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:07:21
  24. Share
    Degrees in history or sciences would be useful for job on The One Show #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:12:41
  25. Share
    There is a hunger and a need for new ways of telling stories, says Lewis #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:16:03
  26. Share
    We’re becoming a very white and middle-class industry – Camilla Lewis, Cineflix #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:17:14
  27. Those are difficult things to “teach.”  Universities need to encourage those attributes, make students aware that these are areas they can develop and provide opportunities for students to innovate.
  28. Share
    Lewis: worry about the story, not making it look glossy #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:27:35
  29. Share
    It’s all about the story. it’s only about the story – Camilla Lewis #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 08:28:11
  30. Huw Edwards looks very dapper on stage.  Were all the speakers this smart?
  31. Share

    RT @BBCRecruitment: #bbche event is drawing to a close, hope you found the tweets informative, here’s a pic from earlier of Huw Edwards Q&A http://pic.twitter.com/Ctdgisjv

    Wed, May 02 2012 12:25:32
  32. Huw Edwards now presents the 10 o’clock news on BBC 1 amongst other things!  That explains his smart suit, I guess.  He’s a great advocate of good writing skills and has produced training modules on the subject for the BBC’s College of Journalism website.  So it was no surprise that this was the core of his message to journalism teachers.
  33. Share
    Huw Edwards: Core journalistic skills haven’t changed despite more competitive, challenging and complex world #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:38:25
  34. Share
    Huw Edwards: You must be capable of clear, concise, accurate writing #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:42:05
  35. Share
    Have we lost the core skills in the drive to master technology? Huw Edwards objects to poor writing and ‘crappy running orders’ #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:45:25
  36. Share
    Huw Edwards: need to start with a clear sense of what makes a good story. Can you write, make a journalistic judgement? Be curious? #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:46:58
  37. Share
    Huw Edwards: don’t get too excited by the technical stuff #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:48:18
  38. Share
    “@TheBBCAcademy: 12 out of 14 candidates in a recent job interview didn’t know who Neil Kinnock is, says Huw Edwards: know your news #bbche”

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:49:18
  39. Share
    Huw Edwards: there’s a real skill in writing a 4 second headline that tells the story #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:50:55
  40. Share
    Very entertaining talk from Huw Edwards. If he ever stops reading the news, a career in comedy beckons. #BBCHE @huwbbc

    Wed, May 02 2012 09:56:05
  41. Yay, MediaCity – the home of newness – gets beamed into the conference room!
  42. Share

    Matt Allwright talks to Mark Harrison in Salford. Can’t put a number on graduate opps at Salford #bbche http://pic.twitter.com/lupQz9QU

    Wed, May 02 2012 10:21:55
  43. Mark Harrison is the Controller of Production at BBC North.  What does that mean?  He works on the strategy of how programme content is produced – what services, facilities and technologies are required, how should they be delivered and what working practices should be put in place.  Big job.
  44. Share
    Harrison: wants people who are comfortable with organisations other than the BBC #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 10:22:53
  45. So that’s what the industry leaders had to say.  But what about the latest recruits to the BBC – the ex-BBC trainees?  What advice do they have for the educators and their would-be future colleagues?
  46. Share

    RT @BBCTrainees: Our trainees on stage with Matt Allwright for #BBCHE http://pic.twitter.com/FjizES56

    Thu, May 03 2012 05:34:56
  47. Share
    Some very talented (ex) trainees being interviewed by @simonsmithster. More details on all schemes: http://bbc.in/IXlc1T #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 11:13:45
  48. Share
    Wise words from one BBC former trainee: it’s not always the best people that get the work – put yourself out there #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 11:22:23
  49. Share
    @marjon_media BBC trainees said working on their student magazine gave them invaluable experience. Get involved. #bbche

    Wed, May 02 2012 11:28:24
  50. So, plenty of thought-provoking stuff.  I’m really interested to know if any of the universities attending the conference have gone back and started making changes to their courses.
  51. Share
    Fantastic to see so many Unis at #bbche day today. Great feedback, lively debate, and interesting speakers. Let’s keep the conversation live

    Wed, May 02 2012 15:02:44
  52. Share
    Great day at #BBCHE. Top tip is be determined and network as much as you can. Thanks for the event

    Wed, May 02 2012 12:52:17