Tuesday 26 January 2010

BBC blogs: Civilian casualties and 'See Also'

A couple of BBC type links for the end of the day:
  • The BBC's defence correspondent, Caroline Wyatt, explains the Corporation's approach to reporting civilian casualties in Afghanistan on the Editors' Blog.
  • A BBC blog called 'See Also' formally launched in December under my radar. It's an experiment in 'link journalism' and aims to be "a collection of the best of the web, including comment, newspaper editorials and analysis."

Tuesday 19 January 2010

What is breaking news?

Sounds like an easy question to answer, not least because we're always being told we are receiving breaking news, but it seems like a little bit more conceptualisation might help move forward some debates.

On the Online Journalism Blog, I implicitly defined breaking news as: the first publication of news material to a significantly sized potential audience.

I ignored the issue of whether 6 people read it or 6 million people read the breaking news and focussed on it being published first through a medium which could potentially reach a significant number of people.

I went for 'potential audience' because in theory only one or two people could listen to a radio news bulletin. Would it then be right to say that the news wasn't published?

Nevertheless, one problem with my approach is that there probably needs to be some sort of numerical threshold by which an audience could be described as 'significantly sized', even if it could perhaps vary depending on context.

Another problem, as Tom Calver rightly pointed out, is that most people still get their 'breaking news' from traditional media regardless of whether they might have been able to, (but probably didn't), access it elsewhere.

Here Tom's similarly implicit definition focuses on where people actually first receive news which is breaking for them. This leads us more easily to a more accurate representation of how audiences consume breaking news than if you start with my definition.

The theoretical difficulty with this approach is that we might have to introduce some sort of time frame by which a person would have to discover the news for it to be understood as 'breaking news'.

Somebody who reads a two-week old newspaper after being on holiday is not receiving 'breaking news' are they? You might argue that they are.

But if we extrapolate further you would have to argue that when I read a primary source in Christopher Haigh's English Reformations I am receiving breaking news about the 16th Century.

And if we do introduce a time frame for breaking news where should that end - after a few minutes, a few hours, a day, a week? (Presumably it has changed over time - for example 'breaking news' from battles in the American Civil War took several days to arrive)

Maybe the idea of 'breaking news' is simply a construct of journalists and, to a lesser extent, audiences. So another way of tackling the issue would be to ask audiences or journalists how they define breaking news and use their answers to formulate a definition.

All of these approaches have value but I think it's worth thinking about which definition you are using and what impact that has on your conclusions. I've certainly found it useful.

Monday 18 January 2010

BBC's Kevin Marsh: Keynote at News Rewired Conference 2010

Kevin Marsh at news:rewired 2010 from BBC College of Journalism on Vimeo.

A couple of things I picked out at the time with regards to blogging:

1. "Blogging has done more to change the way journalists work than anything else thus far."
2. "
Blogging has put expertise right up there."

Friday 15 January 2010

UGC online (and breaking news from Haiti)

Just left this comment on Paul Bradshaw's Online Journalism Blog, on a post entitled 'What is User Generated Content?'

I've reproduced it here for your pleasure/pain.

(It's certainly applicable to coverage of Haiti...)

One of the things I’ve been thinking and writing about is the fact that in the specific circumstance of reporting crisis situations, UGC published online inevitably breaks the news.

This is a fundamental change from the role of the “historical UGC” contributions that Paul alludes to in his post (letters to editor etc) and has significant implications for journalists as it threatens one of the pillars of their economic and cultural capital.

Journalists find themselves playing catch up in the breaking news game and incorporating these contributions into their own coverage becomes a vital part of the news process.

It enables traditional media organisations to retain the illusion of breaking news by re-publishing the UGC effectively as their own (even if they do highlight the origin of the source, link, etc).

It also forces journalists into new roles as curators of UGC on the grounds that the content being delivered is often the best or only news content available, particularly in the early stages of any crisis until they can get reporters on the ground.

Furthermore, journalists can add value to UGC through its organisation, presentation, contextualisation and distribution by mobilising resources and expertise on a scale that most UGC contributors do not have.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Follow the BBC on blogs on Twitter

Tracking the BBC on blogs using Twitter
You can keep track of discussions circulating about the BBC online by following the BBC_on_Blogs Twitter account. The feed is a collection of the delicious links selected by the BBC Internet blog:
"'BBC on blogs'" is shorthand for 'Conversations about BBC online, BBC iPlayer, the BBC's digital services and the technology that underpins them, including blogs, message boards and articles where you can comment'".
The BBC's Nick Reynolds explains more about the editorial process behind selecting the links on the Internet Blog.

All in all, a good idea and very useful for people me.

Monday 11 January 2010

Frontline Club: blogging and social media training

Just a note to let you know that I'll be running the Frontline Club's blogging and social media training course on 1 and 2 February 2010.

Hopefully it will be great fun and a really good way to get yourself started in online publishing if you haven't already. (There's funding available as well).

It is a 2-day course (contrary to the current confusion on the Frontline Club website) which will run from 10 - 5pm each day at the Club near Paddington.

Here's a bit about what I'll be teaching on the course:


Aimed at beginners, this intensive two day course will get you up to speed with the social media world. Using tools that are available for free on the web, you’ll learn how to set up a blog, and engage with social media to research, publish and distribute content. The course will also introduce you to several strategies for monitoring news and information on the web as you learn how to use RSS feeds and Twitter. By the end of the two days you’ll preside over the beginnings of a mini social media empire.

Main aims
  • Setting up and producing content for a blog.
  • Using microblogging for networking, promoting your content and as a personal newswire. Social bookmarking as a research tool.
  • Embedding photo and video on your blog.
  • Getting the most out of RSS.
  • Monitoring and verifying information on the web.

Who’s it for?
  • Journalists who are interested in getting up to speed with the social media world.
  • Anybody who wants to learn how to publish online.
  • People who are interested in monitoring breaking news and information on the web.

If you want any further information about what you'll learn, then drop me a line at I'm hoping to be flexible to what people on the course want to know so if you want to find about something that's not there, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

The course costs £265. If you want to book a place or enquire about the Skillset funding available for the course then email:

Friday 8 January 2010

How do journalists use Twitter to break news?

Do journalists break news on Twitter before they break it on their employers' media outlet?

Or do they wait to break the news (say) on live TV first and then tweet it?

Or do they inform their colleagues running breaking news Twitter accounts for media organisations and then tweet on their own account?

Or does it go up as a flash on the website or on TV first before anything else happens?

I could go on with these hypothetical scenarios but the point is: what is the hierarchy of breaking news outlets these days for individual journalists?

I suppose to a certain extent it must depend on what the breaking news is and possibly differing organisational policies.

In other sort-of-not-really breaking Twitter news, Sky is going to install Tweetdeck on its computers so journalists can monitor Twitter and, no doubt, break news.

Maybe this will have an effect on my questions above?

Wednesday 6 January 2010

On the gulf between academia and journalism

So it's been a while since I've posted here. 2010 is deadline year and the ratio of PhD to blogging is increasing in the PhD direction each month, week and day.

Which is a shame because blogging is great and many good things have come out of this blog and my Frontline blog.

I often think, too, that far more people will read my blog posts than my PhD. In a way the blog might be more useful to people than the PhD especially as by the time the PhD is published, (if ever), the world will have moved on a-pace and its relevancy significantly reduced.

I wonder if I should have put more of my research out on the blog along the way.

(Although I place the utmost importance on making sure participants agree to publication which does make it more difficult and there are various other contractual issues in my case that might not affect other PhDs.)

Professor Tim Luckhurst, I see, has called for journalism academics* to connect more with journalists by writing short essays rather than writing long papers that they don't have time to read.

This seems fine for established academics, and generally I agree entirely, but I've been told that not being published in the right places, and in the right format won't get me a job in academia come the end of the PhD.

If I say in an interview: I've published a lot of additional research on a blog, I've been told that will probably count for nothing. I might even be laughed at. To be fair, a lot of my blogging wouldn't come anywhere near 'research' but you get the point.

Generally, I ignore these warnings in the hope that they are unfounded (and I'm not certain exactly what I want to do at the end of the PhD anyway).

But if Tim Luckhurst really wants to change the institutional culture of academia then I would suggest there is a hell of a lot of work to do.

It's interesting Luckhurst notes that Piet Bakker's blog is slightly more useful than his recent research paper, because if I really wanted to get on in academia (from what I've been told) I would have spent far less time blogging, twittering and generally engaging with journalists and far more time writing papers that journalists will probably never read.

*I suppose you could stick me in this category even though I'm in a War Studies Department and generally disciplinarially confused.
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