Rolling news – the good, the bad and the ugly

I’m going to take a punt and guess that at some point this week you’ve watched a rolling news channel.

Whether it the committee hearings with the News International Cerberus, the horrific attacks in Oslo and Utoya or the death of Amy Winehouse. When news breaks we – or at least I – turn to BBC News (and Twitter).
What the three events last week showed is everything that is great and terrible about rolling coverage. The coverage of the News International hearings was great because it was a live event, happening, with questions back and forth. There was content. When Johnnie Marbles “pied” Murdoch Snr – though I don’t know any recipes for shaving foam pie – the coverage was effectively pied too. The content was gone. What we were left with was news anchors narrating over longlens footage of a man covered in shaving foam, and continuous slowmotion replays of Wendi Deng defending her husband – which was funny the first five times. 
The attacks in Oslo and Utoya had plenty of content. There were cameras on the scene and a wealth of cameraphone videos filmed to show the damage of the blast. What was awful was the speculation about the perpetrator or perpetrators of the attacks. Almost immediately terrorism “experts” were brought in who commented that a Norwegian newspaper printed the Danish Muhammed cartoon and that Norway was involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, I’m not going to deny that myself and plenty others immediately thought of the possibility that the attacks could have been carried out by Islamic extremists but when your job is to inform the public, speculation about such things is dangerous. 
The death of Amy Winehouse, like the death of Michael Jackson before her, showed that rolling news is absolutely terrible when someone dies. When someone dies in a continuing or developing event, fine. But when someone dies, they’re dead, and it is bloody terrible. Sky News had the story first so I stuck with it for a while. Immediately it was pointed out on Twitter that the image Sky were using of Amy was of her waxwork at Madame Tussauds. Strike one. Then a pre-recorded obituary package was shown almost immediately, with gossip magazine editors, the very people who profited from her demise, talking about her genius in past tense. Strike two. Unable to stomach any more Sky News I turned over to BBC News where an endless list of music commentators were called up for phone interviews. Paul Gambaccinni, I remember you from when Michael Jackson died. The tipping point was when tweets from great commentators like Myleene Klass were read out on air. Yes, this tweet, was read out on air. Oh Em Gee.

OMG. Amy Winehouse. Exceptional talent and a really nice lady. RIPless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply

Strike three.
Of course, the news channels are obliged to cover stories like Amy Winehouse’s death, and I’m not sure there’s a clear answer as to how to do it better. But as news media viewers, we aren’t obliged to watch.



About Me: Declaring bias

This post will appear in some form in my About page.

BBC journalist Dave Lee raised an issue which caught my eye on Twitter this morning. Is your impartiality compromised by who you follow on Twitter?

Well something that’s always frustrated me is vain attempts to act impartial. No human being is impartial, it is an unnatural and unnerving state for someone to have no personal opinion. What every journalist should try to be is fair, not impartial. 

Part of that I feel involves declaring your interests to your audience. If someone who declares themselves as a Conservative supporter writes something, I can view it through that lens. It may be somewhat misleading if that is not known.

So in practicing what I preach, here are my interests:

I believe myself to be mostly aligned with the policies of the Liberal Democrat party. I voted for Greg Mulholland in Leeds North West in 2005 on an anti-war ticket. In 2010 I voted for Allan Knox in Ribble Valley. However, I feel let down by the Liberal Democrats and will be hesitant to vote for them again. I am now considering voting Labour.

I am not, nor do I ever intend to be, a member of any political party. I am a pragmatist. Any party can win my vote based on their manifesto and whether I trust them.

University has made me more right wing. Weirdly.

I am AV agnostic, but I will be voting YES to send a message to the government that I disapprove of them.

I am a practising Roman Catholic but this does not inform my political or scientific views. I am pro-choice, pro-same sex marriage and I am frustrated by the Vatican’s stance on birth control, especially in relation to the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

I buy The Times and Guardian newspapers but try to read all of the quality British press online.

Anything else you would want to know? Formspring me

Bold steps in entrepreneurial journalism

I've been inspired by a number of people in my first steps into journalism: teachers, colleagues and more teachers.

I've been encourage and disheartened in equal measure by my BA Journalism course at the University of Central Lancashire. I'm nearly at the end of my second year having taking the "print" route after first year. I was disheartened facing another year of "print", where the main tasks were writing more stories, producing a newspaper (which isn't published), and learning shorthand. I've been taught good writing, style and production software already. It seemed more of the same. But now I'm encouraged once more…

Yesterday, as a bolt from the blue, my course leader informed the current crop of second year students that there's a new way, enterprise. In a bold move, the journalism school has teamed up with the media technology school to give third year students the opportunity to run their own media companies. This module was already open to media tech students (graphic and web designers, software engineers) but this is the first time it's been available to journalism students. J-students will team up with these media tech students to form new media companies, teach them entrepreneurship, and incubate these new businesses. What a massive head-start this would have been for Ed Walker and BlogPreston if this was available to him a couple of years ago.

What the Hacks and Hackers events run by ScraperWiki have shown me is that great things can happen when journalism geeks and computer geeks team up. Skills journalists take for granted such as news values, communication and style are often lost on the hackers. Skills hackers take for granted like coding in Python can go way over the head of the journalist. But together some really great projects can be created.

I applaud my department for taking such a bold step and I'm going to grasp at the opportunity with both hands. I'm aware my year will very much be the test case/guinea pigs for this but when else will I have the opportunity to run my own media company with no risk if it fails? 
Only with universities (and hopefully more media companies) funding experiments like this, will the new journalism find a way.

Does this site exist? Travel/food blog idea


Pitch: A site that lets you create your own travel blog or food blog based on geolocation check-ins.

The site connects to your Foursquare, Gowalla or Facebook Places check-ins and allows you to select one to write a blog post about.

Travel bloggers can write about the places they've visited, food bloggers can write about restaurants. There's probably other uses.

The site using Foursquare's API could then post a link to the blogpost in the "Tips" for the location, allowing other users to access the post from the app or site.

Would this work as a platform itself, or would it just make a good WP plug-in?

Just an idea.

*attached mockup

Local news must save itself

As part of the great series of Harris Lectures put on by UCLan’s journalism department, we were honoured yesterday with the words and thoughts of Roy Greenslade.
Roy made every journalism student in the theatre jealous and disheartened with his tales of 1960s Fleet Street through to Wapping and where we are now.
Roy rightly asserted that there’s no one reason why newspapers are seeing sales plummet. It was refreshing to see a hack from the heyday of Fleet Street recognise that the internet isn’t the sole destroyer of the newspaper industry, though many of his peers do.
Having read his critique of the re-design of the Lancashire Telegraph’s front page I asked Roy whether newspapers need to accept more of the blame as to why their sales are declining, especially in respect to locals like the LT who are going increasingly downmarket.
Roy agreed they did. He cited the main problem was that local news has lost itself and lost any idea of what its readers want. 
“Local newspapers will go out and do surveys and find justification for whatever it is the editor wants to do. The problem is readers don’t know what they want.
“But what they don’t want is crime stories dominating the front pages of their local newspapers in large sans fonts. I spend six months of the year in Donegal, a place where six regional newspapers 
are in competition, and every day their issues fly from news stands. The news they report is much more gentler.”
I think he’s right. A local newspaper should be the voice of the community it serves.  One doesn’t foster a community by scaring it on a daily basis with hyped-up shock crime stories. This is a key difference between the national and local press which has been lost on corporatised regional publishers.  People do like reading bad news, as long as it’s not happening on their own street.
Preston was in the news this week for having the most crime-ridden street in the country, based on a map produced by Never mind the story was bollocks, some glitch with the system put all crimes committed in Preston city centre on one street. What did local Preston paper, the Lancashire Evening Post run with as its main story?  Yeah you guessed it. 
Did they contact local police officers to confirm the statistics like the BBC did? No they didn’t, they rehashed press release quotes from Theresa May. Fire all the defences at me “regional news producers are making cuts” “regional journalists are overworked and underpaid”, a five minute phone call would have changed this story.
If regional publishers want to turn their fortunes around, there’s a lot of systematic rot to combat. Blaming external factors doesn’t help anyone.

Entering the Public Domain

After reading this statement by tech evangelist and blogger Robert Scoble, I made the decision to make all my photos on Flickr and the words and images on this blog public domain.  That means I waived the right to assert any copyright on my words or images. But why?

The words on this blog and the images on my Flickr aren't making me any money, and they are not supposed to.  The web was made possible because people put content out there, without charging anyone to see it.  Wikipedia, now in its 10th year, was made possible by people donating their time, donating their knowledge and donating their CreativeCommons or public domain images.

I'm doing it to be a good citizen of the web. I don't claim to be a great photographer by any stretch of the imagination, but if I happen to have a photo useful to anyone, they can use it with or without attribution.  I made the decision to go CC0 (public domain) and not a typical non-commercial Creative Commons licence because I really don't care if I'm attributed or not. People who are good citizens of the web will attribute anyway as they would any CC image or content.  But some people never will, and that's fine, I'm just happy to have been of use.

The web is made better the more we open ourselves, share, and have access to ideas and content.  This is me, doing my bit.