About carolinebursell

18, half Swedish half Chinese, Journalism student at Kingston University. The technological world fascinates me. I'll be one who gazes doe-eyed at a wall of TVs, and yet it'll come naturally to me to send a quick tweet or edit a photo on my iPhone. Life is changing, our various pocket-sized helpers are advancing along with our escalating needs. Why not write about it? That's what I'm here for. Alright well, it's the world wide web so let's be honest now - this blog is a class requirement.... but I'm definitely not complaining :)

Muzzling the Internet


Is Leveson about democracy? Does it or will it address online media?

“The news media has a material impact on the direction of public policy, as well as the profile of companies and the confidence of markets. The gaze of the news media also has the effect of holding governments, individuals and organizations to account—or at least to scrutiny,” 

writes Andrew Currah in his ‘investigation into the likely impact of the digital revolution on the economics of news publishing in the UK’ titled ‘What’s Happening to Our News’. Basically, the news media have sat themselves on a pretty big throne – one that, however, seems to have a wobbly leg that can tip power off the side instantly. With traditional and social responsibility on the line, as it always is when truth is the promise of journalism, we seem almost dumbfounded at the changes of the digital revolution – a weapon for success or one to topple the throne forever? “The digital revolution would appear to empower citizens and strengthen democratic engagement,” says Currah, and it’s hard to deny when technology gives rise to so many possibilities for whomever chooses to use it, but what is making everyone sweat at the moment isn’t democratic choices made by the audience, but controlling choices made by the press and its negative repercussions. “In certain quarters, the news media is not only failing in its civic function, but is also exposing citizens to sensationalist coverage, loaded with misleading and harmful information,” Currah’s chapter on ‘A democratic deficit’ concludes, a failure which gravely complicates working with political establishments and public figures, something which brought us Leveson.

In Emily Bell‘s article on the Guardian ‘The Leveson inquiry is irrelevant to 21st-century journalism’, she brings up major limitations to the very reccommendations which are meant to set limits themselves: “The relevance of the Leveson report in protecting privacy and curtailing the excesses of press behaviour has to be questionable from the outset, as its remit is both narrow and historic … Leveson deals with the nefarious ways of publishing personal information; it deals with the fallout of incestuous relationships run from the heart of government; and it deals with the personal cost of people crushed by journalism-as-showbusiness. What it cannot deal with is the regulation of the press in the 21st century.” The article mentions an exchange between lawyer Graham Shear and Lord Justice Leveson wherein the web of social media (Twitter and Google in particular) are “described as ‘an extension’ of existing media,” to which Bell has to say: “this is not true now and cannot be true in the future.” A comment on the article mirrors the difficulty of properly monitoring the biggest, most problematic presence there has ever been in the media: “I’m pretty sure that the internet is still impossible to control without resorting to China-level restrictions on it.”

Privacy and reputation seem to carry a price higher than gold (high enough for Lord McAlpine to sue almost half of Twitter), so with the internet and its boundless reputation-trashing power, will the UK eventually follow China’s tight-grip example? Will Leveson’s reccommendations have any effect when there’s still the world wide web to tackle? In any case, it’s safe to say I won’t be retweeting much until I know for sure.


The cost of closeness

Low cost, low return – is “hyperlocal” worth it? 

We’re all locals in some part of the world, and in these parts, the nature of our news consumption changes. Is ‘local’ news a practice where journalists have become too remote from their audiences? That is the argument of Ross Hawkes in his contribution to The Guardian’s ‘Local newspapers’ crisis’ in discussing what “hyperlocal” means, and why it works.

 “For all the technological breakthroughs and tools now available, no-one has yet replaced the ability of a journalist to get their nose stuck in and dig out a story.”

This, in Hawkes view, is the essence of “hyperlocal” journalism and the focused, interactive nature of such news in connecting with audiences and giving them what they actually care about and are affected by. Ultimately, he comes up with a theory of an “almost two-tier journalism” where mainstream media learns from local media to create partnerships – sounding pretty familiar, convergence comes to mind yet again (as it always does when journalism is concerned). The theory links to the idea that everything is converging, not only online and print media but audience and journalist, now even traditional and hyperlocal media.

To move away from the theoretical stance, a comment on the article put it into practical perspective: “I work for a Community Radio Station that launched 6 years ago. By rights we should have had no chance against both an established local radio & newspaper in our market. But the local radio decided to focus on the ‘region’ rather than the specific town it was based in & the newspaper centralised its offices & editorial team. Both broke the direct link between themselves & the audience – while we stuck with our ‘hyper local’ editorial strategy.”

Another living, breathing example which made this area of news more understandable to me is Richard Jones’s hyperlocal news venture in another instalment of the Guardian ‘Local newspapers’ crisis’ blog titled ‘my hyperlocal site was fine, but it didn’t pay’. In the text Jones tells all about his start-up of website Saddleworth News, including its rewards in getting truly and deeply into his area’s stories, but also its financial shortcomings.

Though Jones was not the one to continue Saddleworth News to this day, his conclusion was that its purpose and online content reached audiences like other local news didn’t – for example, for an election story, he interviewed each candidate in full and linked readers to the interview audio files, while the local newspaper published only short prepared statements from the candidates. Paul Bradshaw of the Online Journalism Blog is quoted in a Culture, Media and Sport select committee report titled ‘Future for local and regional media’ addressing “hyperlocal” agendas like Jones’s, saying For the hyper-local publishers, bloggers, one key element of quality is transparency. If you report on a council meeting, then you link to the full minutes, you put all of that in its full form.” 

But is full form the best form? The committee report also takes into account journalism in snippet form, namely the previews published on Google that redirect readers to original sources. In the report’s section about Google News it lists criticisms from journalists and organisations such as the Guardian Media Group complaining that Google profits from the journalism on its site and is a threat to local news – but, where would journalism be without Google? The Managing director of Google UK Matt Brittin puts it nicely: Google is a “virtual newsagent”, it doesn’t charge news providers anything, plus they give the opportunity for ads, and Google News itself doesn’t carry any ads. The concern of bypassing subscription systems is understandable, but for example, in my experience, the Financial Times has a good enough system that even though I’m stubborn enough to try and access articles from various outlets like Google, I can never get to the content without subscribing. So it’s probably not solely Google’s problem, or ‘wrongdoing’. Search engine optimisation and the use of Google is increasingly quoted as a boost for journalism, so why not local and hyperlocal news?  

With all the issues that face local and hyperlocal news, the gist of it is that its closeness to the audience and the richness of information that people living in its range will appreciate is great, but isn’t very economically viable. To sum up, using Richard Jones and his time with the Saddleworth News, hyperlocal news does work – but it doesn’t pay. So will it survive?

Social media: you know you want to

What should we think about social media?

It seems there isn’t a conversation or discussion on journalism nowadays that ignores the presence of social media – rather, its rise and its dangers are being applied in all circumstances, not insignificant of which is politics, shown in Nic Newman’s text ‘#UKelection10, mainstream media and the role of the internet’. The paper analyses social media’s involvement in the 2010 UK elections down to each party, as well as their techniques, successes and shortcomings. With Barack Obama’s recent re-election as US president, the paper’s core conclusions are proving relevant again, and from my experience using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr during the US campaigns, Newman’s statement that “social and digital media increased political engagement .. particularly amongst the 18–24 group” is increasingly accurate, even with an election not taking place in young adults’ home country.

Newman’s 2009 text ‘The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism’ describes how I perceive and engage with social media: “Social media, blogs and UGC are not replacing journalism, but they are creating an important extra layer of information and diverse opinion. Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and serve up a filtered view, but they are increasingly engaged by this information, particularly when recommended by friends or another trusted source.” As an active user of Tumblr and Twitter, I am reliant on those I follow to amplify news or feed me with perspectives to consider – for facts about the US election I still turned to mainstream news outlets, but to realise my alliance with certain candidates I took into account the personal testimonies of people on social networks. Newman’s paper explains a changing journalistic practice and predicts that over time, “social media sites could become as important as search engines as a driver of traffic and revenue” (it can even be argued that that time is now).

The ever-growing social network Twitter creates controversy with its unfiltered, cut-to-the-chase content, and as Newman recalls with the Telegraph’s live Twitter feed experiment – it can sometimes go south. Newman similarly talks about the importance of brand separation (using CNN and iReport as an example), the aim to protect journalistic organisations’ “reputation for trust and accuracy.” Alfred Hermida addresses the marriage of Twitter and journalism in his text ‘Twittering the news’, arguing that Twitter is an awareness system shifting journalistic norms, and that “microblogging systems that enable millions of people to communicate instantly, share and discuss events are an expression of collective intelligence”.

Despite all the resistance (Hermida: “New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd (2009) described [Twitter] as ‘’a toy for bored celebrities and high-school girls’'”) and danger that “social media technologies like Twitter are part of a range of Internet technologies enabling the disintermediation of news and undermining the gatekeeping function of journalists,” former journalist and now academic Charlie Beckett sums it up: “we’ve emerged out of that rather boring zero sum game and realised that it is inevitable and it is not a choice.” In Newman’s 2009 social media text, BBC Business Editor Robert Peston claimed he wouldn’t be moving on to Twitter any time soon, and yet now in 2012 his account @Peston has almost 200,000 followers.

I say it’s time to trust new media, and interlace journalistic practice with audience contribution not with a cloud of worry for our profession but with excitement over such a rich “supplementary dimension”.

Don’t worry guys, social media is FUN.

User-generated trouble

What is the ‘citizen’ to the ‘journalist’?

John Kelly’s report for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism called ‘Red Kayaks and Hidden Gold: the rise, challenges and value of citizen journalism’ raises several issues in determining the role of a journalist in a media environment pressured by reader demands and the influx of user-generated content (UGC), with audience involvement becoming a hot topic in the industry. The report defines ‘citizen journalism‘ as, in a fundamental sense, the “act of citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information.” If citizens then play an active role, this surely downplays the role of the journalist, who’s responsibilities are being shared – in Kelly’s report the weight of the journalist’s role is emphasised in saying the industry’s promise to tell the truth “elevates it in such a way that failing to live up to that standard can be especially damaging,” compared to other professions.

Now that we’ve established the importance of journalists, citizen journalism increasingly begs the question: what even is a journalist? Kelly’s report asks if it is now

“Anyone who creates something approaching journalism?”

The problem that sits with journalists is that the ‘approach’, the audience creating their own journalistic content, “has the potential to harm the established brand” or undermine journalistic values that working journalists have trained for. Personally, it is relatively easy to understand this sentiment; having studied the nuts and bolts of the title for almost 3 years now, I would pride myself on being able to determine quality content over someone who hasn’t had the training. Jane Singer’s chapterQuality Control: Perceived effects of user-generated content on newsroom norms, values and routines‘ in Journalism Practice focuses on this journalist insistence and belief in their role as gatekeeper, and that although citizen journalism can be a useful supplement it needs monitoring that newsrooms can’t afford.

Both texts take online growth, and the fact that publishing is easier than ever, into perspective – Singer writes: “arguably, if there are no gates, there is no need for anyone to tend them” while Kelly writes: “The media’s gatekeeper function was increasingly obsolete in a world where there suddenly were no fences.” How effective then is holding on to the gatekeeping responsibility? A point that caught my attention in Singer’s text was the comparison to the US and how “the contemporary technological and economic environments in which they work are similar.” Is rise of citizen journalism in mainstream US media (perhaps a result of less gatekeeping?) mirrored in the UK? I recall watching the New York Times documentary Page One last year and being impressed mostly by media reporter Brian Stelter, along with his enthusiasm for all things online, and the publication’s support of citizen journalism guided by their expertise. The New York Times has UGC-based The Local and Newsweek is going digital while the Guardian only discusses its citizen-involved future.

Whether the UK is on the same playing field as the US when it comes to citizen journalism, it is still a worrying presence to most that work in media, and culture blogger Daniel Montgomery puts it bluntly in a parallel situation: Would you entrust your teeth to a “citizen dentist,” or would you leave it to a professional?

Would you entrust your media to a “citizen journalist,” or would you leave it to a professional?

CHECK OUT: A New York Times video about citizen journalism in Iran

The online crossroads

Is new media technology the way out of the journalism crisis?

“The general assumption was that journalism would be revolutionized by new technology.”
“Was”, writes Steen Steensen in his blog series on the promises of new technology, arguing that journalism’s saving grace, the so-called fundamental change brought about by the internet, never happened. He argues that the influence of the internet is much less radical in shaping the role of journalists than originally expected. Those on the side of ‘technological determinism’ however, namely the reductionist theory that technology is the driving force of social development, would surely disagree. Similarly, Axel Bruns blogs on the view that “technology is seen as the only way out of the current crisis in journalism” – is it?

If Bruns is right and Steensen is wrong, why is there evidence that publications are less than enthusiastic about investing in using technology to its fullest potential? Case studies carried out by The School of Journalism at Cardiff University in a report about the Trinity Mirror’s online strategy paints a picture of stress, dilution and the decline of quality under the heavy load of technological demand. “Why is use of multimedia, hypertext and interactivity still so rare?” asks Steensen in his post, following up with “Is it only because online newsrooms don’t have the resources they need to be innovative?” Staff at the Trinity Mirror’s newsrooms would probably say yes, with findings in the report outlining journalist concerns with being spread too thin across content platforms, while at the same time receiving no extra pay or investment for much-needed resources.

We’ve now got adverse circumstances that make it even more difficult to define the internet and new technology as either a problem or solution. Do journalists even control the webspace in question? Robert Picard at the Christian Science Monitor (yes, I know, but bear with me here) argues that staff like the Trinity Mirror’s may get low pay, but that journalists actually deserve it. The value that journalists create, writes Picard, “is being severely challenged by technology that is ‘de-skilling’ journalists,” putting their jobs, and the command of online content, in the hands of almost anyone.

Will the internet then open the door out of a crisis or open a door to more problems?

The future is upon us

Is new technology an advocator of democracy? How much power do we have?

“The current crisis of journalism is weakening public understanding, and poses a threat to democracy” writes James Curran in his article ‘The Future of Journalism’, in regards to a widespread view among journalists. Is that the case, or is journalism misrepresenting democratic choices by “defending businesses and the police” for example, and in local papers’ case – “local elites”? It’s no mystery that old and new media alike are influential on many levels, but what is uncertain is how we should look at the increasingly large presence of new media technologies.

Curran mentions the view of a journalism Renaissance; believers would say the rise of web-based journalism compensates for the decline of the traditional, providing more content, information, analysis, and precision – hardly hurtful to democracy. He also gives attention to the term ‘journalism’ transforming entirely to become ‘journalistic activity,’ a professional-amateur network that gives the public more power than ever before.

Public power is a red thread in another of Curran’s texts, ‘Technology Foretold’, wherein he discusses the history of television whilst disproving technological hype, and how journalists produced misinformation about new media. The arrival of interactive television was no less than a promise broken, suffering from “underinvestment, lost money and was a consumer flop”. In the 1980s, “cable TV did not inaugurate an economic and social revolution,” he writes, but do different mediums of new technology have the chance to now?

Future Publishing‘s Mike Goldsmith puts his efforts toward ensuring app success, maybe the social revolution TV did not bring, on iPads and tablets (arguably the very attribution of new media) and said in an interview that to “extend the life of a brand”, especially outside the UK, it was beneficial not to go with print media, rather allowing publications to grow digitally, incorporating even ‘second screen’ applications that involve interaction and tutorials.

In retrospect, as is the frequent conclusion when discussing technological development in journalism, new technology gives birth to much more content and public cooperation than the exaggerated promises of television’s beginnings, and the future may well hold endless possibilities for democratic action.

Optimism is dead

How viable are news operations, actually, in this brave new world of technology?

In Paul Bradshaw’s post ‘How the web changed the economics of news’, a list of “changes” to be taken advantage of by news organisations is set out, the author’s how-to in reality-check format. Though his mention of ‘Measurability of users’ and ‘Digitisation and convergence’ hit home in explaining the usefulness of the web, holes in his arguments could give journalists that sinking feeling of industry failure. If ‘technology has reduced the cost of newsgathering, production and distribution to almost nil,’ then why are media organisations declining? Quality costs, but fewer are willing to pay.

Then we have Francois Nel’s ‘Laid Off Report‘, a collection of dismal figures and ominous forecasts (“this much is clear: the layoffs aren’t over”). The key focus here, however, is “traditional” journalism, and mixed responses from those who’ve been forced to say farewell to it. Bradshaw lays out the challenges and realities of a new media environment, and Nel’s report shows the realities in cold, hard numbers – through it all my optimism as an aspiring journalism is declining, apparently just like my chosen industry. Or maybe, honestly, I’m just confused with the overwhelming analyses and strategies about the business itself.

With endless words like these from journalists about journalism, and everyone clawing at tips on how to make it, maybe the trick to the industry’s survival is it continuing to talk about itself?