Chapter 14 - Building a personal brand, and developing a specialism
Chapter 14 web version
In the book version of this chapter we will cover:
- What personal branding is
- Why good branding must start with good journalism
- The goals of your branding, and how to measure your success
- The places to build your brand: websites, blogs, on social media and on cv/resume/portfolio sites
- Why you need a Google profile and to be recognised by Google as an author
- Building your personal brand on Twitter
- Building you brand on Facebook
- Branding on LinkedIn
- And where else you should consider brand-building.
At the end of the chapter is a range of exercises and projects to enable you to practise what you have learned.
Here we will look at:
- Further examples of journalists who have built powerful personal brands
- Further detailed tuition in using the platforms introduced here.
Also:How to become a specialist reporter in 12 key fields including:
- International reporting
- Health, science and environment
- A guide to entrepreneurial journalism.
Always have the book version of Multimedia Journalism to hand while you use this website – the off- and on-line versions are designed to work together.
14B1 What a personal brand is
Explore more about the topic of branding for journalists at these links:
A series of articles on journalists as brands: www.pbs.org/mediashift/2014/04/special-series-personal-brand-journalism
Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald and the odd rise of personal brand journalism:
How personal brand journalism works in local markets: www.pbs.org/mediashift/2014/07/last-best-news-shows-how-personal-brand-journalism-works-in-local-markets/
14B2 Strategies for building your personal brand
Examples from the USA and UK of rows over Twitter accounts between employers and journalists.
An example from the USA:
An example from the UK:
Young journalists who have branded themselves effectively:
Josh Halliday: www.linkedin.com/in/joshhalliday
Dave Lee http://davelee.me/
But Joseph believes the days of successful personal branding are over:
Five tips for personal branding: www.journalism.co.uk/news/5-tips-for-personal-branding-on-national-freelancers-day/s2/a555177/
14B3 Further personal brand-building opportunities
Establish a cv/resume/portfolio site
Clippings Me: www.clippings.me
Journo Portfolio: www.journoportfolio.com/
Journalisted: This is a UK directory of journalists and their work. Established journalists are included automatically, but if you have yet to establish yourself you can set up a profile and add your work here: http://journalisted.com/
Complete your Google+ profile
Do it here: www.google.com/profiles
A step by step guide: http://searchengineland.com/the-definitive-guide-to-google-authorship-markup-123218
Google help on this: https://support.google.com/business/answer/4569085?hl=en-GB
- Create your Google profile, and add all the content platforms you contribute to
- Make sure your published content references you as the author.
How to set up Google Authorship on your Wordpress.org site
First, add your website under the Contributor section of your Google+ profile.
Then go to your Wordpress site. Make sure you have assigned yourself as the author of content. You should also fill in your profile, which is under
Users>Profile if you haven't done so already.
Next, go to Settings>Google+ and scroll down to the headings that begin with 'Google+ pages and profiles'.
In the box beside 'Google+ page ID' add your Google+ page ID – that's the long number within your page URL. Find it by opening your Google+ page and copying and pasting it in from the URL in the address bar into the box here.
In the box beside 'My Google+ Profile ID', paste in the long number from the URL.
Under 'Google+ author profile fields', tick 'yes' beside 'Add Google+ profile field to user profile pages' and beside 'Automatically add authorship links'.
Finally, ask Google to link your Google+ profile with your content by going here https://plus.google.com/authorship and filling in the details requested.
Two, fuller guides to setting up authorship:
Create a Google+ page
This link tells you how (you must be logged in to your Google account): https://plus.google.com/pages/create
Open a LinkedIn account
Building your personal brand on Twitter
Here's a checklist of what you should be doing.
If someone likes your tweets and wants to find out more they’ll turn to your Twitter profile.
You profile should be an important part of your personal branding.
In your 160-character profile make sure you:
- Include your photo, current job and location
- Cover what’s essential to your beat or area of expertise: what defines you
- Include keywords that describe your area of expertise so you can be found in search.
How on earth do you fit it all in? Not easy, but using short phrases rather than one sentence will help. Also:
- Include a link to your blog/website or portfolio site, and
- Use the header facility for a larger background picture.
Some examples of journalists with good Twitter branding:
These hat-tips come from Twitter's advice to journalists (https://blog.twitter.com/2012/best-practices-for-journalists).
They say: “Some journalists, producers and editors provide an email address as a way to connect with readers, viewers, or potential sources."
Here's the New York Times's Brian Stelter's Twitter profile:
And here's the profile of the LA Times's photo desk:
For more examples, check out 100 Twitter accounts every journalism student should follow, from journalism.co.uk. www.journalism.co.uk/news/100-twitter-accounts-every-journalism-student-should-follow/s2/a550471/
Building your personal brand on Facebook
Here's a checklist of what you should be doing.
- Use both the cover picture and profile picture facilities. There's a Mashable guide here on how newsrooms use the cover photo facility: http://mashable.com/2012/03/22/tv-newsroom-cover-photos/
- And some creative uses of the space here: http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/6_creative_ways_to_spice_up_your_Facebook_cover_ph_12656.aspx
- Try to use the same images across all your web platforms
- Use the About section to build your public profile, keeping it consistent with that on Twitter and elsewhere
- Use the apps area to bring your photography and video onto your Facebook page
- Also use the apps area to create links to your other social media accounts. Here's how www.facebook.com/help/172925542764476/
- Include your work experience and education record
- Use the Contact information slot to link to your blog or other most appropriate site.
- Help identify your beat by Liking pages that reflect that beat
- Join relevant journalists groups.
When posting status updates on Facebook...
Always post summaries and links to your stories on Facebook as soon as you publish them.
See your timeline as a record of the work you have done. Make sure you look good in it.
Anyone checking you out can use the timeline to verify what you write about, how long you have been doing it, and how often you publish stories.
You'll find Facebook's guide for journalists here: www.facebook.com/journalists
Here are Facebook's examples of journalists using timelines well: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.326056510739703.85672.206736659338356&type=3
Two examples of journalists with good timelines
Her timeline is here: www.facebook.com/anncurry
His timeline is here: www.facebook.com/SIPeterKing
Whatever the specialism you choose, there are general principles of how to be a good specialist reporter that we can apply across the board.
So in this general guide to specialisms we’ll start off by looking at how to be a specialist reporter.
14B4 How to choose your specialism
Choosing one that is right for you is a very personal process. But there are some things to consider as you do.
It’s a common misperception that you need a degree or professional qualification in a given subject before you can hope to cover it as a journalist. Although some specialists study the same subject at university, many don’t. That’s not to say your academic qualification can’t be relevant: a science writer with a science degree makes sense.
Many specialist B2B magazines and websites won’t expect journalists to have any knowledge of the industry they cover when they start – it might be
the paper industry
the pub trade
or any number of other business-to-business topics.
But, if you have relevant experience and interest it will help. If, say, one of your parents is a doctor, that could help your chances of getting taken on by a magazine catering for family doctors.
If you are covering, say, football or Formula 1, you’ll be expected to have a strong interest and enthusiast’s knowledge of the sport.
It’s often hard to persuade student journalists that B2B magazines are a good starting point to a career. In fact they can give you a great head start. You become a specialist straight away. Often, national newspapers, broadcasters and websites hire specialist reporters from one of the relevant B2B magazines in a given area.
If you want to write movie reviews and interview film stars for Empire, for example, you may dismiss the idea of working first for a movie industry magazine such as Screen International. You shouldn’t.
Literally thousands of newly qualified journalists want to write for Empire. Most of them won’t make it. What can make you stand out in that crowd is if you have developed an intimate knowledge of the movie industry.
So you can see B2B as a sort of apprenticeship in being a specialist reporter.
When choosing your specialism, here are some things to consider:
What qualifications do I have that will help me work in a particular specialism?
What interests and knowledge do I have that makes me a suitable candidate for a particular specialism?
What path should I take to my desired specialism?
Are there logical moves I can plot from my starting point to the specialism I want to cover and the media outlet I’d like one day to work for?
Some people change careers to become journalists in their late 20s or 30s. If you are one of them, you could consider writing about the business or career you have left.
14B5 International journalism
They used to be called foreign correspondents, now they are beginning to become known as international journalists.
That change is more than just semantics.
The old approach of embedding foreign correspondents involved sending someone with your world view, values and mind-set into foreign parts, and have them report on and, inevitably, interpret that country and situation as you would.
So being a foreign correspondent was often to present the world from your audience’s viewpoint. It was a form of colonialism – news colonialism.
With the developing idea of International Journalism, we are trying to move beyond that.
Think for a minute how sobering it can be to see the foreign coverage of your own country.
I know that when a German newspaper chooses to portray the zenophobic rantings of English red tops as representative of the nation, I don’t see that as being a true picture of my country, and its people, as a whole.
International Journalism seeks to bring a more objective presentation that blends input from native journalists in any given country with that from journalists from the country where coverage will be consumed.
It also tries to harness the huge power of social media, of our easy access to journalism from all over the globe, with citizen journalism and input from eye-witnesses.
With what we are now calling International Journalism, we are attempting to reinvent the role of the foreign correspondent.
We don’t need to restrict our reporting to the old colonial model.
These days, with the growth of online reporting styles that can combine a huge number of sources of information, it is perfectly possible to get a wider take on a particular story.
How new ways of reporting fuel truly international journalism
It is perfectly possible to create reporting that will include the output of professional journalists on a particular media outlet, and content from those from other media outlets. That includes international wire services, your own national broadcasters and newspapers, plus input from professional journalism sources within the country being covered.
And that’s before we factor in the citizen journalist or the eye-witness.
Given the growth in online, multimedia and mobile reporting tools, it seems to me that we need to develop a concept of international reporting that is far broader, and we’ll do that in a moment.
A future for the foreign correspondent
But first, where does the foreign correspondent fit in to all of this? Am I suggesting we abandon the idea of a newspaper, TV station or whatever sending their own reporter out to live in a country and learn how to report it effectively?
Well, no, because I think we’ll always want a take on news from a particular country and region that addresses our particular interests in it.
That said, foreign correspondents are a dwindling breed. Apart from the big international wire services – Thomson Reuters, AP, Agence France Presse and so on – most media companies are cutting back hard on having foreign correspondents based in a particular oversees country or region.
They prefer to parachute someone in if and when a particular country or region gets interesting.
Many foreign correspondents now are freelances or stringers, who have worked incredibly hard to establish themselves in the country they want to cover, and often barely scrape a living from it.
I don’t mean to disparage their work. Many of them are great journalists who add a good deal to the understanding of their adopted country. Often they are aware of all the shortcomings of foreign coverage that I’ve outlined.
I think we need such people, and if you’d like to become one, then I have tried in this masterclass to gather enough wisdom from correspondents to get you started.
Al Jazeera, the BBC and the growth of International Journalism
We probably have Al Jazeera to thank in part for the growing understanding of what International Journalism is, or could be.
Al Jazeera doesn’t only seek to give a Middle Eastern viewpoint on world events – although that is part of the mission. It also, through outlets such as Al Jazeera English, aims to cover the world locally, so that as the sun sweeps across the globe, the voices reporting are from the points it illuminates – both west and east.
It appears the BBC wants to lead this move into truly international reporting.
Peter Horrocks, the BBC’s Director of Global News talked to this point at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. You can read him in full here: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/2011/04/14/maintaining-the-relevance-of-international-journalism-bbcs-peter-horrocks-polis-perugia-speech/
One distinction that Peter Horrocks makes clear is that International Journalism is about offering a global perspective to local audiences, who will see you as a secondary source to their local outlets.
So to build a global journalism operation you need to hire internationally in order to cover internationally.
It’s the difference between exporting your world view across the globe and using local journalists to cover events in their own region from their own perspective.
He said: "We have individuals who come from the countries we are reporting and speaking the relevant languages fluently, working with our globally known English News teams. We have an increasingly bilingual workforce, able to operate in English and their own language. They are encouraged to report for TV, radio and online."
Multimedia, multilingual, multinational journalist teams
Horrocks went on to explain that the BBC asks its journalists to be multimedia and multilingual. These are the new watchwords, e-says, at the heart of the strategy for BBC Global News. He sees this as one of the most ambitious and innovative undertakings ever attempted in international journalism, and acknowledges that, alongside the great opportunities, there are risks.
How to become an international journalist
All this advice is gathered from currently practising foreign correspondents/international journalists.
First, here's a video introduction to being a foreign correspondent, featuring the BBC's Jill McGivering, and taken from the Insight-out blog
The best way to get an idea of what foreign correspondents do, and whether it’s for you, is to read and view them at work.
One easy way to do that is to take a look at the archive from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Foreign Correspondent show. Here's a link.
It has been Australia's leading foreign reports programme since 1992. They have and a story database back to 1996, which gives you a good overview of how one network sees the role of foreign reporting.
Its stories are regularly re-broadcast by networks including CNN International, Al Jazeera and NHK Japan.
Another good source of information, this time from the UK, is Channel 4's Foreign News Blog
Get some journalism experience at home first
It’s much better to gain experience as a reporter at home rather than trying to learn journalism as well as everything else in a new country.
That applies even if you’ve just left a journalism course.
Your chances of success are much higher if you hit the ground running as a reporter. That means having experience of finding and selling stories in a real-world, commercial environment.
It also means having contacts in place so you don’t arrive knowing no one, and with no potential markets for the stories you find.
Jason Motlagh works for United Press International. He has reported from West Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
In a post here he says: “While I had done some writing for my college newspaper, I had no formal journalistic training. To master the basics I spent five months as an unpaid intern at a news wire in Washington, DC"
Motlagh says that, when he became freelance, the skills and contacts he had gained were almost as important as the bylined cuttings that brought him credibility when marketing his services to major newspapers as a freelance.
How to pick a destination where you'll find work
Jason Motlagh says in this post that you should select a destination where a steady stream of marketable news can be expected, where competition is low, and which also has a low cost of living.
Venezula, he says, might be a good choice for a Spanish speaker. It's a cheap place to live, and its development of its oil wealth means there are good stories to report.
Any foreign correspondent will tell you that you must learn about “your destination”. You should read up on its history and current news stories. See what sort of stories are being filed from there, see whether they chime with your interests, and heck out the wider region to see what stories might present themselves if things go quiet on your new patch.
Jason Motlagh chose West Africa because:
- It is a traditionally under-reported region
- Few correspondents will put up with the difficulty of working there for long
- It's cheap to live there
- He had been fascinated with the area since childhood
- He speaks fluent French, so saving himself money on translators.
Get some clients lined up before you leave
You need to line up some clients before you leave for your foreign posting. It's going to be tough trying to pitch stories from thousands of miles away to someone you have never met.
Use any contacts you have, or simply cold call, all the relevant commissioning editors that you can find who have responsibility for sourcing news from the region you are headed to.
Be persistent if they don't respond at first and, once you have their attention, fix to see them or speak on the phone, to discuss how much they might be able to use you, and run through any specific story ideas you or they may have.
Don't forget less obvious news outlets, such as the trade press, and research what industries there are in the place you are headed. Think about opportunities for travel journalism, and don't forget radio and TV. Even if multimedia is not your thing, you can still offer basic radio reporting, and raw footage for TV.
Get out there
Deborah Bonello wrote a great post for Wannabe Hacks on how she became a foreign correspondent:
“I went to watch Lindsey Hilsum, now international editor at Channel 4 News, talk about her career at the Frontline Club. At the end of her talk, I asked her what she’d do now if she was an aspiring foreign reporter.
“Get out there and get on with it,” she said."
So Deborah did.
Lindsey Hilsum had done just that herself. She told The Observer: "My first story came from Central America. I wandered over by myself, typed it up and posted it to The Guardian. It was published several months later because it took a while to get there."
But she adds that you need to consider the potential dangers in reporting from certain areas of the world. Conflict and war zones are obviously dangerous places to report from, and you need to assess the risks – and get advice on how to minimise them – before you set out.
And she urges open-mindedness about the country you land up in. The worst journalists, she says, are people who go to places thinking they know what's right and what's wrong, which side is good and which is bad. You must be prepared to revise your opinions.
When you arrive
Start reporting, blogging – create your own online brand.
Deborah Bonello went out to Mexico on a three month trip, started a blog, stayed for years and has recently gone back there.
She says in her Wannabe Hacks post, which is worth reading in full: “After six months of working on the site in Mexico, and some pretty furious networking, I started helping the Los Angeles Times Mexico Bureau add video elements to their reporting, and eventually got taken on as a fulltime blogger and video journalist."
That work won here a job with the Financial Times back in London, but after a year there she missed Mexico so much that she returned to it.
Bonello says that creating her own online editorial brand was the best thing she ever did. The site won her many commissions, got good reviews and won her full-time jobs. However, it was also an unpaid labour of love.
Foreign stringers often cite their blog as a great vehicle for picking up work. If a commissioning editor Googles a place and your blog comes up, with evidence of the reporting you’ve done from there, it becomes a great business card.
Plan to stay for months, not weeks
It can take several months so learn enough about the country and how it works, and how the media works within it, to function effectively as a reporter. Jason Motlagh recommends having funds to last you at least two months.
Get work experience on a local paper or wire service
If you can get your foot in the door at a news outlet that is covering the country on the ground, even if it is unpaid, you’ll learn invaluable things about how the press and officialdom operate in your chosen country.
Whether it’s the local Reuters or AP office, or a daily or weekly newspaper, you’ll meet journalists and see how they operate. You’ll make friends who can help.
If you show you can do it, you might get an assignment. Do it well and more could follow.
Be ready when a big story hits
You want to be the person asked to step in when a big story breaks, or simply when help is needed. But to do that you need to know the local stringers and bureau chiefs, and they need to know you are up to it.
Work even when you don’t have work
You need persistence to make it as a foreign correspondent. If you don’t have assignments, work even harder than when you do. Be checking with contacts, reading your RSS feeds, Twitter and other methods you have for monitoring. Find stories and, if you can’t sell them, put them in your blog.
Who covers what where
There’s a handy map at this link of US journalists who are reporting from abroad, compiled by American Journalism Review.
They say of it: "American Journalism Review compiled data on the number and location of foreign correspondents employed by major US media organizations. Detailed data from the Associated Press was not made available. The data is accurate through July 2010.”
Here are the Washington Post's foreign bureaux: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/foreignbureaus/index.html
New York Times foreign bureaux are listed here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_New_York_Times_employees
You'll find a list of BBC correspondents at this link (you have to scroll down a way) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_BBC_newsreaders_and_reporters
14B6 Political journalism
So how do you become a political journalist?
What aptitudes do you need? And what experience during training and in your first job?
Some are fascinated by politics from an early age.
Sometimes an early interest in politics develops into a desire to stand for elected office or otherwise get involved in political activism.
For others, a fascination with how politics works, and how politicians operate, transfers into an interest in becoming a political journalist.
The bottom line is that, if you aren’t interested in politics you are unlikely to have the stamina to learn all that you’ll need to know about how political institutions, and political processes, operate.
When you get a big event like a general election, all sorts of reporters who aren’t political specialists get drawn in. So having a working knowledge of politics, politicians and how local, regional, devolved national and Westminster government works is very valuable.
But why should you want to make political journalism a part of your training?
After all, only around a quarter of those eligible to vote do so in local elections, so their interest in local politics might be seen as minimal.
Invaluable experience at the local level
What you’ll get from covering local government may not be a lot of scintillating stories, but you will see how democratic institutions operate, the form debate takes, and the sort of stories that come out of such meetings. In Chapter 1 of MMJ, there is a quick demonstration of getting stories from council committee meetings.
Local authorities are responsible for housing, schools, social services and things that touch everyday life in important ways. And in more mundane ways: recycling, street cleaning and public health.
And while national government is far removed from local, you’ll learn a lot from covering grass roots politics.
You’ll learn to make contacts, and how the authority works, with its range of committees that scrutinise the minutiae, and probably an executive system or cabinet that determines policy.
You’ll learn that the press office can be useful for getting factual information but useless when you need good quotes or explanations of policy from elected members. You’ll also learn to distinguish between officers and elected representatives.
You will see how political party apparatus works at a local level: the councillors, the local MP and his agent, and the prospective candidates. Come an election, and you get a microcosm of the national campaign, with many of the big issues reflected on your patch.
A general election may bring a flying visit from a party leader or, if you are in marginal seat, more than one leader visiting more than once.
Such visits can be a great opportunity for the local reporter. The visiting bigwig may be available for an interview. Indeed, his or her minders may be much keener to let you talk to them, rather than the national press pack. You’ll be seen as a soft touch, so if you are well prepared you have the opportunity to get them with their guard down.
To do that, you’ll need to be up to speed on local issues. You’ll need to know about local concerns – about the situation at the local hospital, in the schools, with crime – that the visiting politician won’t, and you may be able to blast a hole through their prepared arguments about big issues by drawing on what is happening locally.
One great way to see politics in action is via the BBC’s Democracy Live website www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/ .
It contains political reporting at all levels, with several live streams of debates running at any one time, plus recordings of other political events. You’ll find live and recorded speeches there, the proceedings of important committees, proceedings from the Westminster and European parliaments, plus the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies.
Monitoring Democracy Live is a great way to get material to practice political reporting.
So getting a grounding at a local level is great – but how do you progress from there?
Specialising in local government
One way, if you are on a local newspaper or local radio, is to specialise in local government.
Covering a local political patch, which will also involve you in big national stories, is a great way of developing – and demonstrating – your capabilities as a political reporter.
As an example, take a look at Paul Francis, the Kent Messenger’s political editor, and his Paul on Politics blog.
It is described as containing: “News, views, gossip and analysis on Kent's political scene, from County Hall to Westminster".
You can check it out here: http://blogs.kentonline.co.uk/author/Paul%20Francis.asp
Some regional BBC TV operations, and independent ones, have a regional political correspondent. The BBC's London Political correspondent is Tim Donovan and you can read about him here: www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2004/08/10/presenter_tim_donovan_feature.shtml
Not that covering borough or county council committee meetings is what most who think about political journalism have in mind when they consider a career in this specialism. They’re probably more likely to think of Wikileaks, and the sort of stories that can rock governments.
Becoming a Westminster political reporter or lobby correspondent
Covering national politics is often the goal of those interested in political reporting. In the UK, their ambition is likely to be to become what is known as a lobby correspondent.
The UK government's parliament.uk website defines lobby correspondents like this: "Lobby correspondents are journalists who have special access to Parliament. They are allowed into the Members' Lobby, which is how they get their name. They are able to talk in private to MPs and Ministers and also meet the Prime Minister's Press Officer regularly. They are very well informed about what is going on in Parliament but they usually keep their sources of information confidential".
You might prefer to remain a general reporter and work your way up to a national newspaper or broadcaster before specialising at that point. That’s another tried and tested path.
So is the one that takes you from a relevant B2B magazine, perhaps Local Government Chronicle (www.lgc-magazine.co.uk/) or Total Politics (www.totalpolitics.com/) – a free glossy plus website that caters for elected representatives at all levels of our democracy, from council to devolved parliament, UK parliament and Europe.
Increasingly, specialists including political specialists are finding their way from niche publications to national, general ones.
The rise of the political blogger
But there is one way to gain recognition as a political journalist without following any of those routes.
Political bloggers have become an established part of the political reporting scene, prime among them Paul Staines who writes the Guido Fawkes blog (http://order-order.com/).
How to find and tell political stories
To be a good political journalist you need to know where to find stories. Stories come from sources, so you need to know the right sources.
You also need to know what is important, and how to operate. For that you need judgement.
Sheila, former Times political reporter and spin doctor to John Major writes in her excellent (So you want to be a Political Journalist?) about the essence of what makes a good political journalist, and gives the example of Phil Webster, former Times political editor: “Phil…is in a class of his own. At the merest whiff of a story, he would start to categorise it: Interesting? A real problem? A crisis? [Webster now writes the Times Red Box politics newsletter.
Gunn goes on: “At whatever level you are covering politics, you need to develop the judgment to gauge the level of importance of a story."
To do that you must follow news and politics from an early age, and subject political stories to close scrutiny.
Finding political stories
If you are a lobby correspondent, your week begins with a hunt for stories in the Sunday papers.
They have a good deal of political content. There are stories floated there by politicians to see what the reaction will be.
Then there are catch-ups and developments of what have been running stories over the past week and which daily journalists haven’t had the time to dig to the bottom of.
And there are the scandals that break in the Sunday tabloids.
The Sunday TV shows, including the Andrew Marr Show on BBC 1 at 9am, often set the political agenda for the coming week, or at least for the first couple of days. Politicians use these shows to float stories, or find a story forced out of them by the interviewer.
From Monday the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 seeks to set the day’s news and political news agenda. It has politicians – party leaders, senior cabinet ministers and others in its 8.10 political interview slot.
As with every other specialism, you need to be monitoring the broadcast channels, newspapers, websites, blogs and social networks pretty much constantly, and to be locked in on the movers and shakers and commentators who matter.
So your wire service feeds, Google alerts, RSS feeds and other social media monitoring tools need to be in really good shape.
Then there are the phone-ins – on radio – or panel and public-participation shows including Question Time on TV. From those you can often get a sense of what ordinary people think of political developments, political characters and stories with a political impact.
You also need to be on the ground as much as possible too. You need to meet contacts often if they are to give you anything. The pressures to stay at your computer can be huge, but you can’t beat being in the coffee shops and bars and other areas where representatives gather or relax.
And that’s quite apart from all the documents – the green papers, white papers, reports from commons committees the lists of questions to be asked in the Commons that day
There are twice-daily lobby briefings – where the prime minister’s press secretary briefs lobby correspondents.
Developing political stories
Once you’ve got the whiff of a story you have to build it. In order to do that you must have the contacts, and their personal numbers on your phone. If you’ve got the mobile phone number of a key player you may get the story before a rival who hasn’t got that number.
To investigate and gather a story fast you need to know who has the information you need, and who can speak to you. Key among them are special advisers, often known as SpAds, and government press officers. They have distinctly different roles and can help you in different ways.
SpAds (www.civilservant.org.uk/spads_homepage.html) are appointed by the party in power, and are distinctly different from government press officers who are non-political, unbiased civil servants. Press officers can’t brief you on announcements before they have been made to parliament. SpAds can.
SpAds came in with Tony Blair, when he won power in 1997 and came to represent much of what was wrong with the politics of spin. When David Cameron became prime minister in the coalition government of 2010 he kept them, but gave a speech to them in which he warned that briefing against other ministers would result in instant dismissal.
SpAds are hugely valuable contacts for Westminster political reporters. They can give the advance briefings which are essential for a reporter to understand and be prepared for a big government announcement.
For a fictionalised but revealing demonstration of how special advisers work, get hold of Armando Ianucci’s brilliant The Thick of It TV series: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0031ASVC0/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_3?pf_rd_p=103612307&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0340937068&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_r=0GHM19F05BJZ1THRF2Z3
Of course, SpAds are spinning a line, and it’s up to you to take this into account. In his chapter of So You Want To Be A Political Reporter?, Colin Brown gives this example of how they work: “On the Friday of the week preceding the cuts announcements of George Osborne, the chancellor, the SpAds [coordinated]…the advance briefing exercise for the weekend press and broadcasters.
“Sunday newspapers had lots of speculation about defence cuts, transport cuts, and benefit cuts, but they were given the details of one clear story, briefed by a SpAd: there would be a crackdown on welfare benefit fraud. As a result, the Sunday newspapers all ran stories which were remarkably similar. The Mail on Sunday splashed with the headline: ‘Three Strikes And You Are Off Benefits’.”
The benefit for the reporter was they could report the cuts story with some confidence, the benefit for the government was they got a positive spin on things, and avoided stories about a litany of damaging cuts."
That was just one skirmish in one battle in the long war of the process of cutting expenditure.
Because political reporting can cover so many different areas – from health or education to crime or defence, a political reporter needs to be able to tap in quickly to experts who can tell them what the legislation means and what its impact will be.
A political journalist is often struggling to establish what impact a particular announcement will have. Will it bring higher taxes? Will it have an impact on jobs, on inflation, on crime rates? In short, why does it matter for the audience? And then, less importantly, does it have political impact, is it a u-turn, does it represent a split in a party or, in the case of coalition government, of a refit between parties who are sharing power?
So having great contacts among SpAds is vital.
But being successful on a story isn't always down to the reporter him or herself. News management has become a fine art in Whitehall. Favoured journalists will be fed information. They may get it because they or the media organisation they work for has proved itself to be ‘on message’. They may be fed it as a favour for which the politician will expect a favour in return.
Telling the story
In print or tablet, on a serious newspaper, you may have a dozen or more political stories in an issue. On TV news it’s more like three or four a day, and that’s in a main bulletin. It might be just one on the local news opt out.
On TV or radio you’ll do a mix of live reports, two-ways with the news anchor, pre-recorded packages.
You might do a hybrid, standing talking live to the studio and cueing in a pre-recorded interview or mini package to your live report.
Often politics isn’t visual. To tell many political stories in ways that bring home to the viewer what it means for them, you need to use people – the budget, for example, needs classic nuclear families, a retired couple, a single person and so on to illustrate the impact of particular spending announcements.
And politics is prone to the curious TV tradition of getting the reporter to stand in the dark outside the place where a story happened several hours ago. No matter that 10 Downing Street has shut up shop, they stand before that closed black door, or on the steps of the town hall where, hours ago, a big decision was taken.
Often you are telling half a story – you’ve got an off-the-record steer that, say, someone will resign, or a vote will be lost, but the person hasn’t quit and the vote hasn’t yet been taken. For this reason reporting can merge into speculation and comment.
So that’s where judgment comes in. You have to follow your hunch, based hopefully on calling things right many times before, as to how things are likely to turn out. But often you won’t see a development coming, and if you call it wrong you’ll have to hold your hands up, however embarrassing it may be to admit on air that you were wrong.
Because parliaments have powers over so many areas of life – health, education, transport, crime, foreign relations – wars even – the political journalist can find they need to know a lot about many different specialisms (and specialists in those areas need to know about politics and how it operates if they are to give their audience a true picture of the impact of political developments on them.
So if education is likely to rise up the agenda, the political reporter needs to make sure they are up to speed on it.
Often that requires being able to quickly get to an informed person who can tell you whether the story you are trying to gauge is significant or not. So you’ll see a lot of effort to explain what a particular development actually means to, say, motorist, school teachers, employers or whatever other interest groups may be affected.
Political journalism needn’t be a man’s world: www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/06/political-journalism-alpha-male-world
Is political Journalism broken? www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-is-political-journalism-broken-1373.html
So You Want To Be A Political Journalist? www.amazon.co.uk/So-You-Want-Political-Journalist/dp/1849540853
14B7 Sports journalism
How to become a sports journalist
At Nike they have a slogan: just do it. The same could be said for becoming a sports journalist.
Learning how to do it is obviously important, and there are modules later in this masterclass about essential preparation and experience, but doing it is the key.
You should already be writing about sport when you apply for jobs – there are all sorts of opportunities.
Your local paper will almost certainly accept reports from local amateur leagues for either the paper or website.
Such reports are often pretty amateurish – make yours professional and they’ll stand out.
Try to get work experience from a sports news agency. Sportsbeat, (http://sportsbeat.co.uk) for example, covers 300 football matches a week, and uses many stringers who have come to their notice, often because those individuals pestered them for work experience or a try-out as a match reporter.
You don’t have to start as a sports specialist, and until recently most who finally became sports journalists went in via one of the general routes, often local newspapers where they moved in to sport as they were able to, probably volunteering for sports assignments and getting every opportunity to impress the sports editor.
Should you do a sports journalism course?
The emergence in the UK of a number of university sports journalism courses mean that a specialist channel has opened up.
In the USA, the National Sports Journalism Centre at Indiana University (http://sportsjournalism.org/) is among the organisations steering the teaching of sports journalism.
Paul Abbandonato is head of sport at Media Wales (www.walesonline.co.uk/), the umbrella company controlling the Western Mail, South Wales Echo, Wales on Sunday, papers in the South Wales valleys and Wales Online.
He spoke to journalism students at the University of Glamorgan about how to become a specialist journalist and how to succeed in your career.
Should you do general news reporting first?
He firmly believes that aspiring sports journalists should get a grounding in general reporting before specialising.
He went in as a general news trainee the South Wales Argus in Newport: “that grounding held me in terrific stead” because there is a great deal more to being a sports journalist than commentating on matches.
Sports news is a big component of general websites, newspapers, and TV and radio stations – whether sports-focused or general news outlets.
Sooner or later, as a sports reporter, you get a big story that’s off the pitch – the sacking of a national team manager, for example, and you need your news reporter’s training to operate effectively and get that story fast and present it well.
Paul says: “My advice would be, very strongly, anybody who wants to get into any specialist area of journalism, including sport, I really think you should do your news training for a couple of years first.”
Who's best out of these three?
He gives three examples of recent hires in his department: one who came to sport from a general news background; one who came in as a sport trainee; and someone else who went from a post grad journalism course to a couple of years on a sports news agency.
He says that, although they are all excellent, the one who did the news training stands out slightly.
On a big story, says Abbandonato, he would feel slightly more comfortable giving it to him because he has the broader range of knowledge of journalism.
But he adds that, if you have a passion to specialise in a particular subject, then you should go for it, because it can be very rewarding.
Abbandonato says he hands a lot of grass roots football and rugby games to freelances to cover. He recommends that if you want to cover such a game you will need to be persistent, because the field is quite competitive. Eventually your break will come.
And once you have your foot in the door, you have much more chance of climbing the ladder than you would as an outsider.
Some starting points
Daunted? Here are a couple of links to help get you over that feeling:
Finding sports editors
You’ll find a directory of newspaper sports editors here: www.mediauk.com/newspapers/people/sports-editor
Five reasons it’s still a great time to become a sportswriter
A post from Jason Fry at the website of the National Sports Journalism Centre, Indiana University: http://sportsjournalism.org/sports-media-news/five-reasons-it%E2%80%99s-still-a-great-time-to-become-a-sportswriter/
What you'll need to know about sport
When we talk about sport reporting we are really dealing with three or four major sports for the most part.
Depending where you are in the world, those sports will vary, but it’s really the big audience ones that grab media attention. That goes for broadcasters, print or online.
In much of the world, football is by far the biggest sport.
Certainly, in the UK, you’re looking at football way out in front for most news outlets, with cricket and rugby (both league and union) making up the top trio.
In the US, the top table includes football (American), baseball, basketball, and possibly soccer (that’s football in the rest of the world).
Depending on where you are and on what sports journalism course you take, you may be expected to have a reasonable knowledge of a number of other, lesser sports, such as: Formula One, golf, tennis, athletics, speedway, hockey, martial arts, judo, squash and badminton.
You are also likely to need to know how the main sports are administered – the involvement of governing bodies and sports authorities, plus the way government departments and local authorities can impact on them.
Reporting sport: the sports news cycle
There’s live reporting, of course, but that’s just one point – maybe the dramatic high-point – in what is known as the sports news cycle.
The cycle reflects the fact that we have stories designed to preview a sporting event, and also post-event reports that analyse, reflect upon, and gather comments about, the sporting event that has taken place.
Scene-setters and previews
They can be published several days – if not weeks – before an event. They discuss team selection, managers’ tactics, what is at stake, the ramifications of a range of potential results – anything that sports fans are interesting in discussing before a sporting event.
The information they contain can be drawn from press conferences, interviews, off-the-record briefings, analysis of statistics, or some combination of the above.
They are often designed to build up excitement and anticipation.
Live reports and running copy
Depending on the medium you are reporting for, a live report can be a commentary for TV or radio, a pretty much ball-by-ball text commentary for a website, or a half time and full time text report for a sports newspaper, TV or radio station.
Such live coverage requires a good deal of preparation. If you are reporting for TV you’ll probably want supporting statistical information at your fingertips: the results for the last number of times these two teams came together. As the pictures tell much of the story, TV commentary often includes a good deal of additional material.
With radio it’s different; the commentator needs to draw a word picture of what is happening and so is often very much caught up in the moment.
If you are reporting for a print publication, perhaps an evening sports edition (where those have survived), you are likely to have to file in a series of takes.
Typically, three or four paragraphs at the end of the first half, together with the current score line. Then another three or four pars towards the end of the second half, followed by the intro – and final score line – as the final whistle blows.
If you are covering for radio (and you might combine this with working for print or online) you could be expected to do a quick 30 to 90 seconds via phone at both half time and full time.
Delayed reports, inquest pieces, round-ups
When there is time to reflect on a game before filing, a reporter may be able to include quotes from a coach or players.
With football, the obligatory snatched talks with managers and key players give the first chance to gain personal reflection on a game. Such quotes can be fed into analysis.
In print, such reports may be for later editions, where an earlier one could only take a report filed instantly at the final whistle.
Often a reporter can take their original text, which contains that valuable chronology of the events in the game, and switch it from a chronological to a more sophisticated story structure.
They may also be able to throw the story forward – writing inquest pieces that focus on what a performance may mean for a player, manager or team.
There may also be the need for round-up pieces, which require the reporter to reduce a large amount of material to a series of bite-size chunks.
Following this cycle requires from the sports reporter a consistent interest in what they are covering, and an understanding of what the audience is interested in at each point in the cycle.
14B8 Celebrity and showbiz reporting
UPDATE: HOLYMOLY HAS NOW CLOSED, BUT IT'S WORTH READING ABOUT WHAT IT DID, AS A TRAILBLAZER IN CELEBRITY JOURNALISM.
The exponential rise of celebrity culture in recent years, and the interest in celebrity news, is a by-product of the rise of social media.
Celebrities have taken to social media as another stage on which to perform.
Here’s the historic context. Celeb and showbiz news was helped along the way by:
- The growth of reality television, where the very definition of celebrity was widened enormously;
- Rolling news channels with acres of air to fill;
- Political spin in which gossip gained traction in the coverage of government; and
- The rising power of the PR industry, where celebrities and media came to recognise their mutual interdependence and to barter to achieve the coverage each wanted.
All of this was fuelled by the public’s interest in celebrity.Mark Frith, former editor of Heat magazine and author of The Celeb Diaries, told the BBC’s website (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7773014.stm) that newspapers and broadcasters were slow to pick up on the public appetite for celebrity news and gossip: "There was an untapped market and the whole [Princess] Diana phenomenon showed that people wanted to read about people in the public eye.
"Posh and Becks was the start of the celebrity age.
"Editors have to decide which stories will engage their readers and they will not mourn for stories that they have not got room for."
The importance of celebrity and showbiz news is reflected in the way editors are increasingly drawn from the ranks of showbiz reporters. On a tabloid, it’s easily the most powerful fiefdom, ahead of sport.
The slowness to embrace celebrity news that Mark Frith mentions enabled numerous celeb and showbiz websites to become established on both sides of the Atlantic. Gawker, Perez Hilton, Pop Bitch and others that we’ll look at in a moment claimed the ground. Partly they succeeded because, in the UK particularly, issues of defamation were a very real restraint.
Traditional publishers and broadcasters were at a disadvantage because, while the upstart blogs and websites didn’t really care about being sued, the established publishers and broadcasters couldn’t afford to be so cavalier.
It’s come to the stage where tabloid media see their very existence threatened. If the websites can run the stories that people want to read – often unchecked, unverified and on occasions plain wrong – what are they to do? The answer, often, is that they go as far as they feel able.
In traditional UK media, the Sun's Bizarre pages are probably the most influential showbiz outlet, and have been for 20 or 30 years. The Daily Mail has sought to challenge that, with a major emphasis on showbiz in its online offering www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/index.html
But, to a substantial extent, such established media showbiz news has had to run to try to catch up with the new breed – the individuals who set up email newsletters and blogs that went much further in what they’d say about celebrities, and which have quickly become powerful media brands in their own right.
Take, for example, Holy Moly, one of a range of sites including Perez Hilton in the USA that take a guerrilla approach to showbiz news, ignoring PRs and press releases and the agenda that mainstream media often adheres to, and publishing largely unchecked gossip, which tabloid newspapers are too afraid to print.
Holy Moly was launched in 2002 by an anonymous journalist who was then working at Sky News. He ran it as a private message-board on a laptop concealed from his bosses under his desk.
It now says it has 1.7 million unique users a month, and Holy Moly is a profitable business, which has a separate arm which provides content to, among others, Channel 4 Music, Chelsea Football club, Warner Brothers and even Sky Mobile.
Holy Moly’s founder was asked in a 2007 Sky interview what impact he thought the rise of Holy Moly had on red-top newspaper gossip columns such as The Sun's Bizarre and the Daily Mirror's 3am, which were the traditional homes of the showbiz rumour-mill.
Holy Moly said: "Newspapers are so slow-footed that sites like mine caught them unawares. Before we came along they could sit on a story that they knew no one else had and use it when they had a slow day. That doesn't happen anymore because we can get it out there instantly."
Popbitch is another guerrilla celeb news brand. In an interview in The Independent (www.independent.co.uk/news/media/online/hot-gossip-ten-years-of-popbitch-1867311.html), founder Camilla Wright is described as “a twentysomething, Oxford-educated freelance journalist with a history of NGO work in Eastern Europe.”
The site started when she “pinged an email newsletter to 15 of her friends. Wright and her then-boyfriend Neil Stevenson, an editor at a fledgling entertainment magazine named Heat, were disappointed by the dearth of irreverent celebrity news."
They injected their mail-out with wit and wry comments, and featured off-the-wall music news, such as charts of the tunes most requested at funerals (number one was Celine Dion).
Wright points out that the media landscape was very different when she started Popbitch to what it is now. Newspapers did not contain blanket coverage of celebrities, and blogging was in its infancy. Publicists did not have the stranglehold they have now, which allows them to control and copy-approve features about their stars.
Popbitch was intended to be a Smash Hits for adults, or a Private Eye for the celebrity media.
They would look behind the scenes at things that weren't taken seriously by investigative journalists, and find out what secret deals were being done.
In 2014 it launched a monthly online magazine. The weekly newsletter continues with, they say, 375,000 subscribers and a 1,480,000 circulation per week (60 per cent of their readership say they forward the mailout to an average of six people each week).
Perez Hilton is Mario Lavandeira, and the Hollywood gossip site he founded in 2004 now has 8 million followers.
Here's a taste of his style from YouTube, and an idea of what sets Perez apart from most celeb journalism.
A profile in Wired (www.wired.com/) about Mario/Perez, whose real name is Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr describes him as being a fame-obsessed loner in 2004 who had just been fired from a reporting job at Star magazine. He moved from New York to LA, with dreams of becoming an actor. Unemployed and broke, he set up office at a coffee shop, and used their free internet to discover personal blogs and decided, as his life was too boring to blog about, he should set up one about those with more interesting ones. Within a year it had taken off.
The LA Times reported (http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jun/13/business/fi-howimadeit13) “Ads on his homepage fetch up to $54,000 a day, and his overhead is minimal—his only employee is his sister Barby, who fields emails and corrects typos. Which means he's pulling down millions a year."
The site now averages over 200 million page views a month, according to the Web ratings service Quantcast. Nielsen Online estimates that while visitors to TMZ.com, one of his main competitors, stay only 15 minutes, those on Hilton's site linger for 45 minutes.
Gawker’s another in the big league. Business Insider reported: Gawker Media is a New York-based online media company and blog network, founded and owned by Nick Denton, a British journalist and entrepreneur. It is the parent company for eight different weblogs, including Gawker.com, Deadspin, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, io9, Kotaku, Jalopnik and Jezebel.
Business Insider: “The company’s network of sites attract around 17 million unique users a month in the United States and about 450 million page views, The New Yorker reported in October. While Denton has not publicly disclosed Gawker Media’s finances, the New Yorker estimated annual revenues of between $15 and $20 million."
Gawker publishes between 50-70 posts per day of mainly celebrity and media industry gossip, sourced via a mix of original reporting, anonymous tips from media employees, and mistakes and faux pas its staff have spotted in news stories.
Celebrity news in the posh papers.
While it’s the red tops who have been hardest hit by the new breed of celeb sites, the serious newspapers also recognise their audience’s appetite for gossip.
The Guardian hosted this podcast called, portentously, Future of Journalism: Showbiz and gossip on the net.
You can listen to it here: http://audio.theguardian.tv/audio/1213802145446/6364/gdn.med.080618.bg.futureofjournalism_showbiz.mp3
Introducing the subject, host James Robinson says: “Whether you like it or not, celebrity culture is one of the defining characteristics of our age.”
But while 'serious' journalists may deride celeb and showbiz news, it can be handled in as grown-up a way as any other branch of journalism, as the discussion reveals.
One contributor to the audio, Moe Tkacik, features editor of US’s jezebel.com, a site owned by Gawker, sees celebrity as a means to a serious site: “We use celebrity pictures [because they are] the most easy to get, no-value-added, addictive substance available in terms of regular news feed”.
"We’ve used that to build up a website that’s about everything from politics and economics to sex and relationships”.
The steady flow of available showbiz news keeps people on the site, thereby satisfying advertisers, and freeing the team to go after other topics.
Celebrity news is changing the face of journalism, and may be helping women thrive in the trade, according to Elizabeth Day, a news reporter for The Sunday Telegraph and former Young Journalist of the Year.
Writing in the British Journalism Review (www.bjr.org.uk/data/2004/no2_day) she asks what is it that attracts so many young women to print journalism, and makes them attractive hires to newspaper editors?
She says the answer lies in the trend towards celebrity news in the print media over the past decade. This has opened the door to a new breed of female diary journalist.
She writes: “Whereas previously the diarist was synonymous with well-connected, middle-aged men with waspish tongues... the 3am Girls are the scribes of a new kind of fame."
Old-style celebrities, drawn from royalty, aristocracy and politics are less interesting than pop idols, footballers or soap-stars, she says.
Day concludes: "Who better to infiltrate this fast-paced world than a glamorous young woman, with the intelligence to use her feminine wiles?"
As the readership of gossip is mainly female, she adds, it makes sense to employ women who know what other women want.
How to do celebrity and showbiz reporting
So how do you get good at celeb and showbiz reporting? The short answer is: have great contacts, work really hard. The same is true for any branch of journalism.
So here’s a longer answer, drawing on what some of the most successful celebrity and showbiz journos have said about how they find stories.
Gordon Smart, former Sun showbiz editor and now editor of the Scottish Sun got huge attention when he broke the news of Madonna and Guy Ritchie's divorce. "Madonna & Guy: We're Divorcing", was a scoop that went round the world.
He told The Independent's Ian Burrell the tricks of his trade.
As Burrell writes, the suspicion among other showbiz hacks was that the story came from a phone call from one of Madonna's people: “Fingers were pointed at the singer's legendary UK publicist, Barbara Charone, by the enemy Daily Mirror."
However, Smart tells him his story was no mere tip-off but the result of much skilful negotiation by his reporting colleagues and senior executives.
One key element was the agreement that an official statement would come from the couple the following day, confirming the story.
He told Press Gazette (www.pressgazette.co.uk/node/46384) “I’ve felt as much like a marriage counsellor as a journalist...”
“But he insisted that his brand of showbiz journalism is a lot more sensitive than that of a previous Sun era: 'I feel like I’ve become the respectable face of showbiz journalism. That’s something I’m trying to do'."
He told The Independent's Ian Burrell the tricks of his trade in an interview that is no longer available online writing about the home-grown celebs Sun readers are most interested in. Also, getting the tone right. Smart felt that a lot of showbiz columns had become too bitchy and unnecessarily negative. He saw room for positive copy too.
Smart’s success is founded on building good, long-term relationships with those he covers. By championing a film, actor or band he gains their trust and loyalty so that, if they make it big, they will remember him favourably.
How do they do it?
Miranda Sawyer watched them in action for the Observer (www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2002/jan/27/features.magazine17)
She revealed a very gentle approach from the girls. When a 3am girl talks to a star, she observed, she doesn't really interview them: “She just chats nicely, asks how they are, what they've been up to, whether they're enjoying themselves, maybe drops in a daft question, like, 'What colour is Jennifer (Aniston)'s toothbrush?' to Brad Pitt ('Blue, like her eyes,' apparently). There's a bit of flirting, but, to be honest, not that much."
Rather, she goes on, the girls are friendly, funny and charming – ideal party guests in fact.
Parties and awards ceremonies are a good story-hunting ground, Sawyer says, because they offer an unstructured, less PR-monitored environment.
A string of five minute chats with celebrities can be spun into a page of gossip.
Sometimes they get much more access. Jessica Callan, then a 3am girl, spent a riotous three hours hanging out with Jordan, the glamour model, in Monte Carlo, in May 2001. Callan was there, says Sawyer, when Jordan snogged ER doctor Eric la Salle, and as she moaned continually about Dwight Yorke, the Manchester United striker and her [then] on-off boyfriend. Callan's account of the evening filled two-page spread.
3am girls also need a solid rafts of contacts, Sawyer reports. These include PRs, stylists and make-up artists who work with celebrities, bar staff – anyone who might have a story.
Mr Holy Moly, the anonymous man behind the site, told Sky News that good contacts are the key essential: “I find it really insulting when people like Perez Hilton make out that the whole thing is about them, as if Perez, or whoever, does everything himself. Actually, he doesn't. He relies on sources feeding him stories, exactly the same way I do."
Holy Moly has “150 amazing 'moles', who send him stories”.
And those stories aren’t all about A-list celebs, by any means: Holy Moly gives an example of one story he was sent an MP3 recording of a film critic talking to a prostitute. He ran it, he says despite the fact the vast majority of his audience would not know who the man was, because it was still a funny piece of gossip.
Holy Moly says he would rather do a really funny, exclusive story on a virtual unknown than run yet another 150 words on a big star – many other sites offer that.
Being able to run stories that have been around for a while but which mainstream media haven’t dared to touch is another staple. Holy Moly told Sky how he broke the news that [then] BBC director-general Mark Thompson had once bitten a newsroom colleague on the arm. The story had existed as a rumour for years, Moly says, but he stood it up and was able to publish it.
He got the story because one of his sources forwarded him an email from BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman to a producer. He says sites as Holy Moly and Popbitch will prevail over corporate media because they will publish with fewer checks.
But that doesn’t mean no checks at all. He has to be confident in the reliability of his source. He says he knows instinctively whether a story is true or not, depending on the quality of the source.
His knowledge of the industry also enables him to gauge accurately whether a story is true, or whether someone has stretched it.
Popbitch is responsible for a new sub-genre of showbiz gossip: the blind item.
These are unattributed tales about anonymous celebs laced with clues as to their identity. Co-founder Camilla Wright told Tim Walker in the Independent "It's a fun way to tell stories that are either too boring or too libellous if you actually name the person involved."
The bitch bit of the Popbitch name, is actually misleading. The general tenor of Popbitch coverage is fun, Wright says in the interview. They may prick the pomposity of stars, but they do it with love: "Other sites are more cynical; if you don't love the world of celebrity and pop culture in some way, it's very easy to be nasty about it."
Popbitch stories are often gentle, and there because they are good stories, rather than because the subject is very famous. Tim Walker reports that popular stories on the site have concerned the sexual proclivities of former Doctor Who stars, and Dizzee Rascal's love of Battenberg cake.
He adds that the Popbitch mailout combines gossip with cute animals, quirky world news and recommendations for new music and television shows.
Mario Lavandeira, the man behind Perez Hilton gets his stories through hard work.
Wired wrote of him: “Hilton... constantly checks his e-mail, text messages and voice mail and scours the Web for the latest gossip on 'A-listers to D-listers to Z-listers,' updating his blog an average of 40 times a day."
Wire says his sources include publicists, agents, managers, dog walkers, nannies and celebrities themselves, and that advertisers pay up to $54,000 to run a one-day ad package on the site.
A lot of his success is down to the character of his writing, says Wire. He is able to turn the outrageous antics of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton into "photo-driven, text-message-length morality plays".
14B9 Business and financial journalism
Business and financial journalism is one of the most challenging specialisms you can choose. But also one of the most important. And it has jobs to offer.
Financially-savvy journalists are in demand, and business stories – once considered a niche area for the dull but worthy to make their own – are now central to every newspaper, website, TV and radio station. Because finance affects us all.
Maybe you think business journalism is not for you – that it’s all about numbers, stats, stuff you either don’t understand, don’t care about – or both.
But it’s not. Business and finance are central to every aspect of our audience’s lives.
And hence business is a vital area for stories, and a vital area for every journalist to at least have some grasp of.
Knowledge of business is important whatever your specialism
Having an awareness of business and finance is important for many journalists who cover a different beat, because the issues that business and financial journalists are expert in spill over into many other specialisms.
Doron Levin, www.linkedin.com/pub/doron-levin/8/81b/21a who has covered the world auto industry from Detroit for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Detroit Free Press, Bloomberg and others since 1984, gave this example when talking to interns at the Detroit Free Press.
He reported that, in the mid- 70s, a city hall reporter on the New York Times discovered the city was about to declare bankruptcy. The metropolitan staff, who cover city affairs and should have spotted the story, had missed the impending financial crisis.
Why was that? Levin says it was because, while reporters were certainly taking notes when politicians were giving speeches, none of them could read a balance sheet and say: "Hey, the deficit of the City of New York is at a level, and the bond ratings of the City of New York are at a level, that the next time the city goes to borrow money, it's not going to be able to borrow money."
That would mean the city could not pay its employees.
Levin went on to summarise why financial understanding is important for journalists. He told his audience that, if they hoped one day to be covering government, they had to be able to understand a balance sheet.
A budget story, he said, is the most basic story that any city hall reporter is likely to be faced with. They had to be able to look at numbers and understand whether it's in balance – to see how an administration raised money to pay for the services it provides, and what revenues it was drawing in from taxes and other sources.
And he points out that the money trail – following the money to get to the root of a story – is a vital skill in many branches of journalism.
Doron says it is hard for him, as a journalist, to explain any trend in society without understanding inflation, employment, credit, the stock market and the bond market.
These are the background to almost everything that happens – from how a council raises money to repair holes in the streets, or why McDonald's is bringing out a new sandwich.
When a journalist delves into the history and background of a newsworthy event, they will follow a trail that gets them back to a lending officer who says whether they will advance the money to do something, or a market in which investors decide to buy a stock because the risk is worth it.
An understanding of business lets you follow that trail.
What business and financial journalism is
Let's get some definitions sorted, and look at how business journalism can be sub-divided into subsidiary beats
We can define business journalism as concerning the economic changes that take place in a society. Business journalists will follow, report on and analyse those changes.
Under this definition, business journalism is a wide, umbrella term.
It encompasses strictly reporting on businesses – on companies’ activities, financial results. It also includes covering the City (in London) and Wall Street in the USA.
It also covers economics – the impact of economic activity on businesses, consumers and investors.
Personal finance is also included. That is, how individuals handle their investments. It's about their savings, loans and mortgages.
In a business department you’ll get specialists in each of these areas, and in sub-divisions of them.
Newspapers and their online versions often split things in two: business and City, and personal finance. The BBC has an economics editor, a business editor, and many correspondents and reporters under them.
An introduction to how to do the job
The Reynolds centre for Business Journalism http://businessjournalism.org/ has a great resource bank for those getting in to business journalism. Here’s Reynold’s introduction to the business beat, from Mark W. Tatge, an author, professor and investigative reporter who spent three decades as a journalist before joining Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
Here's his video introduction to business reporting:
How to find and tell business stories
Let's take advice from a couple of biz-journalism experts, one in the USA, the other in the UK.
Mark W. Tatge
Mark W. Tatge produced these tips for the Reynolds Centre for Business Journalism, drawing on his own experience moving in to cover business: “I came to realise that business wasn’t about numbers. It was about people. People read business stories and they want to read about other people. Numbers are only a way to keep score. They tell... who is on the way up and who is on the way out."
Look for anecdotes or personal stories
Tatge says that good business journalists look for anecdotes, or personal stories that drive home a point. He says numbers are used to help "punctuate" the anecdote. At Forbes Magazine, he says, he and the other business journalists would spend a lot of time trying to find the number that best described the point we were trying to make – to nail whether the company is a rising star or in decline.
For example, a key metric might be as simple as how much American Airlines saved by removing an olive from every salad served to passengers.
Getting the key metric could make a story, failing to find it could break it.
Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, spoke about “how to get scoops, how to identify business stories early, and how to spot those really crucial business trends”.
Here’s a summary of what he says business reporters need to do:
- Search for stories across the whole world "because globalisation is real and the stories are global"
- Determine the major trends
- Having identified these, you’ll know where to look for stories.
Here’s how he found the exclusives that have made him such an important figure in business journalism. In internal briefings at the BBC he called it “The search for yield”.
Peston explains that, in the build-up to the financial crisis whose after-shocks are still rippling around the world, it was the desire of investors to find higher returns in a world where yields from investments were generally low which led them to turn a blind eye to the risks they were running in attaining that better return.
They lent too much to businesses and individuals who would never be able to repay those loans in full. When the world woke up to that the global economic crisis was triggered. “Almost every important story since then” has its genesis in that crisis: the collapse of banks, the difficulty in getting credit and mortgages, the slump in the building industry.
In another big story, Peston says he also spotted the colossal sums being raised by private equity firms from international investors. They used the cash to take over major companies. Peston dug into this and landed a series of scoops on takeovers of some of Britain’s biggest businesses – Boots, EMI, Saga and the AA – and on how little tax the hedge funds were paying on the many millions they were earning. Those take-overs weren’t always in the interest of the companies taken over.
Work out who knows what's going on – and cultivate them
To find such stories, says Peston, you must “get out more”.
You need to work out which people in the world know what’s going on and cultivate them as contacts, he says. It's a long term investment, he adds – you won't get scoops overnight.
You should make time every day, if possible, every week if not, to talk to those who really know what is going on.
It's important, he says, to acquire the trust of people who might later be in a position to supply you with useful information.
Those people need to know that, if they speak to you off the record, you will honour that, says Peston. You must never break that trust.
He stresses that news is not a trade for people who want quick and easy glory. It’s about acquiring expertise, cultivating contacts, and developing skills over many years.
Learn the language of business
Mark Tatge lists some great tips in his post for Reynolds. In summary you should:
- Meet the movers and shakers
- Learn who the industry leaders and also-rans are
- Know whether this is a mature, slow-growing industry dominated by giants or a fast-growing sector with new faces
- Learn the language, because every journalism beat has a jargon of its own. Airlines measure revenue per available seat mile. Banks talk about net interest income. Retailers discuss comparable-store sales.
- Find a mentor. You need a friendly industry insider or journalist who will teach you the ropes
- Develop a list of experts you can call upon to help you understand complex stories
- Read what other reporters write
- Connect with those who provide goods and services to the industry you cover.
14B10 Travel Journalism
What sort of travel journalist do you want to be: sensible specialist or insane adventurer?
We’ll do sensible later: the stuff about how difficult it is to make money as a travel writer; the need to treat travel as seriously as you would any other specialism.
How you need to cultivate both editors and travel PRs, the rock and the hard place between which you place yourself as a travel writer.
Let’s do the adventurous, exciting stuff first.
The exciting approach to travel journalism is for people who love adventure and maybe danger, don’t care about money and security and just want to have a great time and tell others about it.
One who takes that approach is Robin Esrock. www.robinesrock.com/about.html
Just look at this video of his, about the world's most dangerous hike.
This is probably the sort of thing you dream about if you want to be a real traveller, an adventurer.
In that video Robin Esrock demonstrates pretty much all that needs to be said about how being a travel writer can be so electrifying. And Robin is a great example of a successful, multimedia travel journo.
He’s firmly in the exciting/insane/adrenalin-rush school of travel.
This video is a sort of showreel of what he does:
Robin’s impressive, and a great case study, because of the way he’s managed to build himself into a travel brand, spanning TV, print and online. He describes himself on his website as an adventurer, travel writer and television host.
His potted biography makes his story sound almost too good to be true. In summary, an accident in 2004 where a car ran him down led to a $20,000 insurance settlement. Esrock used the money to travel the world. He covered 53 countries and launched his career as a travel writer and columnist, and star of a National Geographic TV show called ‘Word Travels’.
These clips show some of the highlights from his incredible journey:
That video shows a couple of things – that the journalist can be a character in the travel story – Robin is at the heart of everything he does. It’s his story, his adventure, which you are privileged to come along on.
And it’s about other people. He brings characters into the stories of his journeys and adventures.
But the gonzo style is underpinned by a background in journalism. Robin, who was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, but now lives in Canada, is a journalism graduate of Rhodes University.
Here’s his account of how, after his accident, he built his career as a travel journalist. The video tells the story of how he built his journalism career step-by-step.
Robin is a great role model if you are into adventurous travel journalism. Here are some of the places you can follow him:
TV Show: www.wordtravels.tv
He offers these links to other travel sites that are worth a look:
- Brave New Traveler
- Sean Aiken’s One Week Job
- Outpost Magazine
- Here is Havana
- Julia’s Dimon’s Travel Junkie
- Mule - Guide in Ethiopia
- Green Toad Bus - Awesome trips in South America
The sensible approach: travel as a serious specialism
The first sensible thing to say is that travel writing can be a really bad area to get into.
One problem is, everyone thinks they can do it.
After all, everyone goes on holiday, so why not (they think to themselves) write about it?
Hence, travel editors are inundated by unsolicited travel pieces. Most of those pieces are never read, let alone considered for publication.
It can be very difficult to get past this mountain of unsolicited submissions to actually get your good ideas in front of the travel editor.
Even successful and regularly-published travel writers can find it tough getting through to the person who can actually commission them.
So, because supply far outstrips demand, travel editors can pretty much pay as little as they like for travel articles. They can easily get them for free.
Often they farm out the freebies (a complimentary trip offered in return for generally favourable coverage) to other staff members – editors grab the best ones and the rest get distributed down the pecking order. Staffers write for the freebie, they don’t get paid. So: free copy.
There is also the added complication that many publications like travel to be penned by celebrities. So you can find that the lion’s share of space in mid and down-market publications that publish travel is taken up by D-list celebs who have written the piece in return for a free holiday and, depending upon how rich the publication, several grand as a fee.
So what room is there for the professional travel writer: one who diligently researches, works hard on the ground and writes a good piece?
There is still room for such people, but they have to be very savvy to make a living.
What you need to succeed as a travel specialist
Here’s what you need to succeed as a travel journalist:
1 A really intimate knowledge of the travel industry.
Or at least that bit of it you want to work with. And brilliant contacts among travel companies, tourist authorities, airlines and all the other players in the travel business.
You need this in order to know about the new trends in travel and to get invited on the facility trips that are pretty much essential to getting to the places that can be written about profitably.
2 Excellent contacts with the editors you work for.
And you’ll need at least three outlets that are prepared to publish you regularly.
You need this to be able to pitch the articles you are able to write, (thanks to what I’ve outlined in 1) and be reasonably confident that when you tell travel PR x that they can get a piece in travel publication y, that this will happen.
If you can’t get the trips you need, and get them published, you aren’t a successful player in the travel writing game.
3 The ability to plan a trip so that you get several articles out of it.
These can range from elegant colour pieces for glossy magazines, destination reports, top ten-style short items, audio and or video reports for websites. If you can get audio packages on radio, so much the better.
4 The skills of a really good reporter.
Plus the writing style of a great feature writer, the package-building skills of an audio/radio reporter, and the video scripting and presentation skills of an online/TV travel show stalwart.
So here’s how a full-time travel writer makes their specialism pay the rent
- Their contacts in the travel industry, and their knowledge of the new destinations, flights and other innovations that are being introduced, means they know what is happening in the travel industry
- They know the destinations that will be pitched for all sectors of the travelling public
- They can get on the freebies designed to promote those new business opportunities to the market
- They know where to pitch the appropriate ideas to the editors and the publications that will go for them
- They can produce the text, stills audio and video that those outlets want
- They will also, probably, be writing, editing or contributing to travel guides
- Their expertise means that travel editors will come to them when there is a piece they particularly want
- Because they are so knowledgeable, they will have the information at their fingertips – or can get it quickly – to write a whole range of articles
- Being emailed and asked if they can do the world’s top 50 beaches, romantic hotels, restaurants for sole diners won’t faze them
- They may also be writing guide books, and perhaps travel books of their own.
As you’ll have noticed, the really processional travel journalist covers travel as a beat, just as intensively as anyone in any other specialist – politics, sport or whatever - covers their beat.
The one thing you’ll have going for you is that most of those who write travel don’t treat it seriously. And if you do, you’ll be among a very rare breed.
Travel as a sideline
But there is another way… do travel as a sideline. I did that, and recommend it.
If you are a journalist in another discipline, you'll have access to a range of publications.
And popping in to see the travel editor while you are in the building on other matters is relatively straightforward.
Get your material published and you can push other projects on the back to it.
I was able to sell two travel books about America to a publisher on the back of a travel series I’d written for a national newspaper.
Ways of telling travel stories: what social and multimedia let us do
There are many new ways to tell a travel story: on social media, with
Video clips on YouTube or Vimeo and stills on Instagram. Reporting on your journey in real time and over all media is a great way to tell a story.
And it doesn't rule out also writing considered travel articles afterwards, or turning the journey into other travel projects – as we shall see in a moment.
Such multi- and social media storytelling fits the traditional style of travel writing: an account by one person of their adventures. That’s a style that has lost favour in print, where listing-style pieces – 100 best hotels/beaches/cottages still available for Christmas and so on – are now very common.
You should always offer professional-quality stills and video with your travel feature, even if it is essentially a story told in text. In tablet computer editions, and on websites, multimedia is pretty much essential.
How to write a great travel feature for print and tablet editions
There is one fundamental mistake that many writers commit when they turn to travel: they assume that the rules for writing features in any other area are suspended.
They write, essentially:
What I did on my holidays – a chronological meander through the trip starting, very often, with their delay at the airport.
Majorca: an island of contrasts – a clichéd PR-job written in very generalised terms.
This fundamental misunderstanding of what a travel feature is can apply to writers who are very experienced, and accomplished, in other beats.
What even some very able journalists seem to forget, when they turn to travel, is that a travel feature must have all the elements that make any feature work.
It needs a story, characters, a plot – or at least a beginning, a middle and an end.
It needs thorough research, sharp observation, and concise expression.
It needs, in short, to be a good story well told. And it must be told in stills, video, audio where appropriate in addition to text.
Actually, much travel writing that is considered successful doesn’t achieve these goals, but to my mind any piece that doesn’t is a failure.
So, if you are writing a travel feature, you should take the same approach as you would when writing any feature. So take a look at Chapter 15 of MMJ for my take on how to write features, and apply that to your travel writing.
The three key questions a travel editor asks
As with any other features commission, the editor has three questions in mind when they consider an idea for a piece:
- Why this?
- Why now?
- Why you?
Why this means the editor is asking themselves – what’s good about this story, what makes it relevant to my readers?
Why now means, what’s the peg?
It might be that there are new things to write about, that there is an anniversary coming up, that a new cheap flight has opened the place up. You need a reason for running the piece now.
Having a peg to your piece is often also a spur to the editor to use it. So-called timeless pieces can find that their time never comes. However, if your peg passes without the feature appearing, it is very dead indeed, unless you can supply a further peg.
Why you means, what qualifies you to write this piece? When else have you done? How good are you as a writer, photographer or a video journalist?
If the editor doesn’t know you, they are taking a risk that you may not be able to write effectively for them. They may want the links to a couple of your pieces so they can check you out.
You must be sure to cover these three points in your pitch.
Some key things to do when you write
Make it a good story.
Often, travel editors are asked by prospective writers: "Would you like a piece on New York?" Well, maybe, it all depends on what your angle going to be?
Depending on the publication, an appropriate angle could be the current top 10 restaurants, the locations used to film the latest blockbuster movie, or a family-friendly guide to the city.
Characters work well in travel features, so it can often be a good idea to find relevant people to talk to.
Often the writer themselves are the key character in the story. Robin Esrock’s style of travel reporting puts him in the centre of the screen.
Consider your quest.
It’s become a cliché now, but may TV travelogues are built on the idea of a quest – in their first piece to camera the presenter will say “I’m going on a journey”, they may also mention their passion for the subject, the deep-rooted fascination they have for a particular place.
Don't go over the top but, if you can come up with a subject in which you have a particular interest, that's another reason an editor might commission the piece, and why you'll turn out a good article.
The first Robin Esrock video we looked at above has its starting point as a picture he’s seen of what could be the most dangerous mountain hike in the world. His quest is to find it and complete it.
Quests aren’t always dangerous, they may be quite trivial in the grand scheme of things. There was a travel documentary on the BBC4 TV channel about a journey down the A303, an unremarkable highway that meanders across part of southern England.
One problem the full-time travel writer has is that they can’t be on a quest with every piece they write. Their quest is to get to, say, Portugal, knock out half a dozen pieces for various outlets in order to make a living. And they may have been to the country several times before.
That can be why the best travel writing comes from those who don’t travel all the time; only when they have somewhere they really want to go, or something they really want to do.
14B11 Science, health and environment reporting
There are good reason for grouping science, health and environment together in our survey of journalistic specialisms.
In terms of their subject matter, there are overlaps.
That’s reflected in the fact that many news titles and broadcasters give their correspondents responsibility for two or more of the science, health and environment categories.
Reuters, for example, has a health and science correspondent in Kate Kelland.
These beats have something else in common – they are often really badly reported.
Why is science reporting often poor?
Partly because the issues concerning science, health and environment beats are often very complex and impossible to boil down to a headline without risking getting things very wrong indeed.
Journalists and scientists work in diametrically opposed ways.
Journalists need it fast, scientists need to consider the import of a finding or event before they declare on it.
Can we overcome this? Can science etc be reported well?
We’ll look in a moment at how to become a really good science reporter, taking advice from a range of experts – both scientists and journalists.
Environment, health and science also have this in common: they attract, and are appropriate beats for, those with science degrees. So we'll look at how scientists can become science journalists.
Our trio of topics make for great specialisms in B2B publications.
B2Bs are useful seed beds for specialist science, health and environment journalists, who often transfer to serious newspapers and to broadcasters, both of which generally want specialists in these areas.
There is one key question we need to consider when we look at how to get into science journalism. It's this:
How to become a science reporter
What comes first, the science or the journalism? Actually, it could be either.
The Association of British Science Writers has a good outline of getting into science journalism in this pdf: www.absw.org.uk/images/stories/pdf/so-you-want-to-be-a-science-writer.pdf.
If you have a science degree, they say, there a couple of routes in.
You could train as a specialist science journalist from the outset. Many science graduates do that, usually following their degree with a postgrad science communication source – more on those in the study module.
Or, you could work first as a general journalist, specialising in science later.
Those who specialise from the start might also train on a specialist publication, often a B2B mag or website aimed at the science community, or a specialist consumer one targeted for a readership that knows some science.
If you start as a general reporter, perhaps on a local paper or news website, you could later specialise in science.
Not all science specialists have a degree in science, but have learned it as they have built up their specialism.
Whether it was the journalism or the science that came first, many who pick up the science beat move from print to national press and broadcasting.
But which route is best?
The Association of British Science Writers says: “There is, sad to say, a slight suspicion of journalists who have a scientific background, and who report on science.
“The suspicion is that they may be biased in favour of the scientific community.”
The association recommends that, if you want flexibility in your media career, and the opportunity to work within the mainstream media, you should consider getting a more general journalism education after a science degree, beginning to specialise in science as you go.
But, they add, if you are more interested in science than journalism, then specialist training may be best for you. However, they add, even if you do specialise early on, you should keep your options open for as long as possible and not rule out other media work.
The ideal approach, they say, is to get a science-based degree and then get into one of the leading journalism courses, such as diploma courses at City and Cardiff universities, which both take on science graduates.
They also point out that, while a science degree can be helpful for a science journalist, it's not the full monty. Because a science journalist with a physics degree will still have to write about stem cells.
What is important, they say, is not the knowledge itself but being able to acquire it quickly and convey it.
How to report science well
Bad science reporting goes something like this: a scientist tells a reporter that they have managed to kill 10 per cent of cancer cells in a lab rat's tail. The headline on the report is: Cancer cured!
Often, journalists get science stories wrong – badly wrong. Or, at least, that’s what scientists tell us.
The difficulty is that scientists work in a very different way to journalists.
We want headlines, stories told in black and white, clear decisions, news that can be easily categorised – cancer cure found, global warming will kill us all in 150 years, red wine is good for you, salad is bad for you… that sort of thing.
Scientists want to edge slowly towards a considered conclusion about a particular issue.
They see each new finding about a particular issue, each new report, as a step along the way to a fuller understanding of a subject. Scientists don’t deal in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, guilty or innocent.
Which is tough for us, and tough for them. It can also be tough for our audience.
Have you ever heard people complaining how they were told last week that eggs were a killer, this week that you can eat as many of them as you like? Or that, this week, coffee is said to guard against Alzheimer’s, but last week that coffee causes cancer? No wonder science reporting can be distrusted by the audience, as well as by scientists.
Such stories may be an accurate summary of the findings of the latest report, but that report isn’t the final word on the matter. It’s much more likely to be the next tiny piece of knowledge to add to the pile of understanding that has been building up over a number of years and will continue to grow.
But try, as a reporter, selling that to your news editor.
Why science and journalism don't get along
First, the view from a scientist: Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at the universities of Oxford and Warwick, said this at a BBC College of Journalism event: “Science works by doing experiments… designing tests in which something is done to ... a person, an animal or whatever ...and a prediction is made about the outcome and, depending on the outcome, you can either reinforce the original prediction or you can say it must be wrong."
It is a way of testing hypotheses, such as that DNA is the substance of inheritance. But, he says, science can never definitively prove things. Each experiment can only add gradually to the positive evidence in favour of a hypothesis.
Here's why journalists don't always trust scientists
If we look at another journalistic beat – politics – reporters are often seeking a truth.
For years during Tony Blair’s premiership, there were numerous reports that Blair and Gordon Brown hated each other; that a pact had been made between them that, at some point, Blair would hand over leadership of the Labour Party to Brown. In the latter years there were stories about Brown’s campaign to oust Blair.
All along the way the politicians told the journalists that they were wrong, about the agreement and about the ousting campaign; that they were inventing a hypothesis that was completely false; that their reporting was way off-beam.
Well, later events proved that those reporters were broadly correct. All those individual reports added up to a pretty accurate characterisation of the relationship between the two men, and how it deteriorated.
What political journalists were trying to do all along was to get to the truth, to sift the words and actions of the players in the game and come up with an accurate portrayal of what was going on.
When journalists tackle any other specialism, including science, they do the same.
They try to reach conclusions, based on evidence that they have gathered, and distil those conclusions into stories that makes sense to them and to their audience.
So, when a science story comes up, and science journalists get what seems to them to be a load of woolly prevarication, they try to force the point – they need a clear story and they do all they can to get it. They look into the evidence they are given, the scientific reports and findings that are presented, and try to produce comprehensible stories from them.
Just as political journalists, or hacks on any other beat, would do.
Who can blame them?
Can journalism and science be reconciled?
If you want to make science your specialism, you need to take the concerns of scientists seriously. So let’s look at the issues scientists have with science reporting.
Let’s see if it is possible to report science in such a way that it brings us good stories, but doesn’t have scientists claiming that we are misrepresenting what they are doing.
These, to be going on with, are Prof. Blakemore's tips on good science reporting, discussed by him at the event mentioned above:
- Do your homework on a story
- Use the bank of resources which are available to help you to understand it
- Try to touch the pulse of the scientific community as a whole so that you can get a feel of what the consensus is
- And remember that the consensus view might turn out to be wrong.
What scientists hate about science journalism
Fiona Fox, director of the Science Media Centre – a body set up to try to put journalists in touch with scientists, and encourage accurate reporting -chaired this discussion between Colin Blakemore and David Shukman, the BBC’s environment correspondent, on science reporting:
It’s a half hour video, but worth looking at, because you get from it a good scientist’s view of what journalists do wrong, and a good defence, from David Shukman, of why we do what we do.
The text below is a summary of the key points of that discussion.
Fiona Fox first covers what scientists hate about the reporting of science.
She highlights three things:
Balance that isn’t balanced
Scientists hate the whole approach of giving equal weight to the scientific consensus, and to the possibly lone or isolated maverick who opposes that consensus.
They hate it because some voices carry more weight than others. So it can be misleading for a journalist to give the impression that there is a 50/50 split on a particular question by quoting or broadcasting one 'for' and one 'against'.
A great example of that is the MMR vaccine controversy.
The MMR controversy involved claims that autism spectrum disorders can be caused by the MMR vaccine, an immunisation against measles, mumps and rubella.
Here's a summary of that story. Claims of a connection between the vaccine and autism were raised in a paper in respected medical journal. Then a Sunday Times journalist discovered that the lead author of the article, Andrew Wakefield, had the manipulated evidence. The Lancet paper was retracted, and Wakefield was struck off the Medical Register, and the research declared fraudulent by the British Medical Journal.
You can read a Guardian account of the controversy here: www.theguardian.com/society/2010/feb/02/lancet-retracts-mmr-paper
But, along the way, many stories were written that took the supposed link between the vaccine and autism seriously, and the number of children immunised dropped significantly.
Scientists believe those reports shouldn’t have been written. They believe, says Fiona Fox,that journalists should accept when there is a weight of evidence on one side of many of the debates within science – such as over climate change and vaccination.
Seeking other viewpoints is fine, she says, but we should point out which is the consensus, and which the minority view.
Going big on outrageous claims
Scientists hate the way we latch on to the most outrageous claims and go big on them.
'MMR causes autism' is, for journalists, a very big story that has to be got out fast. For scientists, says Fiona, “the more outrageous the claim the more the need to stand back, pause, wait, do more studies, try to replicate the results, wait for them to get peer reviewed, and then publish.”
Well, that doesn’t work for us, does it?
We’d see such a delay as a cover up. If scientists had their suspicions about MMR but didn’t publish them until they were certain, and if there actually had been a link between the jab and autism, and children had contracted it in the meantime, we’d report that as a major scandal.
As Fiona says, “The cultures of science and the media are pretty far apart.”
Journalists don't do uncertainty, but scientists do
The third is uncertainty. Fiona says that in the wake of the controversy that has become known as Climategate, scientists have got it in the neck for failing to communicate uncertainty.
This Guardian Q and A article explains what Climategate is about: www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jul/07/climate-emails-question-answer
Fiona Fox argues that scientists stress that there is uncertainty, but that journalists ignore their caveats in their reports – because, again, we need to put things in black and white.
And when scientists admit there is a range of opinion, we go for the most extreme one.
So, she argues, if the vast majority of studies say that climate change will increase by 2 degrees, but one or two say it will increase by 11 degrees, journalists will latch on to the 11 degree angle for their story. Because that’s what we do.
If it’s said deaths from swine flu could be as high as 65,000, but are much more likely to be 1,000, we’ll headline the higher figure.
Colin Blakemore on bad and good science reporting
Fiona Fox asked Colin Blakemore to come up with examples of good and bad reporting of science. Here's a summary of what he said:
MMR and autism.
Launch of the Large Hadron Collider. (You can read a good introduction to what that story is about here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7543089.stm
Journalists covering the story went particularly for the angle that the machine could replicate what happened just after the big bang, when the universe was created.
So they got an origin-of-life angle that was instantly understandable.
Prof. Blakemore also praises The Daily Mail, for the angle it took on the ending of experimentation on primates at Oxford, partly because of threats from animal rights activists. The Mail said that the real victims of the ending of such research were people such as a man they featured, who had Alzheimer’s, and whose hope of a cure rested in part on such research.
Why we report science the way we do
So that's what scientists think about our journalism.
Here's why we do things the way that we do.
David Shukman counters Colin Blakemore's complaints with some of the reasons that science can be reported in ways that don’t satisfy scientists.
He raises the interesting point that scientists often aren't prepared to present their case in a way, and in a time-frame, that fits with modern journalistic requirements.
He also raises some sobering points about how much we can trust scientists.
He says: “There are a vast number of scientists who don’t see the need to turn what they are doing into everyday language.”
He says the scientists prepared to condense their five years of research into 15 seconds are rare.
He thinks scientists should relish the opportunity to explain to tax payers how they are spending their money in such a slot.
Is that a fair criticism? I only ask because it takes great communication skills to present a complex case in 15 seconds.
Because of this reluctance, David Shukman says, there is a genuine problem in translating science in a way that, first, editors and, then, audiences will respond to.
He also says that Climategate brought home to him the full extent of the fallibility of science.
He says he’d come to believe that if findings were published in a reputable journal, put together by serious scientists, that it had been peer reviewed anonymously, then this should “give us a fairly good assurance that what we are going to report is right”.
That was shattered [ok, he actually said it was a “wobble” that made him wonder how reliable this process is] by the case of Dr Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korie (background here: http://stemcellbioethics.wikischolars.columbia.edu/The+Cloning+Scandal+of+Hwang+Woo-Suk)
Hwang claimed he had succeeded in creating human embryonic stem cells by cloning.
He hadn’t, but high profile journals published his reports, giving credence to his claims.
So...why should we believe scientists – necessarily – any more than we believe politicians?
How to get your science reporting right
Can journalists trust scientists?
David Shukman says that the points listed above raise the question of whether we can. Which means that there is a gap between scientists and science journalists.
We need to bridge that gap. And we must do it by using our journalistic nous.
Science journalists need the knowledge, experience and instinct to determine when they can believe what they are being told, and the story-telling ability to present complex issues in such a way that, without distorting the story, they make it relevant to their audience.
Just as political journalists need to determine, from the evidence they have, whether politicians are telling the truth.
Both brands of specialist need to decide what the story is: what to believe.
What to believe
There is a general belief among journalists that if a scientific finding has been peer reviewed, that the work must be true.
But peer review doesn’t show that.
All it actually shows is that the work is credible. It doesn’t mean that the peer reviewer has checked the work by replicating it in their lab.
So here's what you need to do to get your reporting right:
Talk to an expert
Even if you have a scientific background, you can’t be an expert in every area of science. So you need to know where to go to contact experts who can help.
If you are an established specialist, you should have the contacts at hand to do that. But what if you don’t, for whatever reason?
The Science media Centre www.sciencemediacentre.org/ can put you in touch with one of three thousand scientists who know the subject you have to cover.
The centre is an independent press office for the "messy, controversial science stories which hit the headlines", says its director, Fiona Fox.
Her centre’s job is, she says: "to work with the scientific community to make them more effective at engaging when science hits the headlines."
But make sure your source really is an expert and, if they aren’t, don’t say that they are.
If you're not a specialist in a particular area, you might not be best placed to work out who is an expert.
Ed Yong, science writer and author of the blog ‘Not Exactly Rocket Science’,
advises against labelling anyone an expert: "I think an expert could be anyone and I don't particularly use the term myself."
He says that, when he goes to people he thinks can provide him with interesting opinions on stories, "I simply identify who they are, what their background is and what they do, and link to somewhere where someone can find out more about them, and that's it."
What do you know about the offside rule?
You’ve got to know your science, just as a sports reporter would know their football.
Ben Goldacre, who writes the www.badscience.net says: “There are people who write about science with an enormous degree of authority in mainstream media, who don’t understand the absolute basics, and that comes across very clearly if you read their output.
“And I don’t think that, realistically, that would be possible in, for example, football coverage."
He is talking, he says, about writers who get things wrong at the level of not understanding the off-side rule, or what the little semi-circle is round the goal.
Professor Karol Sikora, medical director of CancerPartnersUK, www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=2837 says that a key thing science journalists need to understand, in order to present science stories accurately, is risk.
He says: “The biggest problem journalists have is the whole public interpretation of risk…smoking cigarettes is directly associated with lung cancer, but it’s not necessarily the case that if you do smoke heavily that you’re actually going to get it.
“And that’s the problem. It increases risk."
Some things increase risk very significantly, other much less so, he says. Smoking significantly increases the chance of getting lung cancer. Mobile phones may increase the risk of developing brain cancer, but that risk is very small. There may not even be a risk at all.
Stories such as these, and others about the links between the birth control pill and breast cancer, or about HRT and breast cancer, capture the media's interest, he says, because readers want to read them. But, Sikora goes on, the data that forms the basis of such stories is often scanty. He believes the journalist, to be fair to the public, has to find out how solid the new claim is and what it’s based on.
Is it based, for example, on a study of 100 people, or on a study of 1m?
How to get your health reporting right
Health journalism covers a wide area. Health politics is just one issue journalists covering this beat need to be on top of.
In the US, health reform is a massive issue. In the UK government attempts to reform the NHS is of equal import.
Then there is the issue of health administration – in the UK the NHS, covering hospitals, where to get information about each tier of the admin structure.
There’s also the drug industry to be covered, with issues such as the launch of new medicines, or the withdrawal of those that have developed problems.
Then there is personal health, fitness, and diet – a massive area for coverage in consumer media.
The same concerns about journalists mis-reporting science apply to health journalism as they do to science, which can mean that the public gets badly served by health journalists.
To cover health stories can require expertise in many areas, from finance and business to epidemiology.
The things health journalists get wrong in their reporting, according the Kings Fund
The Kings Fund (www.kingsfund.org.uk/press/press-releases/news-media-reporting-health-issues-lacks-balance-and-fails-highlight-proven) whose mission is to seek to understand how the health system in England can be improved, analysed how health is reported in three BBC news programmes – the 10 O' Clock News, Newsnight and BBC Radio 5 Live's 8.00am News – and three newspapers – the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail and The Guardian.
It concluded that “News coverage of health issues is seriously out of proportion with actual risks to health and fails to reflect mortality risks shown in health data.”
Its analysis compared the volume of reporting on specific health risks with the number of deaths attributed to those risks. For example, 8,571 people died from smoking for each news story on the health risks of smoking, compared with 0.33 deaths for each story on vCJD, the human variant of 'mad cow' disease.
A quick question. Have they got it right on this? Or do they misunderstand what journalism is? After all, novelty makes news. If something is very unlikely to happen, and then it does, that can be newsworthy in itself.
The fund's report found that the news agendas of the print and broadcast media were "skewed heavily" towards dramatic stories such as crises in the NHS and major health scares, rather than issues that statistically have a greater impact on health, such as smoking, obesity, mental health and alcohol misuse.
The report says that issues which pose minimal risks, such as the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism, were given too much prominence over proven health risks.
How to avoid the pitfalls
The NHS Choices website has a behind the headlines area (www.nhs.uk/news/Pages/NewsIndex.aspx) which, while it is intended as a guide for health professionals and the public about what to believe from health stories, can actually be flipped to make a useful guide as to how to make sure any health story you write, or edit, stands up.
According to the site, it’s not just journalists who are responsible for misreporting health – scientists must share some of the blame. Sir Muir Gray, (https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/muir-gray/20/14/618) chief knowledge officer of the NHS: www.rightcare.nhs.uk/national_leads.html – the site was his idea – says: “Scientists hate disease and want to see it conquered."
But, he says, this this can lead to them taking an overly optimistic view of their discoveries – and that can is often reflected in newspaper headlines.
“Our service has more time to examine the science behind the stories. Independent experts check the findings and assess the research methods to provide a more considered view."
You can sign up for their newsletter here:
The site includes a guide on how to read health news that doubles as a guide for writing it.
Here is a summary of the points that they say help you decide if an article is believable. So they’re also a guide for any writer, or editor, of health stories as to what those stories need to make them watertight.
If the following points don’t stack up, you don’t have a strong story:
Does the article support its claims with scientific research?
If an article concerns some aspect of lifestyle that is supposed to prevent or cause a disease, it should include the scientific research behind it.
Is the article based on a conference abstract?
Such research is often at a preliminary stage and usually hasn’t been scrutinised by experts in the field.
Was the research in humans?
Test on cells in a lab or on animals are not the same as studies on humans.
How many people did the research study include?
The larger a study the more you can trust its results.
Did the study have a control group?
A control group allows the researchers to compare what happens to people who have the treatment/exposure with what happens to people who don’t.
Did the study actually assess what’s in the headline?
For example, an article with a headline that claims, 'Tomatoes reduce the risk of heart attacks' might actually be based on a survey that didn't look at heart attacks, but found that tomatoes reduce blood pressure. The headline is based on an extrapolation that may not be true.
Who paid for and conducted the study?
Many trials are funded by manufacturers of the product being tested. They have a vested interest in the results.
Have the people behind the research overstated what it shows?
Researchers sometimes make claims their research doesn’t support.
How to get your environment reporting right
Environment journalism covers some of the most controversial stories, key among them the subject of climate change and the question regarding man's part in it.
It is also highly complex. Complex enough for the BBC to have a Chief Environmental Analyst, in Roger Harrabin. https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/roger-harrabin/27/262/300
The BBC's science editor, David Shukman, gave his top ten tips for reporting news about the environment here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/school_report/8388302.stm
I want to pick out just a couple here that I think are central to how to report environment well:
Go beyond the environmental groups. "Try to get hold of genuine scientists to understand what they're finding out because it may be slightly different."
Think about different perspectives. It might make sense to turn rubbish into methane to generate electricity but few people want one of the plants next door: "Something might make sense ecologically but be detested locally”.
Reporting climate change
Climate change is perhaps the biggest environment story.
We mentioned the climategate controversy above
The BBC’s former journalist Peter Sissons claimed in a book (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1350206/BBC-propaganda-machine-climate-change-says-Peter-Sissons.html) that the corporation’s reporting on climate change was sadly lacking. He writes: "I was unhappy at how one-sided the BBC’s coverage of the issue was, and how much more complicated the climate system was than the over-simplified two-minute reports that were the stock-in-trade of the BBC’s environment correspondents."
Sissons said these reports, "without exception", accepted the UN’s assurance that the science was settled and that human emissions of carbon dioxide threatened the world with catastrophic climate change.
Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre says why she believes Sissons is wrong here: www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/blogcollegeofjournalism/posts/peter_sissons_attack_on_the_bb
Look at the topic of climate change and see how we can use it as a model for the good reporting of environmental stories
At the US's science and development network they’ve come up with a great guide to reporting climate change that embodies the core principles of good science journalism which we’ve been talking about a good deal so far in this module, and apply those principles to what is often described as the story of the century.
You can read in here:
Here are some of the key points they cover:
Scientists try to understand climate change by combining current and historical data with sophisticated computer models, but climate change is a particularly uncertain science.
Here's how to avoid some reporting pitfalls:
Don't give in to sensationalism
Don't be tempted to sensationalise – settle for an accurate story well down the news list if that's what the material deserves, rather than writing a misleading one that gets you on the front page.
Make the distinction between individual weather events and climate change
A few extreme weather events don't confirm or refute climate change, which is calculated by looking at the average weather over a long period. But you should check with weather experts or climatologists to see if, say, a devastating cyclone is part of a trend.
Avoid false balance
Giving equal balance to the views of both sides on a contentious issue – such as climate change – may actually be a false balance, if one view is held only by a tiny minority.
Selling the story
Use different angles to keep things fresh for the reader.
Climate change is part of stories in other news categories such as politics, business, human rights, and energy. Approach the story from these different angles and pitch them to the relevant editors.
Report on solutions
Your stories shouldn't all be about doom and gloom. Find stories about possible solutions, and interesting people, places and issues within them.
The Poynter Institute has a free, self-directed online course about covering climate change here: www.newsu.org/courses/covering-climate-change.
And here’s a Poynter blog post on how to win environmental journalism awards (www.poynter.org/how-tos/125800/the-10-ways-to-win-environmental-journalism-awards/).
14B12 Fashion journalism
Fashion journalism’s dead easy to get into.
All you have to do is start a blog.
That’s what Hanneli Mustaparta did:
Hanneli epitomises an approach to fashion blogging that is shared by many of the best bloggers – they are in the story they cover, and are a part of it. So their taste, style and look is a key part of how they cover their beat.
It helps if, like her, you’re also a model.
But it’s not all about blogging.
Fashion journalism is a specialism like any other. If you take it seriously as a beat, it’s every bit as complex as business journalism, environment or sport to truly master.
The Devil Wears Prada: your essential primer in why fashion journalism matters
OK, I know, it's just a movie.
And films aren't real life.
But watch the trailer, and look out for the blue jumper – it's the key to being a great fashion journalist. Honestly.
The Devil Wear's Prada is actually a brilliantly observed portrait of what it's like to work on a major (ok, the major) fashion magazine.
I worked in Vogue's London HQ for a while, not on that mag but in the customer titles division.
I've stood behind the pencil-thin fashionistas in the Vogue Cafe, waited an age while they gabble into their phones as their incredibly complicated, life-enhancing yet s-l-o-w t-o p-r-e-p-a-r-e smoothie is mixed for them.
There are many great lines in the Devil Wears Prada, but this exchange is the best: it gets to the very heart of why fashion – and fashion journalism, matters.
And I mean matters in the real world of business, finance, jobs and livelihoods.
I can't quote directly from the script here, but you can find the whole thing at the IMDb www.imdb.com/title/tt0458352/quotes.
They key passage comes when Miranda Priestly rounds on young intern Andy Sachs who has sniggered when two assistants are agonising over which of two belts to use in a fashion shoot, because she believes they are identical.
Priestly looks at the lumpy blue jumper Sachs is wearing and analyses exactly what shade it is, how it came to be made, and why she is wearing it. It is the result, she says, of decision made by one designer years ago on a catwalk, and then traces how that choice was taken up by fashion houses and manufacturers, and presented for Sachs to buy. The key line is that the blue she is wearing represents millions of dollars and countless jobs. It's comical, Priestly tells her, how she could think that she has made a choice that exempts her from the fashion industry when, in fact, she is wearing a sweater that was selected for her by the people who are in the room with her right now.
How to get into fashion journalism
So how do you get in to fashion journalism?
You might guess the answer is the same as that for any other kind of journalism.
Well, it can be. You can go through general journalism training at university.
Or, if you’re certain fashion is going to be your chosen beat, you can go for a specialist fashion journalism at, for example, the London School of Fashion.
But there are also many who get into fashion journalism without the formal journalism training.
Some will have graduated from fashion design, buying or marketing courses.
Others will have wangled work experience: spent weeks, months, possibly even years sorting out the fashion cupboard, dispatching bikes, waiting hand and foot on the fashion editor, and finally getting their break.
How do you feel about this way of getting into the job?
The cutest little cupcake shop
Deborah Ross wrote this in The Independent about what it takes to be a fashion journalist: "There is often rigorous training involved of the kind that might include bidding for an internship at a charity auction, plus you have to know all the people who live in and around Primrose Hill and talk excitedly about the cutest little cupcake shop there."
It’s easy to be cynical. But I’ve seen many young women – ok, there was one man among them – start at the bottom and move on to become fashion writers and later editors.
Some of the most lauded names in fashion journalism worked their way up.
Alice Vincent wrote a post on the Wannabe Hacks website about tips picked up at a Marie Claire event on getting into magazine journalism. The following points seem to me to be relevant to fashion journalism in particular:
“If you want to be involved in the fashion editorial team, be prepared for a long slog, take a Fashion Promotions and Communications degree and shadow stylists to work your way into editorial.
When applying for an internship, Vincent says, "read every issue you can ... and name drop articles in your bespoke cover letter.
When interning, she continues, you should pitch ideas daily because, one day, they’ll say ‘yes’.
Her view is that work experience counts more than having a blog.
When pitching a fashion feature idea, you should make your synopsis complete, with ideas on how it will be illustrated, how it would be presented on a page, ad what current trends it picks up on.
Press Gazette's Tips of the Trade: Fashion Journalism post (www.pressgazette.co.uk/node/28220) offers advice on getting into fashion journalism from a range of writers and editors.
Take a fashion/journalism course, or not?
“[I didn’t go] to fashion college, so training in the subject isn't really necessary.
I had a place on an MA fashion journalism course, but couldn't afford the fees so I got a job on the [Daily Express's] Saturday magazine and then I moved over to features."
Porter says you need to build up a good portfolio of pieces if you want to win a full time job, or freelance writing that pays. Also: learn shorthand.
Nicola Wood, editor (digital) at Redwood Publishing and formerly deputy editor at Happy magazine and Fashion Editor, Drapers at Emap said: "I have seen a few great interns come through our department via the fashion journalism course at London College of Fashion but I actually prefer writers to come through a pure journalism degree then develop their fashion experience and knowledge through relevant work experience."
Writers who come through fashion colleges, she says can sometimes be "fluffy fashion bunnies" and lack substance.
Navaz Batliwalla, fashion editor, CosmoGIRL! said: "A fashion journalism course is ideal as you can network via visiting tutors who will have lots of contacts. Work experience is vital, even if you have to work for no money, but make sure you ask lots of questions and really gain something from the placement."
How to do fashion journalism
One thing everyone in fashion journalism has to do is learn from the bloggers.
They bring an immediacy to fashion coverage that is vital in such a fast-moving industry:
But being first with the news is great, it's no good being first but wrong. Or first but ill-informed.
So here is a guide to all the other skills you need to do fashion journalism well.
First, if you are going to treat fashion as a serious specialism, you need to approach it as any beat reporter would – whether they cover politics, business, sport or anything else.
So you need to know your industry, and you need to approach covering it with journalistic rigour.
“To be a decent fashion journalist you need the same qualities that are needed to be a regular journalist -
- an eye for a story,
- an ability to write,
- a sense of fairness.
Although fashion is a frothy subject, you still need to be tough."
Fashion needs to be treated just like any other features or news subject, says Porter.
Go beyond celebrity and entertainment
Indeed, while many fashion journalists concentrate on the clothes – from catwalk to high street – fashion fits into a broader social context.
Robb Young, fashion journalist for the International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times and Vogue.co.uk, told rediff.com you must “go beyond the celebrity and entertainment element. Without examining these perspectives, your writing about fashion will just be fluff.
“The history and anthropology of a place is very important to fashion. Look at the political, social, economic side and see how it impacts a look, style, colour.”
Observation is a key, he says. What people are wearing is central to covering fashion effectively. He recommends you start looking at trends from the street up. Trends don't have to start from a designer and a collection.
Dig beyond the hype and glamour
As a fashion specialist, Young says, you need to dig beyond the hype and glamour and explore fashion as a business. When exploring stories, he says, don't talk just to the designer, talk to fashion company bosses, managers of stores, distributors and customers.
You also need to tap in to what ordinary people are saying about fashion, so trawl fashion blogs and social media as part of your research.
14B13 Technology journalism
How to become a technology journalist
There are two ways in to technology journalism.
One is to just get stuck in with a blog.
The other is to get your general journalism training and some experience under your belt, then pursue it as your specialism.
There’s probably no better advert for the get-stuck-in school of tech journalism than Pete Cashmore.
Pete Cashmore: Mashable
Pete, now in his late 20s, started the technology website Mashable as a teenager in a one-byte town in Aberdeenshire. Now his company is valued at up to $130m.
Mashable is one of the most comprehensive, authoritative and popular destinations for news about digital, social media, and technology. It has over 70 million monthly page views and is ranked as the most influential media outlet by Klout.
Pete founded Mashable in his bedroom in 2005, setting out to create a blog with up-to-the-minute news on social networks, new websites and digital trends. It rapidly grew to be one of the top 10 (and most profitable) blogs in the world according to the blog ranking service Technorati. He used to write it all himself. Now it has a writing staff of 30.
Pete’s had many plaudits: being cited among key influencers by Ad Age, Time Magazine, and Forbes. Oh, and The Telegraph has named him a Briton of the Year.
So what can he tell you about getting into tech journalism? He says: “My advice is don’t take any advice”.
OK, but that doesn’t mean you can't take a look at what he has done and think about following something of the path he took.
He talks in this video about how he started:
This video contains Pete's advice to aspiring technology writers:
Rory Cellan Jones, BBC
Other high-profile technology journalists have worked a more conventional journalistic route.
Among them is Rory Cellan Jones, Technology Correspondent, BBC.
His BBC biog says he began as reporter for Wales Today in Cardiff, then moved to London as a reporter on Breakfast Time. He moved quickly to business coverage, "working across the BBC's output from the Money Programme to Newsnight, from the Today programme to the Ten O'Clock News".
In his 20 years as a BBC reporter he has specialised mainly in covering business and technology. In 2007 he was appointed Technology Correspondent "with a brief to expand the BBC's coverage of the impact of the internet on business and society".
How others have made it as technology journalists
Here is how two other technology journalists have made it.
Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb
Marshall Kirkpatrick, co-editor of ReadWriteWeb, says here in a post called How to Quit Your Day Job & Become a Professional Tech Blogger:
“Blog awesomely like a pro news blogger would, and the opportunities are out there for you to become a pro news blogger."
He had just graduated with a BA in political science, and was working in a convenience store, when he discovered the world of blogging and RSS. His plan was to consult for non-profit organisations about how to use these new tools for research and promotion.
He started a blog and wrote about the things he was learning.
Joanna says: “I was working at a New York PR agency – my first job out of college – and knowing that I loved new technology, my friend Becca asked me to beta test a new streaming video service called Joost."
Then CBS News asked to interview me about my experience with the service. The segment aired on The Evening News with Katie Couric, and Stern decided that technology journalism was what she wanted to do.
You can read more of her story here: http://joannastern.com/about
How to find, tell and sell technology stories
Let’s take a look at what advice high-profile technology journalists Rory Cellan Jones and Mike Butcher can offer.
Rory Cellan Jones
The BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones told a Gorkana breakfast meeting how he goes about finding, selling and telling technology stories at the BBC. I've summarised his talk below, and you can hear from Rory direct in this video.
First stop in the news gathering process is Twitter. Cellan Jones told the session he sees Twitter as a news agency – enabling him to spot stories his newsdesk don’t know about: “it is now far more useful than RSS feeds or even the wires for spotting stories.
As an individual journalist you suddenly have a personal wire service. If you follow the right people on Twitter you’ve got your own news agency.”
Twitter is also a vital research tool for sourcing interviews and case studies. He says he asks questions of it all the time. Once you build up a big enough network, he says, you get those questions answered.
Finding stories is about knowing where to look for them, and Cellan Jones recommended following these tech writers among others:
- Guardian technology editor Charles Arthur
- The FT’s Tim Harford
- Science writer Ben Goldacre (he has the Bad Science column in the Guardian among many other things)
- The tech blogger Robert Scoble www.twitter.com/scobleizer
He finds the iPad’s Flipboard a useful way to organise his daily reading which includes these blogs:
Rory's stories are mostly consumer focused, but the BBC’s extensive online presence allows for more B2B stories with a consumer interest.
Selling story ideas
Cellan Jones says that finding stories is only a small first step.
He told the Gorkana breakfast meeting (www.gorkana.com/events/) in a session that is no longer available online, that selling those stories internally and getting them on the BBC diary is a significant part of the process.
The BBC Radio4 Today programme is crucial for his output. Alongside this he often builds his ownership of stories by writing about them on his blog, using the beat blogging approach we covered in Chapter 1.
Rory can feed into a number of BBC outlets. TV used to be his main home, he says, but he finds it a time-consuming hurdle for technology stories because they require a high level of treatment to make good television.
A well-crafted pitch is essential as it’s difficult to get a story on the 6pm or 10pm news where there will be a hundred or so correspondents pitching in for space within the eight or nine daily bulletins.
He cited a story he did on the then-new 4G mobile network and said his role was as much about news gathering as it was marketing himself within the organisation in order to achieve story space. Radio is a lot easier but is still a big editorial hurdle to cross, he said.
Though Rory sits within the business unit they are not fighting him for stories.
He says he is regarded as the eccentric uncle who sits in the corner playing with silly gadgets. He works directly with the business unit producers on stories and his boss is daily news editor Piers Parry-Crooke. Rory relies on Piers to help sell his stories. He says research pieces can be useful but feels they are often designed purely to get a client name on the radio or TV.
The single most difficult programme to penetrate, he says, is the 10pm TV news. To succeed you need a good story, and the backing of an advocate – a senior correspondent – who is respected by the bulletin editor.
Translating complex topics to a mass audience is the key to his job. One of the great challenges is finding experts who can speak 'English', by which he means a language his viewers and listeners can understand.
Rory posts very informal occasional videos on his tech week on YouTube videos. There’s one here:
And another here:
Mike, European editor of TechCrunch, uses curation as part of the story finding and telling process.
He uses Twitter “as a kind of radar” in his coverage of the technology start-up scene in Europe. Here’s his account: https://twitter.com/mikebutcher.
He uses Tweetdeck, which is “now about three feet long, the way I’ve gradated people and searches and so on.”
He has a panel called ‘key tweets’ which includes such people as CEOs and some who may hardly ever tweet but are influential and doing something interesting.
For Mike, Twitter has replaced LinkedIn as a professional story-finding network.
What's wrong with technology journalism?
Are you put off technology journalism because you don’t want to just write about stuff?
If so you’re not alone.
Many technology journalists feel that, while gadget reviews are all well and good, you need to do more to make technology a truly satisfying – and valuable – branch of journalism.
That view was expressed particularly well by technology journalist Dave Lee in a post that is no longer available online, but in which he singled out The Verge and Kernel as technology's new face.
The Verge is US-based www.theverge.com/
The Kernel is UK-based www.kernelmag.com/
Dave Lee writes: “Both The Kernel and The Verge herald a new type of technology journalism. Coverage that isn’t about specifications, or new consoles, or the ever-pathetic ‘gadget’ reviews (although The Verge does feature some product reviews… but they’re nowhere near as awkward as much of the mainstream)."
Lee says that good technology journalism, is about the cultural impact, political ramifications and the state of an industry that we are relying on to provide much of the West’s future economic clout.
Milo Yiannopoulos is the editor in chief of The Kernel. In a post entitled It’s time to fix European technology journalism (http://yiannopoulos.net/2011/11/03/its-time-to-fix-european-technology-journalism/ ) he sets out the Kernel’s approach, and says exactly what he sees as being wrong with most technology journalism.
Milo says tech reporting is bedevilled by illiterate bloggers who, in their competitiveness for page views, churn out rewrites of press releases and other people’s posts.
There are, he says too few good columnists and brave iconoclasts. Also, almost no one is providing tech firm founders and venture capitalists t with a platform to share their expertise in pieces that will connect with a general audience.
“Where, too," he asks, "are the sketch-writers, the gossip columnists, the people writing about the people, places and events that shape the headlines?" Fundamentally, he goes on, people are interested in people, and we don’t hear nearly enough about the faces behind the technology that is changing our world.
“There’s a blossoming technology scene urgently in want of compelling magazine and broadsheet quality writing…” The Kernel aims to fill that gap.
Few journalists know enough about technology
Another view, expressed here by Alex Payne (https://al3x.net/2009/03/03/towards-better-technology-journalism.html) is that, particularly in the area of information technology, there are few journalists with the expertise to be effective specialists in the field.
He says in that post: “The scary truth of information technology is that it’s just too huge a domain to be an expert in, even if you’re a full-time engineer. I’d wager there’s just a handful of people on this planet who can claim expertise in everything from silicon up to human-computer interaction."
He goes into detail on how to create good tech journos there, but here are a couple of key points:
- Teach technology reporting in journalism school
- Get working engineers learning and doing journalism and mentor them
- Incentivise technology reporting as a career.
14B14 Music journalism
You want to be a music journalist, so you send some stuff you’ve written to the editor of your favourite magazine/website.
Even though you haven’t been to journalism school they love your work and hire you.
Hey, it can happen. Take a look at this video:
That’s from Almost Famous, the true story of how a 15-year-old Cameron Crowe impressed Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres so much that he was hired under the assumption that he was an adult.
Someone else who wrote to Fong-Torres is Andy Kaufman, who tells the story here at Music Dish – drawing the Cameron Crowe parallel along the way – of how “after reading one of Ben’s books, I was inspired to send him a sampling of my writing.
I didn’t expect anything to come from [it], but he called me out of the blue, stating that he enjoyed my work, that I had passion and that I should keep writing”
Almost famous? Almost paid!
Kaufman wrote pieces for a local webzine and then a Boston music mag. He sent his cuttings/clips to Microsoft Network’s Rock Forum, which he had heard was looking for writers. Soon he was arranging his first official interview, but he still wasn’t getting paid.
Then he tried a site called www.Music.com, got hired and got paid. Now he had some impressive cuttings he beefed up his portfolio and sent it to dozens of publications. The commissions came rolling in.
But it’s not as great as it might be. He still can't support himself solely from is writing.
Plenty of working journalists get paid for doing something other than writing about music, which they do as a side line. The day job supports the passion.
But I want to look here at the better option of earning a living as a music journalist. That’s not to say a bit of passion doesn’t take you a long way in music journalism.
Ten years later he was the editor. One of his most significant early decisions was to replace Kajagoogoo on the front cover with The Smiths. He went on to edit Uncut. His story is covered in full here www.pressgazette.co.uk/node/38345 where you’ll find great anecdotes and advice on being prepared such as:
“I used to write out notebooks full of questions before interviews. For my first interview with Ken Hensley from Uriah Heep I was up for two nights solid preparing.”
“I didn’t use a tape recorder... If you can’t remember what someone says, it’s not a good quote.”
Let's gather advice from other successful music journalists
Here's a video featuring Robert Hilburn, LA Times pop music critic, with his advice for those starting out in music journalism:
Here's what Ben Gilbert of Yahoo has to say
Ben, music journalist at Yahoo, took the conventional UK training route – an NCTJ qualification then in to local papers. (The audio quality is poor, but the advice is valuable)
Those vital first steps
Lawrence Green told The Guardian how he moved from work experience to interviewing stars, getting on the radar of the NME and Q, and building 10,000 followers on Twitter.
He says there: "Music journalism is something you have to immerse yourself completely in. It becomes your life”
It's worth reading the post, it goes into a great detail on how to get into, and progress in, music journalism.
How to get published by the NMHe t
Noel Gardner, music and listings editor for South Wales-based magazine Buzz told BBC Wales how he began on a student magazine at Cardiff, worked on a webzine and did some radio station DJing. Then submitted reviews to the NME, and freelanced there for four years.
He advises: “Many major magazines and newspapers rely on freelance writers for a substantial part of their material, and confidence in your own ability can be an important factor in getting work published. It's often easier to convince someone else that you have talent if you believe it yourself.
He says you should go to as many gigs as you can afford, write practice reviews of them plus ones of CDs you buy, and read a wide range of music publications.
There are many opportunities to be published he says, because many webzines and web-magazines rely on user-generated content.
You can send unsolicited articles to online publications and, if no one seems to want to publish you at first, you can self publish on a blog.
The power of a good portfolio
Joe Goodden of BBC Wales, interviewed for the same post, (www.bbc.co.uk/wales/music/sites/how-to/pages/journalist.shtml) says: "The most valuable assets are a decent portfolio of articles – which you can easily do by self-publishing online or by badgering for some well-placed work experience – a bit of initiative, and the ability to write clearly and well."
He also suggests talking to people in bands and promoters when you go to gigs.
What an editor wants from you
Here's some advice from Andy Parker, editor of Electric Banana, which is “an interactive and digital music magazine run passionately by music fans and journalists.” The full post is worth reading at that link, but here are some highlights:
Stick to the writing guidelines you are given and submit the review on time, to show you can follow simple instructions and work with the minimum of fuss. That'll impress any editor. And it's essential to research the style and tone of articles that the publication uses, and to adopt them for your own writing.
Most music magazine have their own established team of reviewers, but it can be worth sending in a review on spec.
Having your own well written music blog will demonstrate your passion for music, and give potential employers a place to check out your music journalism credentials. Make sure you update it regularly.
Completing a successful placement at one respected music website or magazine demonstrates to others that you are worth having in the office. Placements can also lead to jobs, if there happens to be a vacancy.
To impress while on a work placement show your enthusiasm, and do all your assignments to the best of your ability.
Create an Excel spreadsheet of all the people you have contacted. Include their name, job title and email, together with the date you sent the email. Have a column in which to document their response. Add responses as they come in, and chase up any who do not respond after a fortnight or so.
Ask if they have had a chance to look into your request or read your review.
Lester Bangs is something of a legend in rock journalism. Here's a link to his classic How to be a rock critic piece:
What you need to know – about music and journalism
We are talking about covering music as a specialism. Not as a fan.
Which means, if you want to be a music specialist, that you need to be as knowledgeable about your chosen subject as a political journalist is about politics, a health journalist about medical matters and a foreign correspondent about the country they are covering.
You can of course take the fanzine approach, and choose to write uncritically about the bands you adore, but that’s not journalism, let alone being a specialist.
In terms of knowing about your subject, music journalism is harder than some specialisms, but more enjoyable than others.
A wiki at musiccareer.om.au offers a good basic run down on the knowledge required. You will need: “Good knowledge of the repertoires and creative and performance practices of the musical genres you specialise in."
You need historical context and understanding to determine whether a recording or performance is groundbreaking, or interesting, or neither.
“This involves an ongoing and extensive programme of critical listening. Relevant practical skills in music performance, composition and production are also an advantage.
It's not essential to have specialised knowledge when doing interview-based stories, but you must be well informed to get the best response from the interviewee, and to write a worthwhile piece.
Music journalists must maintain a network of contacts with extensive knowledge of particular areas of music.
Freelances must be able to write in the styles for particular websites or print publications. To do that you need to be aware of the types of musical terminology that readers of a particular publication expect, and to understand what level of technical or critical language the readers will understand.
Know your music history
For UK readers, Mag Forum offers a comprehensive history of UK music mags here: www.magforum.com/glossies/music_magazines.htm
It offers such vital knowledge as “Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons famously answered an NME advert for 'hip, young gunslingers' and their writing about punk helped catapult the title ahead of rivals Melody Maker and Sounds”
To get the picture on current magazines, there's a great context-setting list from Andy Parker, the editor of Electric Banana, here: http://ezinearticles.com/?Music-Journalism-in-the-UK&id=6140715
How to tell and sell music stories
So you’ve got a foot in the door of music journalism. Now for how to make sure it isn’t slammed shut on you.
To do that, what you deliver has to be good.
First let’s take a look at a couple of videos, one that shows you how to be a good reviewer, the second about how to be a bad one, then we’ll get on to some more detail, and a lot more advice curated from successful music writers and editors.
How to be a good music reviewer
How to be a bad music reviewer
How to sell your music journalism
The Guardian’s careers site posted some great advice from a number of successful music writers and editors on how to break into music journalism. The full post is here: http://careers.theguardian.com/music-journalism-best-of. Below are some highlights from it.
Matilda Egere-Cooper, who contributes the BBC, The Independent, Dazed & Confused and i-D magazine, and tutors at the Catch 22 Academy gives this advice in the Guardian post: “Know the magazine you want to pitch to – you'll see what kind of features they would consider...
Once you understand what works for a given title, she says, you'll understand what sort of features they will consider and you can research accordingly. "The key," she says, "is to pitch something that is unique and not necessarily something a staffer could do."
You will need to show you're the most qualified person to produce the feature. Cover that in your pitch, and also explain how you can make the feature happen. Say who you will interview, how quickly you can deliver the piece, and what pictures will be available.
Duncan JA Dick is deputy editor of Mixmag, the world's biggest clubbing and dance music magazine.
He has this advice: “Pitch to the right person – it shows you've done your homework.
“Look in your target publication, or on its website, to find out who does what and email your ideas and introduction to them. Tell them who you've written for before and include an example or a link."
You are more likely to get the work if the commissioning editor has met you.
Anna Britten, who has written about music and the arts for Metro, Classic FM Magazine, Yahoo!, Q, Bang, The Independent On Sunday and Time Out has this advice:
“Don't be afraid to approach editors with examples of your work.
Sending an editor a good sample review in their in-house style shows you know their magazine, can walk-the-walk and could fit in if required.”
The markets for music journalism
Let’s look in more detail about how to get commissions – how to sell to an editor.
To sell you need to know what your market wants to buy.
The book Working in the Music Industry by Anna Britten has a useful chapter on that market, and you can preview it at this Google Books link: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Working_in_the_Music_Industry.html?id=nYQrAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y
We’ve looked already at websites – the starting point for many wannabe music journos. Here are some more markets.
In each case, you’ll need to really know the title you are targeting, understand what they want (by knowing what they’ve run in the past) and how to deliver it.
Music coverage tends to be part of the general showbiz, celeb reporting which we cover in a separate module. To get into it you need to understand red top journalism and how to be good at it.
Broadsheet (serious) newspapers
Music journalism is taken seriously – as part of the arts coverage – and there are usually well-established critics and interviewers, often freelances with a background in specialist consumer magazines or even trade mags.
Specialist consumer magazines
There are opportunities for reviews and interviews across a wide range of consumer mags – including teenage, women’s and men’s lifestyle.
Specialist music magazines
The likes of NME, Q and the rest are the top of the tree for music journalists. You'll need to show what you’ve done at lesser titles to be taken seriously.
If your goal is to write music reviews and conduct interviews with stars, the last thing you want to hear is that getting a job on a B2B title is a great first step. Why would you want to cover the movers and shakers in the industry, the deals and the other backroom stuff?
Remember we are trying to look in this masterclass at music journalism as a career, and one that pays the rent. Not only is there a paying market within the music industry for informed coverage of that industry; knowing the industry also gives you a great, knowledgeable background for your consumer-focused coverage of music.
How to tell your story
Here’s advice from the Guardian post mentioned above on how to tell your story, and deliver the material the editor wanted.
Here’s what Duncan JA Dick, editor of MixMag, looks for in a music review:
- “Has the writer properly listened to the album or tune?
- “If it's full of clichés, unfunny puns on the artist's or album's name, or sentences that don't do anything except fill space, then it'll be rejected.
- “It should be entertaining to read.
- “It should be within the word count."
Matilda Egere-Cooper has this to add: “A review should really understand what makes the music good or bad: it's important to demonstrate you understand what makes it good."
This, she said, could involve analysing the song lyrics, the production quality, or the way the songs are constructed.
“It would be worth knowing any previous work the artist has done so you establish a difference."
A live review should be an opinionated and critical analysis of the performance, not merely a description of what happened.
Egere-Cooper adds that you should listen to music all the time – and have an ear for detail. You must know the genre of music intimately, so you can put the piece of music and the artist in context.
She says that in classical music, the genre she covers, she would expect a reviewer to be able to spot a missing bar from a symphony.
14B15 Education journalism
The education beat is a central one.
Education is such a crucial part of the lives of every individual, and of every society’s attempts to ensure it has a bright future, that it’s a very lively and important specialism.
What I’ve discovered as I’ve researched this topic is that education journalism is taken much more seriously, and given far greater importance, in the USA than it is in the UK.
In the former there are organisations dedicated to aiding journalists to master this central beat. In the UK there are no such outfits.
And my impression is that while education correspondents/editors are seen as being in the top rank of reporters in America, in the UK they are not.
The resources available for those who would like to follow the education beat are far more numerous in the USA than in the UK, so while I have tried to balance the content of this masterclass to reflect the fact that MMJ’s readership is more or less equally split across the Atlantic, I’ve found far more resources – and richer information – in America.
Why be an education journalist?
There are strong reasons for choosing education as your beat.
The USA's Education Writers' Association puts it like this: "Education is the best beat on the paper.
"No other assignment sweeps across people’s lives from infancy to old age.
In most communities, education is a major industry.
In most states, it consumes the largest share of tax dollars”.
They say that a journalist writing about education will cover everything from budgets, debates over values, discoveries in the research lab, threats of local lawsuits to US Supreme Court rulings, and teacher training.
The value of education journalism
The promo video below features McKenzie Ryan, education reporter on Florida Today, on why she thinks education reporting is important. As she says there: “I believe in my community and I want to make a difference”
Local education decisions and how those play out impact all of us. Informed readers make better decisions, and better decisions make stronger communities.
How to get in to education journalism
There is an awful lot that education journalists need to know if they are to cover their specialism effectively. Which means this is not a beat you can just jump into. You need to know your stuff.
So how do you get to know it?
One favoured route has been local newspapers. For example, Rebecca Attwood got a masters degree in English literature from the University of Leeds, worked as the Cambridge Evening News’s university correspondent then joined the Times Higher Education in January 2007, where she is currently features editor. Here biog is here: (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/content/rebecca-attwood)
Yoav Gonen (https://twitter.com/yoavgonen) became a New York Post education reporter in his late 20s. He had a BA in English from the University of Michigan, and hadn’t considered journalism until in his mid-20s, when he decided to go for a Masters of Journalism degree at New York University.
He had had a number of jobs as a writer and book publisher. He got an internship at the Daily News, then a job on a small local newspaper before a staff job on the News. He is now the Post's City hall bureau chief.
For others, education is a specialism that comes after one or two others. Chris Marshall, (https://twitter.com/chris_scotsman) became education correspondent at The Scotsman, having previously been Transport/Environment reporter at The Evening News and general reporter/health reporter at The Press and Journal. He is now a home affairs reporter at The Scotsman.
Another route is within broadcasting. Mike Baker (www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/) was the BBC’s education correspondent for nearly 20 years. Before that he was a political correspondent, foreign affairs correspondent and deputy home news editor for the BBC. He read English at Cambridge. These days he freelances within his specialism.
The B2B market for education journalists is a healthy one.
Titles such as the Times Education Supplement (TES), and the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) are highly successful. The TES website is a remarkable resource for teachers which we’ve looked at in MMJ in other contexts.
National newspapers and broadcasters all have their education correspondents, often drawn from B2B and regional publications.
In short, you become an education journalist by a wide variety of routes – as wide a variety as in any specialism.
Are there any jobs for education journalists?
With the financial pressures on newspapers, you might conclude that education correspondents are being dumped as a luxury in favour of generalists.
Evidence in the US suggests that that is not the case, that even in hard times – maybe especially in hard times – education correspondents are highly valued by editors.
That's certainly the view of Richard Lee Colvin of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University. Colvin (www.tc.columbia.edu/news.htm?articleID=7831) bases his view on the results of a survey of 1,000 education reporters at US newspapers. He says: “Fifty per cent of the survey respondents said their paper considered education coverage a high priority and 47 per cent said it was at least a medium priority.
More than half said an education story makes the front page at least weekly."
How to find, sell and tell education stories
Let’s take a look at how former New York Post education reporter Yoav Gonen does it. Yoav took part in a series of video interviews with Capture Your Flag.
Capture Your Flag's goal is to “interview tomorrow's leaders today” (www.captureyourflag.com/)
There are around 20 videos there covering many aspects of a specialists reporter’s job. I’ve selected some of the most relevant to include here.
I think they are incredibly valuable because Yoav is completely open and honest about the process of learning to be an education specialist, which clearly took him a while.
How to get the stories your editor wants
In this video Yoav shares how he progressively learned to identify and filter newsworthy story topics before presenting ideas to his editor. As he says, “slowly but surely you learn what your bosses like, you learn what your organisation likes.”
One of the most important points he makes is that the editors expect you to be the expert, to choose the one key story from the six things happening that day to focus on.
How to pitch stories
Yoav says: “The best part of the job is when you get to pitch your own stories”
How to improve as a specialist reporter
What education journalists need to know
Education journalists need to know a lot.
To get some idea, here’s a list of what Julie Henry (www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/julie-henry/) education correspondent of the [London] Sunday Telegraph for 10 years, and now a freelance for that and other papers (http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/julie-henry/3b/357/3a9), has covered, according to her biog:
“She has written articles and features covering:
- the SATs marking debacle,
- the shortage of university places,
- higher education admission rows,
- the scramble for good school places,
- grammar schools,
- academies, and changes to exams and the school curriculum.”
In the UK you could add to that list the controversy over free schools, the debate over increased university tuition charges, and many other major issues.
In the USA, the question of alleged falling standards in education has become core to a debate (http://ajrarchive.org/Article.asp?id=5280) not just on the importance of good educational standards to the nation's prosperity and world standing, but even to restoring the American Dream.
Those involved in such debates often seek to use statistics to support their arguments, which means than an education reporter needs to be comfortable with number crunching and with processing data.
Education seems to creep into so many stories. In the UK, the debate about government attempts to curb tax avoidance by the rich by restricting the amount of relief they can claim on charitable donations, has had a knock-on effect on donations to educational charities. There has even been talk of a funding crisis.
So education journalists need to know a lot.
Whether working for local or national publishers or broadcasters, they need to understand a great deal about national and local education policy – where power lies, how it is applied and what the issues are concerning education policy.
They also need to know about educational theory and practice – for instance, what synthetic phonics are. They are part of the UK debate about teaching reading.
Education journalists feel they need more training
According to a survey by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University: “Reporters who cover education believe overwhelmingly that the beat requires specialised knowledge.
"Yet 39 per cent of education reporters say they’ve received no such training"
Some key findings from that report:
- 91 percent of respondents believe covering education requires specialised training and knowledge.
- 41 percent say more training is what they need most to improve their coverage – nearly twice the percentage who say they need either more time for stories or more knowledgeable education editors.
So where do you find this information?
In the USA the Education Writers' Association (http://www.ewa.org/) provides a really impressive resource for education journalists.
It’s free to join, and membership gives you access to these resources among many more:
- A resource centre with information on “topical areas from early education to college, graduate school and adult education”.
- A blog “offering in depth analysis on the latest in education policy and research.”
- Forums, conferences, webcasts and even free one-to-one advice on story ideas and approaches to research.
- Publications on how to approach the journalism beat.
The EWA takes major education issues and carries out nationwide research that gives education reporters the data they need to report them accurately.
14B16 Reporting on religion
Religion is an overlooked beat. It shouldn’t be.
It’s not nearly as power-focused as politics or business, as adventurous-seeming as international journalism or as sexy as music, film or showbiz.
But it is a great place to find stories.
And the range of stories the religion beat throws up is enormous.
We in the West tend to think of our societies as becoming increasingly secularised. There are predictions of religious observance dying out in some.
Yet issues of faith, religious belief, observance and sometimes-conflicting moral frameworks based on a given religion impact on our politics, our social policy, questions of human rights, education, crime and many other areas.
Why be a religion reporter?
Here’s a good reason: religion throws up many great stories.
And here's another: religion affects a great many people, even if they have no faith of their own
According to Judith Mitchell Buddenbaum, author of Reporting News About Religion: An Introduction for Journalists (http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Reporting_News_About_Religion.html?id=NU207yNXDMsC&redir_esc=y), reporting on religion is second only to education in the public's ranking of importance. Yet it tends to turn up last in audience satisfaction surveys.
So that’s a third good reason to choose it as your beat. Be a great political reporter and you’ll be among many others who are really good at their jobs. Be a great religion reporter and you’ll stand head and shoulders above many of your rivals.
And there will be plenty of stories for you to shine on, because religious faith is a factor in many of the big contemporary issues – from the international right down to the local level.
The war on terror is the obvious one, but there are plenty of others, such as the debates about assisted dying, stem cell research and even science education in schools.
Religion Link, formerly known as The Religion Writers' Foundation (www.religionlink.com/) says: “Religion is a factor in the issues Americans consistently name as their top concerns: war, terrorism, education, health care, immigration, the environment and the health of the economy.”
Faith plays a more visible role in public life the USA than it does in the UK. In the former, a presidential candidate’s faith is seen as an important part of their character and suitability for the job. The Pew Institute publishes regular reports on the impact of religion on elections in the USA.
Journalists don't do God
In the UK, politicians are reluctant to talk openly about their faith. In the words of ex-PM Tony Blair’s then-spin doctor, Alastair Campbell: “We don’t do God”.
In the USA, Religion Link has produced a great online resource called Reporting on Religion: A Primer on Journalism’s Best Beat, (www.religionlink.com/pdf/primer2006.pdf) in which it is said: “Religion can enrich your stories by explaining people’s motivations" and can prove details that transform routine reports into surprising or provocative narratives.
Religion, they say, shapes people’s actions and reactions across the range of news and features. Without factoring in religion, they add, you’re often not getting the whole story.
Religion often answers the 'why' in a story. People, groups and nations are often motivated by faith, and religion plays a significant role in world events from war in the Middle East and tensions in Northern Ireland to terrorism in the West.
But while religion matters to many people, it matters less to many journalists and journalistic organisations.
The BBC’s Roger Bolton puts the case (in a BBC video that is no longer available) for why it should matter in the corporation, and in British journalism.
In it he said: “Journalists tend to be sceptical of religion and those for whom spirituality is important.
That's understandable to an extent. Journalists work with evidence; they want proof; want to see things with their own eyes. Faith and belief are the antithesis of that mindset."
Some journalists find those who live their lives and make their decisions on the basis of their religious beliefs incomprehensible, and may be contemptuous of those with sincere spiritual convictions.
This blog post from a BBC editor demonstrates (www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/theeditors/2007/02/reporting_religion.html) how religious news can lose out to other stories in the schedules.
A survey from the Pew Research Centre reported here (www.theblaze.com/stories/2011/06/06/do-journalists-understand-religion/) found: “Only 8 per cent of national journalists claim that they attend church or synagogue each week. This compares with 39 per cent of the general public. While a lack of personal affiliation doesn‘t necessarily mean that journalists can’t properly report on religion, this disparity is important to note.”
Reporters don't know enough about religion
Despite the need to understand religion as a factor in many stories, many reporters acknowledge they don’t know enough about it.
Less than one-fifth of reporters called themselves “very knowledgeable” about religion in a survey by the Knight Program in Media and Religion at USC and the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
And the public thinks religious reporting is sensationalised: “Two-thirds of the American public believe religion coverage is too sensationalized – a view held by less than 30 per cent of reporters”.
Not surprisingly, it's people of faith who feel most strongly that religion is badly reported.
The BBC did a survey (link no longer available) and found: “Faith groups think that the majority of people derive most of their knowledge of religion from the news. So the power of news coverage to influence opinion about faiths is felt to be particularly strong.”
Among the negatives were “the prominence of occasional negative and inaccurate coverage." This was said to occur most often in News and Current Affairs output, where there was perceived to be ignorance of key issues.
Most faith groups had a grievance about how they were covered.
The survey identified a belief that minority voices within Islam articulating extreme points of view were thought sometimes to receive disproportionate coverage, and that this harmed the perception of faith overall.
Many Jews, the survey discovered, believe coverage of the Middle East conflict is hostile to Israel and to them as a faith community.
Another finding was that Roman Catholics are generally worried by what they believe is the negative depiction of Catholicism. While respondents acknowledged that issues such as child abuse by priests or controversial Vatican teaching on sexual morality were newsworthy, the repeated presentation of these aspects of Catholicism alone led Catholics to feel they were under attack.
A bid for better faith journalism
The International Association of Religion Journalists (www.theiarj.org/) aims to represent faith reporters. Among its goals are boosting the prominence and professionalism of religion reporting, and emphasising the need for responsible journalism that can unite rather than divide people.
US journalist David Briggs, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and the main driving force behind the initiative told Ruth Eglash: “We are living in a global society and our understanding internationally of religion is weak. With this association, journalists now have contacts in various countries and can work together.”
British Author Karen Armstrong, who supports the body, said: “One of the problems we have is the media who only present very one-sided views of certain religious activities. Islam is the obvious example. We hear all about the negative [things] that people are saying. But we don’t have a balance of the positive.”
Why religion matters in so many stories
So why is religion more important to the news agenda than it was?
Religion Link (RL) explains here (http://www.religionlink.com/reporting-on-religion/the-basics/trends-in-religion-news/) how heightened religious awareness has driven an interest in stories in which faith is a part. They are referring to America, but much of what they say applies equally to many western nations.
RL says that, until recently, religion was usually relegated to the 'church page'.
"Now, news about many different faiths leads televised and radio broadcasts, inspires thousands of web sites and tops front pages of newspapers around the country and around the world. It’s also found in every section of the newspaper."
They give these reasons for the change:
- The country is more religiously diverse, and more faiths are more common
- Some of their practices require special accommodations from schools and workplaces.
- Crimes by church personnel, such as sexual abuse, have thrust religious groups into the news
- Issues including abortion, end-of-life issues, stem cell research, same-sex marriage and more have come to the fore
- Religious denominations are in bitter conflict over homosexuality, abortion and women’s roles
- Religion has a prominent role in many international conflicts.
In the UK, say RL, one important reason for the growth in religious news is the increasing Muslim population.
How to get in to religion reporting
Most broadcasters and serious newspapers have a religious affairs correspondents. Local media often don’t.
But there will be many good stories coming out of faith groups in any area, and if this is a beat that is overlooked, it’s worth trying to make it your own.
Then there are specialist consumer titles for religious groups, some controlled by a particular church or faith, others that have an independent editorial line.
The range of magazines and newspapers is enormous. You can find a list of them, arranged by faith covered and with links to each here (www.world-newspapers.com/religion.html)
Religion Link has this advice on getting in to the beat from Richard N. Ostling, who is one of the Associated Press' two religion writers, and was Time magazine's religion writer for 19 years.
He stresses that an interest in news should come first: “People looking for a way to apply their personal interest or academic study in religion often think news writing would be a good outlet. Think again. A keen interest in reporting must come first... Without a love for non-religion news, you won’t love religion news.”
He adds that editors want versatile people with solid skills in information-gathering, who can write clearly under pressure. They aren't looking for those with religion degrees who convey a narrow interest in the subject, or who they fear might push their personal religious agenda.
As with any specialism, journalists arrive at it by a wide range of routes.
Ruth Gledhill who wrote in The [London] Times for over 20 years, has this account of how her career developed: “After a diploma at the London College of Printing she was indentured on The Birmingham Post and moved to The Daily Mail for two years before joining The Times in 1987. She became the paper’s Religious Affairs Correspondent soon afterwards.”
Ruth is the daughter of a Church of England vicar, which must have given her a useful grounding in the subject.
Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet, an international liberal Catholic weekly based in London, took the local paper, B2B, national newspaper route before specialising in religion.
She was, among other things, property correspondent of Sheffield Morning Telegraph, chief reporter of Estate Times, news editor at Building, a reporter on The Observer, assistant news editor, then news editor, then features editor at The Independent and executive editor of the Independent on Sunday before joining The Tablet as editor in 2004.
What you'll need to know about religion
Every reporter needs to know the basics about religion. Even if they have no interesting covering the faith beat.
You can’t do your job without it. A basic knowledge of the main religions is as vital today as knowing how local and national government, the judiciary and other major institutions function.
But how much more do you need to know to become a religion reporter?
And do you have to be a believer to cover the religion beat?
No, you don’t.
Objectivity is key in reporting on religion, just as with any other specialism. Not belonging to one faith or another doesn’t make you any less likely to report accurately.
Being a good religious reporter isn't about being religious; it’s about being a good journalist.
But the religion beat is a tough one. As AP religion reporter Tom Breen says here (www.getreligion.org/2011/09/how-an-ap-reporter-found-religion/): “The AP’s very talented religion editor once described the faith beat as 'intimidating,' and I think that’s absolutely right".
The reason? There is no non-religious organisation with "a back story as rich, detailed and complex as, say, Judaism. Or Christianity. Or Islam. Or Hinduism. You get the idea."
What faith reporters must strive to do, he says, is research any story extensively, and identify the telling details, best sources and most important facts, so that even a short story has sufficient nuance and balance.
So how do you get the depth of knowledge you need in order to achieve that?
You could start with the BBC’s College of Journalism briefing on religion: www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/subject-guides/religion
It includes a great test-yourself quiz which will show you whether you know what you need to about the world’s major faiths.
There are plenty of other religion learning resources, including this (http://themediaproject.org/page/about-media-project) at the Media Project which “challenges and equips mainstream journalists, editors, journalism educators and media analysts in all facets of media to cover religion as an essential part of public life in all corners of the world” and publishes www.getreligion.org “whose working-journalist contributors provide daily analysis of the best and worst of religion coverage in the news.” It’s based in Washington DC but with a satellite office in Norway.
Should you have an academic qualification in religion?
Many correspondents do also have an academic qualification in religion.
Richard N. Ostling, one of the Associated Press's two religion writers, says here (www.religionlink.com/faqs/getting-started/): “I recommend that anyone with long-term commitment to the beat acquire some solid academic training if he/she doesn’t have it already.
“For me, the slog of getting an MA in religion through night classes while working full time was amply rewarded during numerous difficult assignments."
Here’s what you’ll need to know
These are the big three religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Religion Link has full tuition in each of them and offers this useful background to religion in the USA (www.religionlink.com/reporting-on-religion/a-roundup-of-religions/the-big-three-christianity-judaism-and-islam/): “The United States is often called a country founded on Judeo-Christian values. Now Islam has firmly joined Christianity and Judaism as one of the three most prominent faiths in America."
Follow the link above for a run-down on what you need to know if you are to enter the religion beat.
How to find stories and master the religion beat
First you need to find our sources, and the people and news sources you must read and follow.
If you are covering the whole religion beat you’ll need to know what’s happening in all the major faiths.
If you specialise in one, then you need the right connections within it.
Here are some starting points for essential resources you will need.
News and story-finding resources
The Society of Professional journalists’ Toolbox offers this incredibly comprehensive list of links to resources on reporting religion: www.journaliststoolbox.org/archive/religion/
Religion Link's global database of resources, searchable by country: www.religionlink.com/
Religion Link offers this advice on how to master the religion beat in the USA: www.religionlink.com/pdf/primer2006.pdf.
In summary they say you must:
- Surf the web for blogs, sites and information about current topics in religion
- Read national and local religious magazines and newspapers for all faith groups to learn what religious communities care about
- Watch out for religious themes in movies, books, television shows, computer games
- Sign up for email newsletters to help you spot trends in religion.
Getting to experts
The Religion Newswriters' Foundation warns here (www.religionlink.com/pdf/primer2006.pdf): “there are thousands of 'experts' out there.
"Your mission, however, is to find one or just a few who are knowledgeable, articulate and helpful on your particular story.
Some tips: There probably is no such thing as an impartial expert on religion."
There are, however, experts who offer analysis or context about a topic without advocating any one faith’s position. You need to identify them, and to know what makes them an expert in their field.
Who is an expert?
You will find them in these categories, but in each case you need to know what their views are (they may differ from the mainstream in their faith) and what their training and background is:
- Clergy. Most faith groups require education and training leading up to ordination
- Academics. These include professors in religious studies, and at seminaries, theological schools and other religious schools
- Officials at charitable institutions that involve religion. Be aware that they may be active lobbyists for a particular policy or viewpoint
- Bloggers. You'll find mavericks and unofficial but informed voices.
How one top religion reporter gets his stories
Tom Breen, who writes on religion for Associated Press says: “My news about religion comes from a lot of sources: newspapers and broadcasters, the denominational press, tips from sources, friends and acquaintances, press releases, etc.
But the most important day-to-day aspect of covering the beat is social media and blogs."
Twitter allows him to monitor international conversations about faith as they happen. Social networking allows him to go beyond the usual pundits, officials and experts, and get deeper into a story.
Making your reporting a force for good
The Media Diversity Organisation (www.media-diversity.org/en/) has some recommendations here on covering religion in a way that helps promote tolerance rather than conflict.
Here are some highlights from their suggestions:
- "Write about the laws governing religion in your region. Does the state offer privileges to the dominant faith and discriminate against others?"
- "Be careful not simply to repeat common stereotypes about people of other religions"
- "Find out if any universities in your area have religious studies departments." Cultivate the professors as potential sources.
- Beware, they say, of sources who base their arguments on religious topics solely on quotations from the Bible, the Koran, or other sacred texts
- Write about religious questions in the context of other social, political and economic developments or trends
- Write about the holidays of other religious traditions the same way you cover your own
- Don't treat one member of a religious group as representative of all of them.
14B17 Entrepreneurial journalism
What entrepreneurial journalism is
In Chapter 13, on building a personal brand and developing your specialism, we looked at how employment patterns for journalists have changed radically in recent years.
Now we will build on that, by showing that some journalists are becoming entrepreneurs and launching their own start-ups.
Traditionally, journalists worked on publications owned by others, and often for major news corporations.
Today, that’s often not the case. To take one illustration of that, each year, Forbes magazine publishes a list, called ‘30 Under 30’, of rising young stars in particular fields. The media list shows how journalism is changing. The Huffington Post reported (www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-yang/what-forbes-30-under-30-media-lists-tells-us-about-the-future-of-journalism_b_4762762.html) "Back in 2011, the exclusive list was riddled with the titles: writer, editor, producer, reporter, correspondent. But by 2013, 19 out of the 30 spots were entrepreneurs – founders or cofounders of their own companies...and only handful of journalists [were] from established news outlets."
The rise in the importance of entrepreneurialism means that no programme of journalism education can afford to leave out tuition in building a job. Plenty of young journalists still want to work for the big media corporations, and a proportion will achieve their goal. But many others either want – or accept that they must – work for themselves, at least for a time.
Many are putting together portfolio careers, in which they do some work for others, some for themselves. They might combine subbing on a magazine with running their own hyperlocal or other specialist website, some brand journalism or PR work and maybe some training for others in a skill that’s in demand – such as writing for the web, or website building.
Some are becoming entrepreneurs. They are developing start-up journalism businesses: creating their own apps or online and/or print publications. But entrepreneurialism does not come naturally to many journalists. So this chapter is intended as a guide to creating a start-up, and hence to building your own job – just in case no one creates one for you.
What entrepreneurial journalism is, and how it is being taught
Entrepreneurial journalism training is about equipping journalism students and, indeed, working journalists, to spot a business opportunity, to identify an unfulfilled news or information need, and to satisfy that need.
It's about enabling them to create a business that will make their journalism pay.
Entrepreneurial journalism has grown in importance as jobs in established media companies have become scarcer. For increasing numbers of journalists, if you want to practise your craft, you’ll have to create a business that enables you to do so.
Increasingly, entrepreneurialism is being taught on university journalism courses. Let's look at what one pioneering institution offers.
Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism
CUNY (City University of New York) created the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism in 2010. Its director is Jeff Jarvis.
Here's what they say about their programme: "Our goal is to help create a sustainable future for quality journalism. We believe that future will be shaped by entrepreneurs who develop new business models and innovative projects – either working on their own, with start-ups, or within traditional media companies."
They run a range of programmes for journalism students, newly qualified journalism graduates and mid-career journalists in "innovative approaches to journalism, business fundamentals, contemporary technology skills, and new business models for news."
CUNY set out to tackle the fact that journalists didn’t understand their own business by establishing a course in which students must create a business plan for a sustainable (which they define as profitable) journalistic enterprise. CUNY won grants of $100k to give as seed money to the best of the ideas students come up with, as decided by a jury of experts.
Students learn how to create a plan for a sustainable (profitable) journalism business. A summary of that plan includes these points:
- An elevator pitch – how to sell the idea briefly and effectively
- A needs statement – why does the world need this business?
- Market research and analysis – deciding who their customers are, and talking to them about the idea
- Competitive analysis - what other, possibly similar, products are being offered?
- Product plan – what is it?
- Revenue plan – how’s it going to make money?
- Distribution/marketing plan – how will people discover it?
- Operations plan – how will it operate? What will that cost?
- Launch plan – what are the phases and milestones?
Students develop a start-up project, present their business plan and compete for awards from the Tow-Knight Center to fund further development of their projects.
Here's an example.
Narratively was founded by CUNY student Noah Rosenberg as a multimedia platform devoted to original, in-depth stories. The site raised $54,000 through the crowd-source fund-raiser Kickstarter, and was named one of 50 best websites by Time magazine.
They say: "Narratively is a platform devoted to untold human stories. We avoid the breaking news and the next big headline, and focus instead on slow storytelling, exploring one theme each week and publishing just one story a day."
Narratively say their network of storytellers and editors look for narratives that mainstream media aren’t finding. Each Narratively piece, they add, is presented in the most appropriate medium: longform or shortform writing, documentary films, photo essays, audio, or interactives.
We'll look in depth at how entrepreneurial journalists have developed their ideas later in this module.
You'll find a guide to building a profitable niche news site here:
How to become an entrepreneurial journalist
First, let's hear some general advice from one entrepreneurial journalist. Adam Westbook is something of a serial entrepreneur. Currently he runs HotPursuit Press, a web-native publishing house, "committed to finding, producing and sharing in-depth, insightful and intelligent stories on the web", and edits Inside Story Magazine "a quarterly web-native periodical asking how good stories are told".
Previously he founded the Future of News Group, a monthly meet-up for journalists and publishers interested in the future of journalism, has produced and directed videos on climate change, and taught and consulted on multimedia journalism.
Adam's advice on developing your entrepreneurial idea is to ask yourself what itis about being a journalist that you really love, and then to try and build a business around it.
Here are some of the recommendations he comes up with:
Specialise in a single journalistic skill
Aggregate the news
Adam says you can build a business like Mashable or TechCrunch (http://techcrunch.com/) have done. They have aggregated, but then built their own content on top so they become, effectively, the home page of tech news.
You'd need to find an area of specialist content where this hasn’t been done yet.
Make a niche work
Forget broadcasting to the many – think connecting with the few.
If a few thousand followers who will pay for your content, you can earn a living. It needs to be a niche that really matters to an audience, Adam stresses, and you must become the place to go for information about it. So, being second best, or second most popular, really won't do.
Launch a journalism collaborative
The most famous collaborative, Westbrook says, is Magnum Photos
Magnum was set up as a collaborative of photojournalists in the mid twentieth century. It was born out of the Leica, a cheap, portable camera, and innovative photographers such as Cartier Bresson.
Adam sees parallels today, where multimedia technology is simpler and cheaper than it ever has been and it's easy to innovate.
Here are some examples of successful journalism start-ups cited by Adam:
See an example here:
Bombay Flying Club
See an example here:
See an example here:
Storify as an entrepreneurial journalism case study
Storify (www.storify.com), which we used in Chapter 6, is a good example of a successful entrepreneurial journalism project. So how does it fit the process?
Let's look again at my summary of CUNY's entrepreneurial training, which includes:
- An elevator pitch – how to sell the idea briefly and effectively
- A needs statement – why does the world need this business?
- Market research and analysis – deciding who their customers are, and talking to them about the idea
- Competitive analysis – what other, possibly similar, products are being offered?
- Product plan – what is it?
- Revenue plan – how’s it going to make money?
- Distribution/marketing plan – how will people discover it?
- Operations plan – how will it operate? What will that cost?
- Launch plan– what are the phases and milestones?
Let's look in detail at how Storify.com shows that formula in action
Storify was founded in 2010 by former AP journalist Burt Herman and developer and entrepreneur Xavier Damman. Herman developed the idea (www.niemanlab.org/2013/04/tuesday-qa-storifys-burt-herman-on-entrepreneurial-journalism-advertising-and-finding-the-right-business-model/) while on a year-long Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.
He wanted to find a way to curate and make sense of the stream of online content about fast-moving stories. So Herman spent much of his time at Stanford thinking about the real-time web, the increasing need to make sense of it through storytelling, and the evolution the web has wrought on what journalists do – which is to aggregate and filter reports about events and then build those into a coherent narrative.
The project's name came from a common request from AP editors to reporters: “Can u pls storify?” which meant 'turn this information into a story'.
Let's apply the main elements in the CUNY entrepreneurship process to Storify. The videos linked to in the text below show Storify's founders discussing the points I raise in my text.
An elevator pitch – sell the idea briefly and effectively.
Bert Herman says Storify is designed to: "Make stories using social media".
That's a perfect summary. When pitching the idea he goes on to say (http://youtu.be/SQLOXVy97wQ) "Right now there is so much information out there and it just flows by quickly and is lost. But these elements – tweets, photos, videos – are essential parts to telling stories of what's happening."
Herman says Storify is a platform that makes it easy to do that. You can drag and drop such elements in a story you create in a Storify template, adding whatever text you want around them; and then creating posts that you can embed anywhere.
A needs statement – why does the world need this business?
Xavier Damman says (http://youtu.be/DvPBqON3yUQ): "We need this because we live in an age when everybody has become a reporter, thanks to social media. So many people post things on Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and this is great content, but most people don’t realise that this content exists because it's flooded in way too much noise."
So, Damman continues, we need journalists and bloggers to find the important elements of content – the meaning in the noise - and turn those elements into a format that people can understand. The format, he says, is a story – because people read stories.
Market research and analysis – who their customers are.
When asked, 'Who do you see using Storify and how?' Burt says (http://youtu.be/SQLOXVy97wQ) "We see it as a great tool for journalists, bloggers, companies that are running social media campaigns and who want to record what their customers are saying about them, or even for people who want to put together an online scrapbook of content from their friends and family."
Competitive analysis – what other, possibly similar, products are being offered?
A number of curation tools launched in 2010, at the same time as Storify, so how was Storify different?
Xavier differentiates Storify from purely curational sites, saying: that it is the story format used in Spotify that sets it apart. It's not just about curating, it's about finding elements and turning them into stories, he says.
As you'll remember from Chapter 6, when we used Storify, the key to effective storytelling on it is not simply to collect the elements of a story together, it's how you link and contextualise the pieces of social media content you have curated that determines whether you tell a good Storify story or not.
Revenue plan – how’s it going to make money?
Like a lot of start-ups, the business plan developed only after the product had been used for a while.
In 2010 Burt said their focus was on building their community. He said the site was bootstrapped – which means he and his partner were funding it. However, a year later Storify won $2m of funding from a Silicon Valley venture capital firm: (www.niemanlab.org/encyclo/storify/?=fromembed)
By 2013, Storify's community of users had reached 600,000, and the founded decided it needed to monetise.
But how best to do that? Burt revealed something of the discussions that took place at the time. Two potential business models were considered: some kind of subscription or premium service running alongside a free version, or a model that depended on revenue from advertising.
They went for the free plus premium option. They could do so because a combination of large publishers, brands and PR agencies, political organisations, NGOs, and others were prepared to pay.
Storify announced the creation of Storify VIP in 2010: (https://gigaom.com/2010/09/29/storify-wants-to-pull-stories-from-the-stream/), a paid version of the service that offered additional features and personalisation, designed with big publishers in mind. The BBC was an early sign-up.
Shortly afterwards, (www.niemanlab.org/2013/09/storify-sold-to-livefyre-in-a-merging-of-social-curation-tools/) Storify was acquired by Livefyre, best known for making the software that powers comment sections on some websites, with its founders staying on. Livefyre numbered CBS, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and Condé Nast among its clients, and was considered a good match for Storify's customer – and potential customer – base.
Other examples of successful entrepreneurial journalism
First, here's another example of a start-up developed by a student at CUNY. Jeanne Pinder took redundancy at The New York Times and founded ClearHealthCosts.com, a website that gives accurate prices for health care. The idea won her over $50,000 in grants.
A webchat (www.poynter.org/how-tos/career-development/ask-the-recruiter/139583/live-chat-tuesday-how-to-become-a-more-entrepreneurial-journalist/) Jeanne took part in with CUNY tutor Jeremy Caplan gives a valuable insight into the process of developing an idea into a viable business, and shows that entrepreneurial ideas do not spring fully formed – they develop over time, just as Storify's ideas on how to make money did.
In that webchat Jeanne Pinder makes clear that while she had an idea about the site she wanted to create, it wasn't fully formed, and that Jeff Jarvis and Jeremy Caplan helped her form it and make a business plan, including a needs analysis, a competitive analysis, and an elevator pitch.
Jeremy Caplan says that there is no single magic bullet in creating a journalism business. Most start-up projects, he says, will require multiple revenue streams, multiple sources of content, and multiple attempts to get the content mix, and the revenue mix, right.
Their elevator pitch: "We provide trusted regional news perspectives, local business news, market news, business comment and opinion for the business community in each region." (www.thebusinessdesk.com/northwest/about-us.html)
Registered users have free access to the latest business headlines including corporate finance deals, company results and announcements, commercial property deals and key appointments.
Within three years it had 50,000 registered subscribers, and reached 100,000 in four years, with revenues topping £1m.
It was shortlisted for Digital News Service of the Year in the 2012 National Newspaper Awards alongside The Sunday Times and Huffington Post.
Parkin sold out in 2013 (www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2013/news/parkin-sells-businessdesk-com-to-technology-investor/) to a technology investor with plans to take TheBusinessDesk nationwide.
Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford blogged: “It’s a thriving and expanding business and shows that the advertising funded online model can work if you’re dealing with high-value readers and have low fixed costs".
In TheBusinessDesk's case that meant employing just 12 journalists and sales staff, but having more than 115,000 registered users.
Guido Fawkes Blog
The Guardian reported (www.theguardian.com/media/2011/jan/31/interview-paul-staines-guido-fawkes) "Although the blog attracts nearly 2m views a month, it is the Message Space umbrella of political sites which brings in the cash (the combined Order-Order and Message Space turnover is believed to be about £150,000 a year)."
Staines has regular political news scoops, and also makes money selling stories to newspapers, from T-shirt sales and appearances. He has a column in the Sun on Sunday, reaching a potential readership of 4m.
He says (http://lifeofwylie.com/2010/01/17/new-ways-to-make-journalism-pay-2) he can get £20,000 from a newspaper for a political scandal story: They pay up because they had the idea of a rival getting the story, he says.
The Guardian described him as a rarest of beasts – an independent publisher who had discovered how to make money out of the Internet.
The guardian profile makes the point that Staines has built an almost monopolistic position in the UK political web space. He is so well established that the best stories are brought to him rather than any of his rivals. He sells the best on to Sunday newspapers, to help fund the site.
Message Space dominates political advertising, according to the Guardian profile, running digital campaigns for political parties and other clients.