Telegraph Executive Editor on the Future of Journalism

On only our second day of the City Newspaper/Interactive course, after a morning’s workshop with eminent journalists and editors Paul Bolding andMaurice Chittenden, we were treated to a discussion session with the executive editor of The Telegraph Media GroupMark Skipworth.

Intimidating title aside, Skipworth struck an amiable figure. Stood in the far left corner of the room in a dark blazer and striped shirt, with a notable absence of Powerpoint presentation and lecture notes, occasionally sipping his carton of coffee or unassumingly shifting the chair in front of him, he spoke frankly and earnestly on his views on the changing industry and how to break into it.

He told of publications’ collective angst over when to “flick the switch” from predominantly print to online content, and noted that whereas previously correspondents felt that writing pieces for print was higher up the pecking order than writing for online, this notion has faded.

Online content most certainly has advantages over print, from greater engagement with readers to the speed of rolling news online, and from SEO and story promotion to the lack of space restrictions for copy length. Skipworth bemoaned, however, that online content loses the “serendipity of print”, the purchasing of a newspaper as a whole and turning each page with surprise and delight.

I must admit my elation at the opportunity of being face  to face with a national newspaper editor to ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask a national newspaper editor: What’s the future of your paper and of journalism when you charge for print content but give away online content for free? Skipworth’s answer revealed a far less nihilistic future of print than I’d always imagined it to be.  The Telegraph’s tablet and smartphone app subscribers – 350k, and counting – reveal a trend that readers actually want an online version of a printed newspaper instead of merely a website,but Skipworth does admit that it’s not as cut-and-dry as Tablet Triumphs Website: “The website is the thornier issue…[But] I’m not sure if a pay wall in the long run [will work].” What does work, however, is advertising, and with Telegraph.co.uk drawing in around 50 million unique website hits per month, of which two thirds are international readers, advertising on the site will remain lucrative.

The journalism industry is certainly undergoing a radical change, causing disquiet among established hacks as well as amateurs, but Skipworth was encouraging in his advice for adapting online and technological skills. Yes, the industry “are looking for digitally-savvy, creative people”, and yes, social media and video/audio skills are lauded, but  people make different contributions to different areas of digital media, so it’s best to go with what you personally feel comfortable with, whether you’re a blogger or a tweeter.

One message resonated loudest and clearest throughout the print vs. online debate: good journalism should never be compromised on, regardless of the form it takes: “[The Telegraph] has to dedicate time and resources to quality journalism. That has not changed. If we were not involved in quality journalism we would be out of business.” Conventional ways of moving up in the media industry may have disappeared, but no matter how forwards, backwards or sideways it moves, without good quality journalism, “both you and the industry will fall down”.

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Kony 2012 and the Bandwagon Revolution

This post was originally published on Impactnottingham on 25th March 2012  http://www.impactnottingham.com/2012/03/kony-2012-and-the-bandwagon-revolution/ 

My first thought – and indeed my first Facebook status update – was ‘I sense a bandwagon’. Within 48 hours my wall had been polluted with people from across my friendship spectrum ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ the same video and urging others to do the same. What really got my attention was the nature of the video – this wasn’t Angry Tram Lady or Teacher Beats Student in Rap Battle, this was a promotional video for a charity campaign.

With over 100 million hits in ten days, I probably don’t need to expand on the content of the Kony 2012 video. But I will expand on my opinions of it: how at first, it made me angry and how it then made me optimistic, and how it made me think about the changing faces of activism and apathy in 2012.

In a state of boredom I watched the video, and for at least the first half felt mildly nauseated. I found the video itself cheesy and overly earnest, with its opening ‘hard-hitting’ written statements in monochrome followed by the out-pan shots of the globe to highlight that we are all part of one planet! I disliked the resolutely sombre voice of the narrator explaining in the introduction (which reminded me uncannily of Lady Gaga’s opening speech in ‘Born this Way’) that ‘humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and to connect’, and I was irritated by the clichéd ‘yes-we-can’ scenes of the Kony crew doing good, and yes,enjoying it, punctuated by the uplifting ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ Mumford and Sons song, a seemingly mandatory soundtrack to any do-good moment. Most of all I was highly averse to the director Jason Russell’s cheap use of his adorable, butter-wouldn’t-melt toddler Gavin in saccharine scenes intended to highlight just how BAD Joseph Kony is: Russell explains to his son that Kony ‘forces [children] to do bad things’. Gavin, with his big brown eyes staring into the camera, replies, ‘that’s sad’, subsequently melting the hearts of millions of viewers and prompting the intended empathy.

It was these millions of viewers and sharers that I had a problem with, though. The intentions of Kony 2012 are wholly positive and should be applauded, but what I didn’t like were people’s sudden responses to what is, frankly, one horrifying problem in a sea of many in the world. If everyone cared that much, why didn’t they share information on Facebook about child soldiers before? What about the RUF’s Small Boys Unit of child soldiers in the Sierra Leone blood diamond civil war? What about the FNL’s army of child soldiers in Burundi in its thirteen-year long civil war? There are/have been child soldiers in Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe in Africa as well as in countless other countries worldwide- all in addition to those in Uganda which Kony 2012 draws attention to.

If half the people who claimed to feel so strongly about the issues in the Kony video actually did then I’m pretty sure they would have given some indication of this before the video came out. The Kony response to me smacked of false philanthropism, over-hype and viral craze, as well as the modern-day phenomenon of  people believing that clicking a button is equivalent to getting out there and actually doing something real to help a cause.

It was with these fairly cynical and admittedly vitriolic thoughts that I continued to watch the video. And then I changed my mind.

After watching the video I decided I was generally in favour of the campaign for several reasons. It seemed deliberately aware of how over-reaching it was, and the explicit references to Mercedes, Coca Cola and Dior made it seem specifically aware of what consumerist and materialist culture propagates: fame. The Western world is awash with media overload and the glorification of celebrities, but Kony 2012 intends for us to use this as a tool. Whether for better or for worse, we are good at making people famous, which is why it’s so clever of the campaign director to intend to ‘make Kony famous’- it has a zany twist to it which is far more appealing than ‘let’s stop Kony’ i.e. the imperative of virtually any other activism campaign.  I thought the ‘2012’ part of the campaign was very well thought out. Targeting twenty high-profile celebrities like Rihanna and George Clooney to Tweet and discuss the issue was bound to result in the video going viral, and it makes sense to target twelve top policy makers for action after the issue has been raised.

While following the Arab Spring for the past twelve or so months, I’ve been struck by how amazing it is that people of all ages are prepared to go out every day and literally risk their lives to fight for what they believe in, and I wonder what people in the West would do if faced with a situation like that in Syria. Most of us are arm-chair activists and button-clickers: we go about our day to day lives, and our equivalent of activism is sharing a link. It’s sad that in Syria the average nineteen year old right now is out on the street risking his life for democracy, while in the UK the average nineteen year old is probably on Facebook, but I think the Kony 2012 campaign understood contemporary youth and what activism in the internet era is. I know myself and many others would usually have bypassed the link on our wall, let alone have watched the entire thirty minute video (a light-year in the age of one-click gratification and minimised attention spans). But we did watch it, and something in it made us realise that we can do our very small part, even if it is just posting a link and sharing in order to raise awareness. One small step for the average Facebook user, one giant leap for 21st Century Western apathy.

If this Kony campaign works, who’s to say we can’t achieve the same results using the same strategy? While I disagree with some of Kony 2012’s means, and while I think there are hundreds of other causes deserving of equal attention, I feel excited at this new way of approaching global change for the better. So, I’m sharing the video. Not because I feel it’s more deserving than any other of the hundreds of campaigns we see (and aspects of the campaign are emerging as being deeply flawed), but because I’m excited at the prospect of being part of something different-something that might just work- to bring about global change. I’m excited to see what (if anything) will happen on 12.04.2012.

What I like most about the Kony campaign is that it intended for itself to be a Facebook bandwagon: something which blazes through cyberspace and creates a lot of attention in a short space of time before the fire dies out. This decade, this century, indeed this millennium (still so very young) has produced some mind-blowingly world-altering events in such a short space of time, and history is being written before our very eyes. The Arab Spring’s achievements are unprecedented. Who’s to say we can’t bring about similar change? It seems only natural that if a revolution in the West did occur, it would be through the media of social networking, mass-consumerism and celebrity culture, but if it works, it works.

Will Kony 2012 achieve its aim? Only time will tell. Is it a sound campaign? Debatable. But it’s shown a new and powerful method of globalized activism and pricked the consciences of many apathetic people worldwide.  Is Kony 2012 a bandwagon? Most certainly, but being a bandwagon is exactly its strength and the reason for its global popularity. The crux of the matter is how long people will stick with it. What we need is a bandwagon revolution, and not a revolution bandwagon.

Sian Boyle

From Blogrolls to Sphinn Apps

As I make my first tentative foray into the world of blogging, I know what I’m up against, and the odds aren’t stacked in my favour. As of 16th February 2011, there were over 156 million public blogs in existence, so as I start out, this blog from little old me is just a drop in the ocean. Secondly, several studies show that most blogs are abandoned after they’re created (some 60%-80%, according to various internet sources) and that few are regularly updated. In fact, the ‘blogosphere’ is often referred to as an iceberg: several popular blogs which are updated regularly and viewed by thousands, and then millions more which are dead or dormant. I’m in the largest demographic of bloggers (53.3% are aged between 21-35) but as a UK blogger I am dwarfed by those in America: 29.22% of the blogosphere is composed of US bloggers compared to  the 6.75% British (followed by a measly 4.88% in Japan and 4.19% in Brazil).

 

So, there’s an overcrowded platform, a high failure rate, extensive peer competition and I’m in a minority global demographic…it doesn’t exactly scream ‘Success!’. Still, it’s not all bad news. Blogging has single-handedly changed the face of journalism and the media, and has allowed grassroots journalism to flourish, giving people anywhere a vehicle to express an opinion and showcase their writing. New Media has had print journalism quaking in its boots for a good few years now, and has forced it to innovate, progress, and generally keep up with the pace, but before the old Fleet Street hacks hang up their hats, one indelible fact remains: the good thing about blogging is that anyone can be a journalist; the bad thing about blogging is that anyone can be a journalist.

 
There are far too many blogs out there which feature posts such as ‘One day I decided to feed my cat’ or ‘It rained for a bit so I took out my umbrella’; in short, those millions of blogs which lurk in the murky depths beneath the tip of the iceberg. I intend with this blog to be the latter part of the blogging iceberg, but only the incorrigible number of website hits will be the judge of that.

 
I must confess a further impediment to my success as a blogger: I am literally the least computer-  and technology-literate person ever, with most of the middle-aged population putting me to shame. I’ve only just really grasped what ‘streaming’ and ‘buffering’ are, I’m still amazed at the print-screen function on a computer, I don’t know the keyboard shortcut for copy+paste and I need supervision and guided assistance when downloading anything. In short, when faced with a technological issue, I panic and go running to the nearest friend for help with “this computer thing”, so entering this fast-paced and high-tech arena is for me like being a baby chick who’s just emerged from her shell, blinking and fragile and unused to the world around her.

 
In my defence, the lexicon of the internet and today’s technology is enough to send even the most foolhardy of prospective techies running for cover. I’ve had to get my head around widgets and gadgets, around Digg, Sphinn and Blogspot, around avatars and Androids and wifis and wikis. Then there’s blogs, blogrolls and the blogosphere and Twitter, tweeting and the Twitterverse, along with Tumblr and Flickr (what happened to the humble ‘e’?). Finally there’s feeds, podcasts and hashtags, not forgetting all the countless logs, tags, apps and any number of seemingly gobbledygook words that confirm that yes, tech-speak and the technological word is as intimidating as we had first feared.

 
Incidentally, what on earth was the hashtag even for for about twenty years? It used to be that defunct and useless button I’d mistakenly press on my Nokia keypad instead of ‘wxyz’, and now all of a sudden it’s had this nouveau resurgence in the twenty-first century, hustling its way into the Twitter glossary as an integral part of its functioning, and as such, making itself a household name.

 
So reader, I’ll cut to the chase: what will this blog be about? Time magazine, in its 25 Best Blogs of 2011, states that “a basic fact about blogging: the best way to show you love a topic isn’t to write it a love letter but to treat it in an uncompromising manner”. So, no more odes to blogging, but what I do love is writing, so this is what this blog will be: a well written divulgence of up to date news and uncompromising views, of insightful features and informative analysis, of anecdotal tales and investigative journalism.
This blog is the new hashtag. So watch this cyberspace.