Friday, 30 November 2012

Has Leveson Logged Off?

The blogosphere is unsurprisingly swamped with responses to the publication of the report from the Leveson Inquiry - that Sword of Damocles suspended over the head of British media. 

Or, more accurately, the PRINT media. 'Dead Tree' journalism as it is routinely and scornfully referred to by disciples of the other mediums of communication - yes, even in this so-called 'multiplatform' age. The divides between television, internet, radio and broadcast journalism have never been more keenly felt than when the knives came out for the pariahs of Wapping and Fleet Street. 

Indeed, many commentators - such as the Wannabe Hacks - have observed Lord Justice Leveson's failure to include the quasi-press entities online in his recommendations to the government for media regulation. George Berridge of WH expressed his surprise thus:
True, the inquiry was set up to look at the print press but, Hell, when we’re spending £5m why not at least try and cover the web?
There are two responses to this. Firstly, web journalism - blogging, tweeting and social media reporting - was simply not on the stand. The catalyst for this Inquiry was the scandal exploding out of the News of the World, illuminating dodgy practices across News International even as the editors and executives desperately tried to bail out the dirty water.
At fault were some of the flagship titles of the British print media, which still remain the greatest source of news for consumers, which can influence government policy and practice (never the same thing), and which have become traditional institutions which command respect far and above the sort of work that, say, Guido Fawkes does. 

This isn't to condemn Paul Staines and his work, which certainly has its place. Indeed, he was a witness at the Inquiry, but his input was of a sideline commentator, describing the action as it happened on the field Leveson was judging - that of newspaper journalism. 
Staines wasn't being accused of hacking voicemails, blagging personal details, or any of the crimes laid at the Murdoch's door. So - for the moment, anyway - online journalism simply doesn't deserve the Leveson gunsights training on it. 

Secondly - the attitude of 'try and cover the web', with the remnants of the £5m spent on Leveson pursuing the world-famous publications which led to a 2,000 page report, indicates a dangerously optimistic opinion of success. Or a dangerously simplistic idea of how the internet actually works. 

To try and tackle the concept of legislating, even trying to control and corral the vast, chattering, rambling masses of online news producers, will be a herculean task. I cannot even imagine where to begin with such a task - but if it is to succeed, it will signal a landmark legal, cultural and social turning point in our online history. 

The internet is a vast, vital, lawless, perplexing, intimidating and invaluable place. Deciding how we proceed in this entirely new world is not something to be tacked on carelessly to the side of an equally crucial Inquiry into 'dead tree' journalism - which as we've established, is far from being woodchipped just yet. 

Let us concentrate for now on how best to regulate print media, how to put the old house in order, before we even consider the challenge of controlling the new.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

On the Shoulders of Video Journalists

Last week I submitted my final report for my TV Journalism module - this year, excitingly enough reduced to run less than a single semester to replicate the pressures of a conventional TV newsroom.

Since starting my degree course, I have been fascinated with the TV modules and consistently applied, enjoyed, and done well. Not surprisingly, as being a television journalist has long been a dream of mine. When other children were imagining being footballers or hairdressers or train drivers, I wanted to be a cameraman.
As a precocious eleven-year-old, I visited the Eureka! museum in Halifax where they had a fully functional TV studio, and I soon took charged, shepherding baffled children into place and squeaking out camera orders in tiny, unbroken tones.

"He'll be a director one day!" remarked one parent, probably trying politely to convey "Your child is a terrifyingly bossy control freak." Nevertheless the prophecy was born out, and I have twice produced and directed news programmes on my degree course.

Additionally, I have filmed any number of stories, and if not come to understand, then at least agreed to an uneasy truce with the powerful but inflexible AVID editing tool. Outside of the Gallery and the edit suites, however, my tutors observed my singular nature and tendency to 'lone wolf' off with my reporting - and despite my lack of team player spirit, I always rationalized to myself that this was how video-journalists were expected to work now. I am reporter, camerman, soundman, editor and presenter all rolled into one exhausted figure, lugging tripod, JVC and boom mike around West Yorkshire. Not for nothing did I title this blog post 'on the shoulders...'

Many students come to a journalism degree course with an express intention of qualifying for a set role - I believe I've spoken clearly before on the hordes of Sports Journalists. I set out with no more desire than to discover what I enjoyed, and what I was good at, by attending the course.

I enjoyed beyond expectations the finding, filming and finishing of news stories. Hopefully my marks will bear out my ability as well as my enthusiasm. Soon enough, my youtube channel will be updated with my latest productions so that you can draw your own conclusions. 

Have I decided then, what role I want to follow? It's still up in the air, and graduation is still the other side of some final deadlines... Not to mention the dearth of jobs in the sector for budding video-journalists. But without doubt, it has been the side of journalism I have enjoyed the most.

Mind you, the decision might be made entirely for me - my colleagues were dismissive of me as an anchor because of my long hair, and if asked to choose between fame and flowing locks, well, that's a decision I don't want to have to make...!

Monday, 1 October 2012

The News They Want

A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. -- Attrib. to Mark Twain, but more possibly Charles Spurgeon
Everyone has that person on their Facebook feed who passes on 'news' stories that are full of hilarious unlikelihoods, righteous judgements or disturbing xenophobia. To any half-trained journalist, such writing should trigger warning signs all over. 
Howerer, these 'stories' - formerly the province of chain e-mail forwardings - are starting to slip through the undefended borders of traditional media. Of course, since the watershed of Nick Davies we all know that overworked journalists don't have the time to verify the stories they're printing. But in turn, they're validating hearsay and hoax by including these tall tales in print media outlets.

This picture turned up on my news feed recently, and immediately sent me across to Snopes, the definitive fact-checking website for all these urban legends - and journalists should immediately develop a weather eye for an article written in this style.

Indeed, this very story had been flagged before, and explains baldly that it is a mixture of truth and fiction, with the final - suggestive - paragraph, a later addition. Of course, it chimes with people because of its instant karmic conclusion to a heinous act.

Therein lies the greatest failing - that make-believe stories like this will continue to spread because, and I quote people whom I've told are passing on fake articles, "I'd like it to be true."

People are a willing audience, ready to be engaged. The onus is on the journalist to see this story, immediately reject it as false, and go out and interview the Marine involved, get the truth, and write an equally engaging story that doesn't tarnish the whole process of newsgathering.

I'll be the one person on your news feed who is posting links to Snopes articles, just trying to turn that tide.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

UC Davis, the Pepper Spray and the Occupy Protestors

Currently doing the rounds of Facebook is an enlightening blog post on the recent release of the Reynoso Report into the infamous pepper-spraying of passive student protestors at the University of California in Davis, America.

The blog criticises the frequent communications breakdowns and misunderstandings by University authorities and security services, as well as alledging some worrying oversights in terms of what campus police officers are permitted to do. It makes for interesting reading, but as with all independant bloggers, it bears considering with an open mind and the necessity of evidence.

Of greater interest to myself as a journalism student, is the response to the release of the report through the international media. I did some digging to see how various news outlets covered it, at least online.

Firstly, I turned to possibly the most recognisable voice in the Western media, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Their coverage of the UC Davis report? Nothing since the incident, back in November 2011. Even trying additional combinations, such as 'Reynoso' or 'California Pepper Spray' either return nothing or unrelated stories. A similar search at Channel Four News also returns nothing since November, whilst the ITN website oddly offers no search function.

Examining the print press websites, staunchly left-wing, liberal-attitude British broadsheet The Guardian ran an article on the same day as the report was released, available here.
Crossing the floor, I searched through the website of The Times, a flagship title of both the UK and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Whilst their website is barred to non-subscribers, it is possible to search their article history at least. A search on 'UC Davis' or 'California Pepper Spray' both turn up the same results - no articles on the incident since November last year, when it occurred.
The same goes for the other NewsCorp title in the UK - The Sun, which published an article on the 21st November, and since then hasn't come back to the topic.

Trailing behind The Sun, which is the British newspaper with the highest circulation is the Daily Mail, who published a surprisingly sympathetic article - given the Mail's usual conservative, right-wing and pro-authority stance. Even more surprisingly, they followed this up with another article looking into Lieutenant Pike - the officer at the heart of the incident - and his history with campus police, as well as reporting on the response from notorious internet-based activists, 'Anonymous'.
However, since November of last year they have not returned to cover the topic, or discuss the release of the report.

I decided to cross the ocean and see how the American national media was covering the latest development in one of the famous stories to emerge from the Occupy movement. To my surprise, I found that Fox News, a foundation stone in News Corporation and infamous for its severely conservative viewpoint actually returned to the story in February 2012. They produced a short video story on how several of the students sprayed and arrested in November lodged a lawsuit demanding damages for violation of their civil rights. Of less surprise was that since that story, a search for related articles on both date and relevance turns up nothing new.
In contrast, Cable News Network ran a lengthy article on April 11th this year, the same day as the report was released. It appears that CNN is also famous for its 'liberal bias' - the wikipedia article is sourced here as a directory to the various articles and claims made on this basis, rather than evidence.

Running through the American print titles, the New York Post had nothing new, whereas sister paper in the News Corp Empire - the Wall Street Journal - did indeed carry an article that isn't available to non-subscribers. A search using Google turns up a vast array of American regional titles carrying their own stories on the report, and that is where my own article began.

I found the initial blogpost, and decided to see how it was being reported in the wider media. That's how I discovered the surprising silence emanating from some of the biggest news reporters in the West. Quite why this story is being buried is another question that deserves consideration by all of us together.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Leeds Trinity Journalism Week - Conclusion

Well, #ltjw wrapped up last Thursday, and immediately after I fell foul of some horrible stomach complimant that briefly resembled appendicitis enough to alarm my GP. I hope no-one else leaving the week-long conference suffered as much as I did over that following weekend and into the next week. Typically of course, I promptly caught a cold directly after so this is the first chance I've had to drag myself back to the work left undone since then!

Firstly, you can follow this link to read my liveblog from a talk given by Richard Peppiatt, former Daily Star reporter and tabloid factotum. A recording of his lecture can be found on youtube and you'll be able to navigate to entire talks given by other speakers from the @JournoWeekLIVE account.

So the accounts of what took place are widespread and easily accessed. What were the impressions we took away from this remarkable lineup of journalistic commentators and contributors?
In short, nothing is more valuable in the current media climate than experience. Many of us had just returned from a six-week foray into the professional world as placement students - I've referred to some of the work I did at regional paper the Yorkshire Evening Post. The repeated message from our speakers was to go further, and grab every chance to create content that will give you skills and experience.

Social media was of course touted as the platform of choice, especially in an entertaining and eye-opening lecture on mobile device-enabled journalism by Chris Payne, better known as @documentally on twitter. The future of more traditional media was reassured by BBCbigwig Mark Easton, who sees established broadcast journalists as gatekeepers of hard facts in a world of information overload, but even he said "if you aren't blogging and tweeting, what are you doing?"

We touched many times on the implications of the Leveson Inquiry, including a very frank talk from former News of the World journalist and current freelancer Chris Tate. He took the surprising position of defending the fallen paper, currently at the heart of the some of the worst excesses in tabloid reporting and unethical collaboration with the authorities. From his point of view, the NoTW had a mission to hold the powerful to account in a country with a notoriously weak system of checks and balances. Whether or not it achieved that goal will be decided by the Inquiry.

I put some of Chris' opinions to notable tabloid apostate Richard Peppiatt in his discussion with us towards the end of the week, as linked above. In a balanced response, Richard acknowledged the work the NoTW achieved working with individuals who had suffered and used media exposure to benefit their campaigns - but cautioned us against forgetting the many more who wanted no contact from the vulture-like circling of 'hacks', citing examples such as Chris Jefferies, pilloried by the media after briefly being suspected in the Jo Yeates murder.

As well as where journalism can end up, we discussed in great detail where it can start, and concluded that it can start anywhere, at any time! For Dave Simpson, long-standing Guardian music critic, he freely admits he fell into it and had no prior training. Many of the questions from students were - how important is this degree I'm spending time and money on, then?

The final Q&A, with recent graduates from the university's Centre for Journalism, addressed that question in a panel setting. The alumni explained that a qualification proves your grasp of the theory, and may attract an employer's attention, but if it can't be backed up with hard, proven experience in the real media world, it simply cannot stand on it on.

Any spare time needs to be given over to interning, volunteering, blogging and tweeting to make a name for yourself. There may be less jobs out there for prospective new journalists, our guests told us, but the editors and directors, producers - and consumers - are just as desperate to hire the new talent as ever.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Leeds Trinity Journalism Week - Ongoing

As well as tweeting like crazy (you can follow me @timLinkinister) from #ltjw, I've also turned my hand to live blogging on the University's official blog.

You can read here my coverage of the talk from Nicola Rees, a Video Journalist from BBC Leeds, and over here is my blog on Christian Payne, a Social Media and Tech Commentator.

From twelve today I'll be liveblogging again, this time for legendary tabloid apostate Richard Pepiatt, so make sure you're monitoring the blog!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Leeds Trinity Journalism Week 2012 - Mark Easton

Auntie finally got a look in this morning with Mark Easton, Home Editor of the BBC. He was candid about his entry into journalism - "I've never applied for a job in my life." He described his career as a skydive, and encouraged all of us to grab opportunities where we could.

Turning the tables somewhat, he asked the audience why they wanted to get into journalism. Excellent way to shut up a room full of hacks, nobody tell the politicians. There were some admirable goals - "hold the powerful to account" and such - but I kept quiet, as I thought "Being sent to review gigs" wouldn't really stand up in this Leveson-dominated era.
He praised those of us with high-minded ideals, and recounted how his tour of duty on the ink, paper and whiskey-soaked Fleet Street in the eighties had knocked some of the starry-eyed optimism out of him. It was telling that people chuckled more at his straight-faced comment about journalists looking to make an "honest dollar", than there ever was at his rolling oratory on booze-soaked hacks of yesteryear.

Reading occasionally from his book Britain, etc. Mark mentioned the 'Westminster bubble' of politicians, lobbyists and journalists who essentially set the entire national news agenda. He also referred to our responsibility as journalists to the 'numbers' - statistical news - and accurate reporting of science, two crucial matters which have often brought the media's reputation into disrepute.

He opened the floor to questions, and was immediately hit with the moral responsibility of journalists to follow the law when reporting. Reflecting on the constant grinding of the Leveson Inquiry, Mark said "there are going to be times when journalists frankly need to break the law" but qualified this remarkable statement by saying that journalists who do deserve to be prosecuted.
A formal and viable defence of Public Interest should be introduced to deal with situations where a journalist has acted in the greater good by breaking the civil - and even criminal? - laws of this country.
Is the PCC a toothless watchdog then? Yes, he responded without hesitation. The media needs a regulator with more cojones he said, reminding us that he - and the BBC - work under the scrutinising eye of Ofcom, a much tougher regulator.

Looking to the future, he advised us that "statistics are where it's at" and fully supported the moves to offer training in data reporting, a theme I feel will be echoed by many speakers in the wake of the latest Wikileaks release.
Mark turned a critical eye on regional media, which is a favourite bugbear of the Corporation, and stated "local papers are rubbish at holding local government to account", accusing them of being "entirely driven by advertising."
I tweeted this controversial opinion to the editor of our regional (who secured my placement last month) and Mark quantified his statement to us both later this afternoon - "Arguing local paper industry not where it was in holding local democ to acct."

Mentioning twitter, Mark urged enthusiasm in all forms of social media. "If you aren't blogging, tweeting, WRITING - well, what ARE you doing?" He knows the future will be in social media. So where does that leave the traditional media that he and the regional press use? It'll be the "stick in the sand", a lynchpin in a shifting, confusing world of cutting edge new media. Not a stick in the mud, I clarified on twitter.

It was this traditional media as well that was at the heart of the problem in British journalism - that the balance of privacy is just not write. He spoke disparagingly of the "unforgiving firestorm" of press attention that can destroy careers and lives when people who happen to be in the public eye make a personal mistake. A very humbling point of view I felt. I was also driven to ask if glorifying tales of whiskey-fuelled reporting wouldn't end up breeding a whole generation of replacement Alistair Campbells, but Mark was quick to clarify that the 'golden age' of Fleet Street caricatures was long past.

Instead, he urged us, disregard these tales of fewer journalism jobs being available and more applicants gunning for them. Employers are just as desperate to find some shining new talent, as you are to land your career in the field. The chances are there!

He concluded with words of encouragement for those of us spending thousands (or racking up thouands in debt) to be qualified as a journalist when a mobile and a twitter account allow the 'citizen journalist' to scoop an exclusive just as easily.
He said "The definition of a journalist is becoming much looser. It basically depends on the quality of material being provided." Never discount the ability to analyse and interpret the material, which is actually what we're trained for.


That blog post went on for longer than I was intending! I'll write up the talks from Peter Salmon (BBC) and James Ball (Guardian) in a new post later on.

Leeds Trinity Journalism Week 2012 - Jon Snow and Harry Gration

It's another week of high-profile journalists and media experts visiting Trinity University to guest lecture to students, staff, and various sly operators who have finagled a guest pass.

Whoever planned the schedule must have done so at the conjunction of the solar system, because we began with the undisputed heavyweight champion of broadcasting, Jon Snow of Channel 4. He spoke with the authority of a man who began with actual magnetic film, went through reel-to-reel records and the lethal radiation-leaking ENG cameras to the modern media of today.
He glanced once or twice at the Twitterfall being projected behind him, commenting on the immediacy of contemporary news reporting - and diplomatically overlooked the hijacking of our hashtag by the spambots.

Jon's qualifications were slipped casually into conversation, but he has spoken with such names from history as Jim Callaghan, Harold Wilson, Idi Admin, and Margaret Thatcher - with whom interviewing was "a joust you always lost."
When I asked him if we should be making an effort to engage young people in politics, he countered by saying it was the politician's job to reach the young - not ours. And if they didn't, well..."let's have a coup."

I honestly believe Jon Snow just encouraged us to revolt.

Jon Snow ducks to avoid a storm of spam tweets and counter-revolutionaries

He was followed by his country cousin - Harry Gration, beloved face of regional news BBC Look North. Harry tapped a seemingly bottomless well of comedy anecdotes, recounting the many times he'd slipped and fluffed whilst starting out as a sports commentator. However he also made a heart-wrenching reference to the fire at Valley Parade stadium in which his own uncle was killed - and on which he attempted to report. Never forget the importance of detachment, he stressed to us.

A proud Yorkshireman, he lauded the construction of the BBC's Media City, and in the Q&A spoke positively about breaking the Londoncentric tendency of modern journalism. The corrupt tentacles of the Leveson Inquiry haven't reached regional broadcasting, so perhaps it's a move for the best.

That's just the very edited highlights from my seat on the sLinkecond row. For constant coverage, check out #ltjw and follow @JournoWeekLIVE, bookmark and watch the entire thing streamed live - including nervous questions - at

Talk about multiplatforming.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Trials of a Tim-tern

It's placement season for us Level Five (second year) Journalism BA students. I managed to pull a blinder by presuming on my twitter association with the editor of a certain regional paper. We'd met at the 2011 Journalism Week, and as one of my cohort's most prolific tweeters had caught his attention. We'd discussed a couple of issues via retweets and replies, and I went for broke when it came to applying for internships. He invited me to submit my CV, and a few gentle reminders thereafter led to my securing a week in the Newsroom.

Was there any chance of a second week I enquired? At the discretion of the newsdesk editor was the answer. Fair enough, I'm sure they're deluged with applicants. My hours were ten to four, very reasonable, and my newsroom mentor was a four-decade veteran with a mild crust of bitterness over sub-editor axing and speciality multiskilling. They found me a desk, plugged my details in and neglected to mention I wouldn't have an e-mail address with the paper. A regular stumbling block has been the ugly alphanumeric trash of my university address.

Nonetheless I had to use it, and before long – yes, you guessed it – I had press releases in my inbox. With the spectre of churnalism looking over one shoulder, and the shades of the entire faculty looking over the other, I proceeded to autopsy the PR puff. Here my skills seem to shine, as I ruthlessly disassembled sprawling submissions into sleek slices of newsworthy scrutiny. I would fire them back to the newsdesk as fast as they arrived.

So they upped the stakes – can I get 300 words out of a dull and bloated piece on family offers at local swimming pools? Cue the first of many tiresome tangles with the press department of LCC, where one person releases a statement that no-one else is aware of. All I want is a quote to spice up the read slightly. “A quote on what?” comes the response. Heaven help us all.

It's done, finally, and the newsdesk like it. They like it a lot. It's going to be a page lead, a full article on page nineteen. It's so good they'll give me the whole page, with two more NIBS I wrote going with it. Everything but the advert for conservatories is mine. Such an achievement!
It doesn't stop there – my name is going on the article. I've been in the building less than forty-eight hours, as an unpaid intern, this simply doesn't happen. The byline is the golden handshake of journalism, the presence you need to start breaking ground. Let's see where this takes us next, shall we?