May 10

Bothering Berger

Going briefly backwards in time, en route to Qatar I spoke to the 20th anniversary conference of the European Journalism Training Association in Paris. The talk – “How do we teach journalism if we can’t define it?” – reprised the drift of the lecture to be found here and there is some Q&A material here.  (It’s not clear if the video of the talk itself is on the site; maybe you have to be an EJTA member).

The lively discussion which followed was an object lesson in the risks of strpping down an argument to a shorter version. If you find this blog or others a little egocentric in their wish to always have the last word, then have a look as an antidote at the early #ejta tweets from Guy Berger of Rhodes University.

For the record, I really hope I am not imprisoned in a siege mentality about journalists and journalism as they presently are. There are occasional attempts to defend journalism against the forces of change by saying that “we are journalism and what we do is grand and important and we should be protected from change” or by claiming that citizen or grassroots journalists have nothing to contribute. These arguments cannot succeed and will fail.

When I’m on my feet nowadays I try to look beyond the huge changes that technology and economics and to ask if there is a definable activity which can be called journalism and, if so, what should define the value that it adds. The very last thing on my mind is to erect a trade-union-style defence  or self-justificationfor journalists who don’t like the  way the world is going.

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Mar 10

Professor in pieces

One of the small changes I’ve made in moving to a university is to adjust to the fact that every time I stand up in front of more than, say, 15 people, I’m being broadcast. Not quite literally, but what I say is being tweeted more or less every time and livestreamed quite often. Nothing to do with me or anybody’s expectations of what I might be going to say. It’s just routine to tweet speeches and talks.

Without intending to, I ran a Twitter experiment last week when I did a formal, inaugural lecture (versions here and here)  lasting about 40 minutes to an audience of about 500 people. Because we were encouraging questions from abroad, one of our students (@heatherchristie) was tweeting energetically throughout.

She wasn’t the only one (see #isnewsover). Analysed as a platform, Twitter seems to have three kinds of use. As conversation: cheap, fast and with opportunities for haiku-like wit. My favourite from that evening: “best lecture foliage EVER”. As link spreading: a quick skim down a lot of short entries can give you the headlines and links to what you need to know. Lastly as work-in-progress summaries of a speech, debate, lecture or discussion. A lot of people retweeted a severe lecturer who said, when a number of students left during the Q&A to go back to their politics class, “don’t that when you’re doing this for a living.”

But the package of advantages comes with a downside. There’s a huge amount of repetition and endless distraction. Whether or not having several digital communications devices on the go at once is going to alter the way our brains work, I can’t know.

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Mar 10

The view from Gazeta Wyborcza

More comments on the lecture, this time from Gregory Piechota, the prolific speaker and commentator who is also in charge of special projects at the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Greg thought that my definition of the core tasks of journalism needed an addition:
1) I agree de Tocqueville was right about a social role of a newspaper, or journalism in general. But I think this role is not successfully survived by online communities. I am watching how social movements rise and fall online, and I am seeing they just need traditional authority (like journalism) so much to make an impact on reality. They engage people quickly, but they disengage too. They just cannot achieve their goals if not supported, guided, or led by something or somebody that is less anonymous, less crowded, less fluid. They just need an institution (in a broad sense) and I think this role can be held by journalism, hovewer there are some others who would like to play it.
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Mar 10

Is news over?

That inaugural lecture in full. A post tomorrow on the experience of having a 40-minute lecture twittered and tweeted. The video is here.

Mar 10

Brock webcast, livestreamed

I’m doing an inaugural lecture at City University London tonight and it is being livestreamed on the web at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/city-uni

Date & time: 1830 London time, Wednesday March 17.

The lecture title is “Is “news” over?” but it might perhaps have better been called: “What does “journalism” mean anymore?” It’s my attempt to define what we think we’re doing and what we should be doing. Text will be here tomorrow.

If you’re watching, you’re welcome and encouraged to email questions to the lecture chairman at isnewsover@city.ac.uk

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Mar 10

Pew: new and old media’s relationship

The Pew Excellence in Journalism project has a good note of six trends which have struck them in the past year. They zero in, rightly, on the way in which mainstream media haven’t quite worked out what kind of relationship they want with contributors to the news from outside journalism.

More on this topic and other closely-related ones in my inaugural lecture at City University London this Wednesday, March 17th.