One of the things we should get time to look at in the workshops in Week 3 is the news cycle – what drives it, and how it’s been changed by new media technologies. About four years ago, Radio 4 broadcast Making News, an interesting series hosted by The Independent’s Steve Richards on how news was changing. All of the episodes are still worth a listen, if for no other reason than it will give you an introduction to longer forms of documentary on radio, which I imagine many of you haven’t listened to that much.
Episode 2, The Endless Cycle, is a a good introduction to current debates around the news cycle. The episode focuses on how online news, in particular social media, have combined with 24 hour news channels to speed up the news cycle and create an environment in which it can be hard for journalists to step back and spend more time actually reporting and investigating stories. Things have only got worse since then, especially now that politicians and other people in power attempt to deliberately play to the speed and outrage that dominates the news cycle now.
This is something to think about in connection with ‘hamster wheel journalism’ analysed by Dean Starkman in the Columbia Journalism Review (this piece was referenced by Felix Salmon in his blog post Teaching Journalists to Read, which you wrote about in Week 1. Starkman argues that the speed of online media and the modern news cycle is squeezing out in depth journalistic storytelling. It’s quite an old post now, and not everyone agrees with him, but he makes a powerful case here.
One thing you could for next week’s class (Week 3) is read two pieces by Andrew Sullivan about blogging and consuming information and media online and make some notes about them. Ed will discuss the pieces in the class on Monday October 9th.
The pieces we want you to read are:
I mentioned ‘Why I Blog’ before – it’s from a while ago, when Sullivan was feeling very optimistic and positive about blogging and ‘thinking in public’. In the second piece, which was published last year, he takes a rather different view about online media…
Last week I asked you to start logging your media consumption and to think about how much of it was actually journalism. We’ll talk more about this on Monday during Session 2. One thing we will discuss is a deliberately provocative piece by Ralf Dobelli – Avoid News. The subtitle to the piece is ‘Towards a Healthy News Diet’ -Dobelli’s suggestion is that to move in that direction, you need to radically cut back on the news you consume.
He has also posted a kind of FAQ at the end of the piece, in the form of an imaginary interview with himself, in which he deals with objections to his idea. We’ll look at these in class and discuss them in more detail.
One of the things this module is designed to do is to get you reading/consuming more journalism. According to Felix Salmon, who used to blog about finance, journalism and online media in general for Reuters, most journalists don’t read widely enough, especially online. Have a read of his post Teaching Journalists to Read and think about what he says and whether you agree. It was written quite a while ago now – is it still relevant?
Another piece we will discuss in the first class is My Blog, My Outboard Brain by Cory Doctorow – this piece is over ten years old now – but is still relevant and interesting. Doctorow is an SF writer/online activist/blogger for Boing Boing. This is an early piece about what he gets from blogging.
One last piece we may get time to look at is Why I Blog by Andrew Sullivan – a journalist who started blogging early and built his own mini-media business. This is a piece he wrote a few years ago, when he felt very optimistic about blogging. It’s fair to say he has changed his mind a bit now – and we’ll look at a more recent piece by him later in the module.
One thing we might do today, to start things off, is look at a couple of ads for The Guardian. ‘The Three Little Pigs’ was done quite recently – in 2012 – and won lots of awards. ‘Skinhead’ was made just over thirty years ago – in 1986 – and also won awards, I think. Have a look at both and have a think about what the vision of journalism presented by each one and how those visions differ.
The net makes it really easy to find and consume a wide range of media. I'm not just talking about pure news here. You can read a vast amount of cultural analysis/journalism, comment, opinion, reviews and more online.
But, obviously, you already know that. However, are you really taking advantage of all the information that's out there?
One of the key skills you need to develop as journalists (whatever medium you work in) is media literacy and news sense. Whatever your interest (music, sport, fashion), you need to read widely and really get a sense of what's going on in your field, what stories are being covered by who and why.
Here are a couple of tools that will help you broaden the range of media you consume:
RSS Feeds You can use special news reader programs to subscribe to news feeds. It's a good way of scanning a lot of news/information in one go. You can also use web-based services to do something similar. We'll try out Google Reader as an easy way into using feeds.
News Aggregators Google News is the best known of these sorts of sites. It automatically gathers news stories from sources all over the world and organises them according to various categories. News aggregators can give you access to a wide variety of perspectives on big news stories (but not always – we'll talk about this in class). There are various other new aggregators that build on what Google News does – for example, Silobreaker and Newser. NewsMap is an interesting attempt to visualise the flow of stories on Google News
We're going to do a couple of things today.
I'd like you to set up Google Reader and subscribe to a few news feeds. Over the next week, I'd like you to use the service to track stories in a field/subject/area that interests you.
Also, I'd like you to personalise Google News. Set it up to track news stories you're interested in and use it over the next week or so. Next week, we''ll talk about how useful you found each service.