Solutions Journalism – some links

I’m trying to catch up with recent discussions about ‘solutions journalism’ – here are a few links:

A good piece to read all these against is the short entry on Journalism in the ‘New Liberal Arts’ ebook put together by the guys at Snarkmarket.

A couple of key quotes:

Journalism was once defined as “what professional journalists do.” Today, journalism can be re-described as a community’s conversations with itself. The role of the journalist can be re-imagined as facilitating that conversation. Effective journalism will amplify a community’s questions about how well it’s doing and help find answers.

And also…

Journalism becomes the story of how a society optimizes itself. It creates an ever-evolving record of how the society is functioning, so citizens can amplify their successes, improve their inefficiencies, and fix their mistakes. Once thought of as “the first draft of history,” journalism drafts the blueprint for an ever-changing present. It brings together the best information we have to evaluate our choices and adjust our course.

Journalism is described as ‘the art of the now’… Which is, well, revealing and interesting.

 

Suzanne Moore on Liz Jones’ new book

I’m not sure if ‘hatchet job’ is the right way to describe Suzanne Moore’s brutal takedown of Liz Jones’ new book ‘Girl Least Likely To: 30 Years of Fashion, Fasting and Fleet Street’.

It’s more like a diagnosis, or even an intervention. Perhaps if your journalistic stock-in-trade is confessing your personal pathologies, then you invite a critical response like this – focusing on anorexia, self-hatred, unacknowledged anger, narcissism.

Confessional columnists sell themselves as ‘truth-tellers’ – people who aren’t afraid to put it out there. But as Moore says of Jones, ‘The truth she sells is that you can monetise damage if you are clever enough.’

There’s been a bit of anti-Moore stuff online, saying that she misrepresents anorexia and/or that she should be more compassionate to someone who’s mentally ill… Though if you really follow that line of argument, you should end up pointing the finger at the editors at the Mail who sell papers/generate page views from giving Jones a regular platform for her self-loathing.

As Moore says:

It is well known that the Daily Mail gets women to write its most misogynistic pieces. Jones, I feel, always worked well for them as an example of the dread “career woman”: you end up childless, having endless “procedures”, living in a barn with cats, bats and raddled horses

The latest version of this kind of thing would be Samantha Brick, I guess.

‘Most students resist being educated’

That’s what US blogger/teacher Freddie says, in his post of the same name, which points out that there’s a prevailing notion around at the moment that the net has made traditional education obsolete by freeing up the flows of information. As a result, students can get to the information they want/need – they don’t need teachers anymore to deliver it to them…

However, as Freddie points out, education is an altogether more complex business – it isn’t simply about the communicating of information. An interesting post and an interesting discussion following on from it.

Reminded me of similar but related ideas from Pamela Hieronymi’s essay on the myths of online learning, quoted in Evegeny Morozov’s ‘To Save Everything, Click Here’:

Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.

 

BlikBook and ‘monetising student engagement’

The debate in online education seems to be dominated at the moment by MOOCs – and the whole pro/anti debate. But there are other companies moving into the area with slightly different ideas and approaches – like Blikbook, a would-be ‘Quora for Higher Education’, profiled recently by The Next Web.

Blikbook aims to encourage ‘high quality student engagement ‘ via anonymous Q&A rooms and a recommendation algorithm that suggests topics of interest. I thought the sections on revenue were especially revealing:

BlikBook was born from the experiences of its founders while at university. They found that students asked questions to each other via long email chains and text messages – hardly an efficient way of sharing knowledge. The startup began by trying to create engagement around specific textbooks but found that students preferred to use it to share broader, course-related questions.

 

Monetization is currently by way of affiliate links to textbooks, but BlikBook sees its real potential for revenue in the analytics it can provide to lecturers about how well students are engaging with their courses. This data, Tan says, can provide valuable insight into how well students will perform and how they may rate the course when it comes to filling in satisfaction surveys – an increasingly important factor when it comes to attracting future enrolments. The startup is currently trialling analytics features with a small group of universities.

I wonder if we’re going to see a lot more companies like this.

Journalism today

Found on Worldcrunch – Jonas Pulver on Dan Rollman’s social media prank. Not sure about the attempt to draw links between that and po mo art. But I thought this quote was interesting.

In the 21st century, most journalists do not create content anymore, they are more like curators, like those guys at the Pompidou Museum who write the explanatory notices on artworks. Nowadays, the world of media is expanding in multiple directions, becoming faster and volatile as any user can share information through networks.

 

Consequently, the added value of journalism not only lies in the (verified) facts, but now also depends as much on how they are connected to each other, put into perspective. Being critical about the facts is now as important as reporting them – in content as in form alike. In a nutshell: journalism has become postmodern.

Currently reading lots of things about digital patterns of attention

Most of which I’ve found via Matt Locke’s Storythings.

I’ve been tweaking my various feeds on Google Reader (all part of sorting out my media consumption, after reading ‘The Information Diet’). I decided to ditch most of the mainstream content/news feeds – that stuff seems to find me anyway, mostly via Twitter. Instead, I figured I’d get most value from Google Reader by subscribing to distinctive individual voices/indie blogs and zines… And Matt’s Storythings was one of the things I added…

I’ll try to think a bit more about digital patterns of attention and maybe write something in a bit. In the meantime, I love this quote from Matt’s Yearnotes:

in an age of agile and iterative culture, the lines between research, strategy and product are blurry and often irrelevant

It feels very relevant to what I’m up to at the moment (redesigning the Journalism course at Westminster) and an attitude/approach I should be trying to embed into the course.

The idea behind my Reading List posts

I’ve been reading Clay Johnson’s ‘The Information Diet’ recently. His central analogy – the idea that we are over-consuming information the way we over-consume food – works as a way to get your attention though it is rather over-extended.

That said, Jonson’s general point – that we need to think more carefully about media consumption – is hard to argue with.

For example, I’ve become a bit troubled by the habit I’ve fallen into with Instapaper. In theory, this fantastic tool is supposed to help you consume online media more effectively and efficiently – it strips out ads, save the text for later when you can focus on it etc.

In practice, it doesn’t seem to work quite like that, at least not for me. I use Instapaper to save loads of things to read during the day – I find stuff via Twitter, Google Reader, Zite – but I never really get round to actually reading them – probably because I save too much.

So all I really know from all the pieces I save is what I pick up from scanning them quickly when I first encounter them and am trying to work out if I should save them to Instapaper.

So my idea with the ‘reading list’ post is to go back through my unread Instapaper stuff, pull out pieces around a particular theme and actually make time to read (and think about) in the following week and then write a post summarising what I learned.

That’s the plan anyway. Let’s see if it works.

Reading List – Viral/Spreadable Media and Journalism

A few things I’m planning to read this week, on the subject of viral media and journalism. In theory, I’m going to write a follow-post in about a week about what I’ve learned:

Tim Carmody on what’s good about Malcolm Gladwell’s journalism

Malcolm Gladwell has come in for a lot of criticism over the last couple of years – for a variety of reasons, I suppose:

  • He just got too over-exposed – or rather, lots of people started trying to do his thing – and didn’t do it as well as him
  • Perhaps he has also suffered a bit because, in a way, he’s a kind of personification of Ted-ism – and there is a backlash against that at the moment
  • People really didn’t like his piece on Twitter, social media and revolutions and political activism
  • His last book was the closest he’s come to what he’s always being accused of – business guru/management theory.

Of course, the thing about Gladwell is that the best things he does are the essays/features for the New Yorker. When he does a book, he, or his editors, push a larger story/provocative angle. That doesn’t always allow Gladwell to do what he does best – which is investigate and play around with new ideas/research – often about something hugely popular/taken for granted/kind of ubiquitous.

Tim Carmody does a great job of detailing the many strengths of Gladwell’s journalism in the latest addition to Nieman Storyboard’s Why’s This So Good series (as well as coming up with a good reason why Gladwell’s piece on Twitter (Small Change) didn’t work.) Riffing on Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on ketchup, Carmody starts with a list of things Gladwell does well:

  • He’s quotable, but also ‘paraphrasable and anecdote-able’ – I guess the point is that he’s great at packaging up intriguing facts in a form you can pass on in some form.
  • He’s good at stories that identify something counterintuitive (in a way, this is what lots of journalists try to do – few do it as well as Gladwell.)
  • He’s a ‘master of misdirection and the slow play’ – he weaves different strands, A stories and B stories and other disparate threads into an open exploration of a topic or idea – Carmody calls them ‘intelligence games’ and says that, at their best, they don’t come with ‘business-retreat-ready takeaways’, which seems right to me.

There’s loads to think about in the piece – one of the best in this series – but the last point might be the most interesting in terms of long form journalism. I guess one of the reasons people (writers and readers) are drawn to long form is that they’re looking for journalism with narrative complexity and depth; they want to read factual stories that do a better job of reflecting reality than the standard inverted pyramid formulaic storylines journalists usually serve up.

The problem is, long form journalists’ model of complex narrative is, for the most part, the nineteenth century novel (Tom Wolfe is the grand-daddy of this approach – Michael Lewis is, I guess, the leading modern practitioner).

But there are lots of other sorts of narrative journalists could work with – not just traditional realism. There are other novelistic approaches they could adapt. And approaches from other media. For example, the complex multi-level narratives of modern TV drama, with A, B and C storylines. One of Carmody’s points is that, among all the other clever things Gladwell does, this mixing of multiple storylines is a key part of what makes his work distinctive.

It’s definitely a point worth making. When Gladwell was being profiled everywhere, he was praised for the ideas in his pieces – all that stuff from social psychology etc. And that’s fair enough. But perhaps he hasn’t had enough credit for his craft too. Or his way with a story – or stories.

The truth about all type posters?

Web

Not sure if this is completely true – but it is kind of funny. And the whole type poster/sexy text thing is perhaps a little overexposed. The picture is by Daniel Seidi Kano and is all rights reserved, so I shouldn’t really post it here – but I have linked back – and it did appear on his Tumblr – 2 Color Ideas, which is also good fun. So go check both out.