Sometimes you wake up, lie in bed and wonder ‘Where did the time ago?’ The journey is long and the destination still isn’t clear.
Two nights ago, I met my first editor again and was happy to buy him a drink. He looked younger and was still chugging away at being true to his profession.
He met me as a fresh-faced, somewhat naive 20-year-old struggling to make a minor impact as a reporter. Twenty-eight years had passed by. He was surprised to hear I was now training journalists. It was as if time stood still.
In his eyes I hadn’t changed at all. Like peering thru a telescope and seeing stars the way they looked, unformed and malleable, eons ago. But so much had changed. The river had taken us in divergent streams and we were no longer the same people.
Or were we? That we could still connect and trade old stories suggests some parts of us were frozen in that time-space continuum. Me, the young unripened chiku, he the tall, weathered tree still reaching for an uncorrupted sky.
That we met at pub called The Reef was, perhaps, coincidental. The shores of our lives had been buffeted by the unceasing waves and eroded our memories somewhat but we were still men, older and wiser, perhaps, but still foolishly hoping for change to come and that yellow sunrise to turn the tides against us.
The reef was our last stand. They have to bury us here and return us to the earth that we call home. Or scatter us on the waters awash with a million hopes of a brighter tomorrow.
We lift our glasses and the music and smoke takes us away to another place and for awhile, just a few precious moments, we are on the editorial floor again and the clacking of fingers on the trusty Atex terminals as we churn out the day’s news of grief and gore and blood and sadness.
We were the weeders of growing malfeasance in an overrun garden of temptations. Woe to those who labelled us as lallang. We never were! We were the guardians of better days to come.
A toast, then, to the dreamers still in us. The fellow journeymen who know the course has been arduous and there is always another bend in the river. Let’s make a go of it. Or die trying.
(This was a rant post that sort of morphed into a speech that was never given…yet)
People tend to blame technology for all their problems.
Social networks are causing the rise of _____________ (fill blank space) eg. divorces, rapes, home invasions, suicides, crime, bullying, etc.
Of course, there may be validity to some of these cases. No one wants to belittle an incident that happens to a child, a spouse, a mother, a friend or a partner. When it’s personal, it’s tough not to find the nearest technological scapegoat. What’s worrying is how the “experts” extrapolate cause-and-effect from a small sample, raising fears and feeding the ignorance of technology to the masses.
“Productivity is down, there is lack of focus and no one seems to have an original thought – everything is copy and pasted from the net.” Or so they say.
In truth, there is nothing to suggest that human nature has changed pre- and post-Internet.
The perennial truth about humanity is this: In life there will always be those among us who are deliriously happy and depressingly suicidal and every emotion in between. We already live in both the “real” and “virtual” worlds equally intensely. The virtual can be as real as you want it to be and the real can be as imaginary as you want it to be.
But if you talk to anyone my age, 48, with two school-going children, they have a tendency to get nostalgic about their childhood.
It usually starts with the phrase: “When I was young, we never had these computers lah, Internet lah, sitting in front of the game console all day long lah. We used to go outside, enjoy the sunshine, climb trees, catch fish in the longkang, etc.
Now if you go back into the past, say the 1960s-70s, you can hear people of that time reminiscing about their childhoods. And they say this: “Ayahhh I wish by kids wouldn’t sit in front of the TV all day long. You know when I was young, we used to go outside, enjoy the sunshine, climb trees, catch fish in the rivers…”
Now go further back to this person’s parent’s time in the 1930s-40s-50s, when there was an explosion of recorded music and you hear the same thing. “I wish my kids wouldn’t listen to that music all day long. I wish they would go outside in the sunshine and climb trees and go swimming and catch fish……”
And then you step back into the 1920s and when radio came about…you know the drill.
There is no doubt we are going through one of the biggest explosions in the use of media. People can create, share, spread and distribute information like never before. The ubiquity of media everywhere is driven by falling prices in all things digital.
Nicholas Negroponte equates the net to a library but with a difference. If you go to a regular library you take a book off the shelf and if there is no other copy of that book, no one in the community, that reservoir of people being serviced by that library, can read it. But if you take a digital book of the Internet, anyone can go in there and take another and another and another.
Of course, if millions are accessing a particular site — web servers have limitations too — it can crash. But every time you go to a webpage you are actually downloading a copy onto your machine. Very few sites are live streamed, in the strict sense of the word, although that is changing rapidly even as we speak. So the Internet is actually a giant copying machine.
In the 15th century we had another giant copying machine of that time – it was called the Gutenberg Printing Press. Before that machine came to be, scribes used to sit down and copy everything word for word and so the church and the institutions of that day controlled the information.
When the printing press came about we hear only about the Gutenberg Bible as an early publication was reproduced in large quantities, but in truth there was an explosion of works — many of these secular, naughty, perverse and “mindless”. So much so, that intellectuals of the day were worried that the printing press was making people obsessed with trivia, gossip and the mundane.
But that media explosion eventually did society wonders. It gave us newspapers, it gave us specialized magazines, it gave us fiction and non-fiction, it gave us peer-reviewed scientific journals, it gave us academic books like never before. The entire spectrum of what we knew as “information” and “media” widened and deepened beyond belief.
Fast forward to 2012 and here we are — right at the heart of something wondrous. This is the dopamine injection of truly beautiful awakenings. It’s the eye of the digital storm. It’s raining down on us in bit buckets.
People keep referring to it as information overload. But that debate, as Clay Shirky rightly points out, is over. We cannot afford to take shelter and hide and put umbrellas up and wait for this storm to pass. We must learn how to filter the data, embrace it and become a filter ourselves so that others can make sense of the joys of this liquid, ubiquitous manna.
Journalists are at the heart of this. We have to embrace this. We have to learn these tools and gadgets and “Internet stuff”. We have to become aggregators and filters ourselves. We have to become like curators in a museum. But not in the old, grey-walled definition of a museum but a living, moving and constantly evolving museum and we have to choose what we want to exhibit today, and how the stuff we put out is shared and spread.
Journalism stands at the crossroads. This is the most transitive period in our lives as the “new media” re-define who we are.
Marketing, a dirty word for journalists, and more so personal brandingis a huge chunk of this. Google. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn are all a part of this movement.
We have to play where everyone is playing. We have to get our hands dirty and learn this, so that others who will come after will benefit from our knowledge and not supercede us, just because “they are young lah, so they know all this technical stuff”.
As a former tech journalist, I am a believer in that McLuhan quote: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” We reported on these devices and now these devices are changing how we capture, edit, produce and tell our stories.
But we mustn’t forget what our roles are.
We are here to ask the questions on behalf of those who have no voice and cannot ask them because their tongues are tied.
We are here to tell the stories of those who cannot tell the stories on their own because they have been silenced.
We are here to uncover the truth and confront the corrupt with that truth so that they can be more accountable and transparent.
We are here to make those responsible measure up to a higher ethical and moral standard.
But we are also here to educate; to entertain; and to engage our communities in things that matter to them.
That’s journalism to me. That’s the journalism I was taught. That’s the journalism we need to continue to practise.
The old way was to produce the stuff and send it out to them as an act of faith.
The new way is to produce the stuff in collaboration with the people, not the faceless readers as we call them or the audience in a darkened theatre but real people who are just like us, yet different in so many ways.
We must set up “conversation platforms” by which they can come and interact with us or among themselves.
But we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. The 800-pound gorillas are already in the room. FLYTBG: Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, Google. We must go where our readers are and engage with them. We must fish where the fish are.
Journalists are great whiners. We really need to stop whining and get on with understanding, using and leveraging on the tools and apps out there and in here. There really isn’t anymore time to bitch about “those bloody bloggers.” The time now is to dive in and get to know our readers like never before. There really isn’t anymore time to moan the loss of a simpler world.
Just a few years ago, a number of longtime journalists found themselves out of a job. There were tears, real tears shed. People cried because it was the only life they ever knew. Their lives could be summed up in this way: “Hey, I was so arrogant and hard-headed that I thought that I needn’t learn new things. My skills were enough. Now, I am jobless, with bills to pay! Get me a blog, please, and please pay me to keep it updated.”
Wake up fellow journalists. Learn all you can about social media and pick up social media skills. You can learn from your colleagues, peers, children, nephew and nieces. You need to know that these are new journalism skill sets — it is very different and you need to OWN these skills if you are to survive, not only here in your current organisation, but anywhere out there.
I can tell you this, because I have been there and done that. If you do not have a brand behind you, then you better bloody well create that brand around your byline. Who you are and what you do matters. Don’t be insecure about that. It’s much easier to do it now, than there ever has been. Ever.
No trainer is going to turn you into a multimedia journalist overnight. You have take time to learn these skills yourselves. Our role is to provide you the big picture, the guidance, yes. We may handhold you for two or three days through some of rough spots if you need it, and give you a few technical pointers, then set you off in the right direction.
But the commitment to become very good at any of these tools must come from inside. If your current role doesn’t give time and opportunity to learn these skills on the job then you must find time — one hour or two hours a day or one day every weekend to learn it yourself.
There are people who are coming from behind you who will speed past you before you know it. They may not have the journalism mind, the news sense, the writing and grammar skills but that doesn’t matter — this is the new vocabulary and they can shine in ways that will get them ahead. Your competition isn’t even local. Awhile ago, a new Malaysian network player hired 10 content people from — get this –the US. All former journalists!
Think about that. Is their content going to be better than anything you can produce here? No. It’s just they haven’t discovered you yet. You are the gem everyone is looking for. Gleam like the jewel that you are. It is your time to shine.
Aela Callan is a 29-year-old Australian producer and broadcast journalist based in Bangkok, Thailand. She works freelance for AlJazeera English and Channel Seven Australia.
She kindly consented to a 20-minute Skype interview ( (Part 1, Part 2) for a case study presentation to a group of lecturers and undergraduates at Taylor’s University College’s School of Communication on Wednesday, Aug 11.
In the interview, Aela provided useful advice to those planning to embark on a freelance career as a broadcast journalist.
Here are the edited highlights:
Aela: I was working for AlJazeera English in Hong Kong. They had a need for somebody in Bangkok and so that was the reason I came here. I’ve been here just over 12 months now.
Bangkok is a good place for journalists to be based especially if they’re going to be freelance because it’s sort of a hub for Asia, you can easily jump on a plane and access anywhere else in the region pretty quickly.
Owing to the fact Thailand has been in the news so very much over the last 12 months, the workflow has been really steady.
My main two clients are AlJazeera English and Channel Seven Australia and pretty much they keep me busy most of the time, although occasionally I do pieces for other networks as well especially when a big story is breaking like the Red Shirts, I’ve been able to be on the other channels as well.
Q: So are you doing this all by yourself, all the recording, all the production, all the editing and submitting all the stories?
Aela: No, I am not a video journalist. I am correspondent/producer so basically I research the story myself, then I employ a fixer and a cameraman/editor to come along with me and basically shoot the story and then I package it up and sell it as a complete cut story.
Most of the time my commissions are driven by ideas I pitched but also I accept commissions based on what a newsroom wants. They might ring up and say, “This is happening”, or there’s a breaking news event on that day and then I basically roll with the punches as it were.
Q: Can we roll it back a bit and perhaps you can explain to us how you became a freelance journalist?
Aela: Well, I was a journalist for 10 years before I went freelance — five years of that was in radio and five years of that was in television — both in Australia. I decided to go out on my own because I wanted to do the kind of stories that made a difference to me. In Australia, news became very parochial, a very cyclical thing.
I knew I could do it. But I didn’t know if I could do it on my own or not. And many people at the time said to me it would be really tough. It is really tough. But it’s also immensely rewarding when you know by the end of it you can land in any country pretty much and function as a journalist.
You become very streetwise very quickly and also learn how to use the resources that are around you to help you with the story, and to keep you going on the road. You know you need networks of people. It is something you really can’t do on your own.
BUILD PEOPLE NETWORKS
So building those networks is a lot of what I do because I am in television but, really, you can’t do it on your own, particularly if you don’t have the language skills. So you really do need to rely on most networks that you establish and the longer you’re in a place, the more you establish those.
I think because of the limited jobs that exist in the journalism field at the moment a lot of people are choosing to strike out on their own much earlier than what I did. I think that’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing.
It’s never easy when you are trying to do this job on your own. It’s always, of course, much easier when you have a network or a news room that can support you in various ways. However, I think, the emergence of video journalists in my field is a good thing for young people to learn a lot of different skills all at once.
It really is throwing yourself in the deep end but you do learn to diversify and that definitely is the way the industry goes. You no longer just have one role. You are a correspondent and you’re an editor, or you’re a correspondent and you’re a producer, or you’re a producer and you’re a shooter, or you’re a cameraman as well as a fixer, something like that.
So, you really do need to think about diversifying yourself when you’re freelance particularly because budgets are tight. People won’t throw thousands of dollars for the story and sometimes you are doing the story on your own and funding it yourself. Because you know in your heart it’s a good story and that you will sell it at the end of the day. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.
The further you get into it, the more you learn what each newsroom wants and what specific needs of your clients are. And that is something I would suggest to anyone who is thinking on embarking on a freelance career does.
BUDGETS AND RESEARCH
Pick a few specific clients that they target and tailor their needs to them. Because it’s no good if you’re going to be pitching to a huge news network, if you don’t have a budget. You really do need a budget. If you are going to be doing a 20-minute documentary and pitching it for a news channel, quite obviously it needs to go to another slot that has more time to pull that story.
So you really do have to think about what you want to do, who you want to sell to, and talk to them, go over what their specific needs are, watch their content, listen to their content, read their content, whatever the medium that you are working in. Make sure that you are looking very specifically at where their needs gap is and what you can do to add value to their newsroom.
Q: Do you find sometimes when you are on your own, doing work for one organisation, is it hard then to pitch stories to other organisations?
YOU ARE THE BRAND
Aela: In television, certainly, because correspondents are a brand effectively. My contract with AlJazeera prevents me from, say, selling a story to BBC or CNN but it doesn’t mean as freelancer I don’t have contacts with them that I can’t help them in other ways — in a producing role or a behind-the-scenes role –if I am not working for AlJazeera. But because I have a specific contract with them (AlJazeera), they are always my first go-to point.
It can be difficult (at times). I know in the past when I haven’t had a contract, it can be difficult to pitch to other news organisations when your face is on camera because, a correspondent is a brand, and you can’t be popping up all over other different stations, they just won’t do that with their direct competitors.
But I wouldn’t be afraid of shopping a story around if you’ve got a good story. It always doesn’t hurt to have good contacts with all news organisations because then there will other ways and other roles you can help them out with, particularly in radio as well as in print, it is quite easy to transfer these skills. So that is something, if you’re in those mediums, you can do much more easily than in television.
MORE FREELANCE SPACE
There’s definitely more space for freelancers. I think more often than not, particularly big organisations, are deciding at the products they can get from freelancers, it may be more cost-effective than setting up a huge bureau, having staff, paying overtime, paying superannuation, or things like that if they exist in the countries that you are working in.
So definitely there is more space for freelancers. Having said that there are more people graduating from journalism courses who don’t have jobs who are hitting out on their own and trying to be a freelancer. There’s also another crowd of people that are kind of ‘romantics’, if you like, they had some other job and quit it to become a foreign correspondent and try it out on their own. They’re trying to, you know, fill a gap there too.
It’s definitely not the kind of job you can start without some basic knowledge and some basic contacts. It’s really a lot about who you know. A lot of my contacts come through people I have worked with before, so it’s a bit of Catch-22 situation. You need to have a body of work that you can show people, this is my body of work, this is my experience, this is who I worked with in the past. But without having started on that, it’s a pretty hard space to crack into.
So I definitely recommend starting in a job. I really maintain that I learnt more about being a journalist by actually going out and being a journalist than I did from any university degree from any course, from anything you can read, or do.
I think the biggest thing is just to get out there and start doing stories and start pitching stories, watch a lot of media and if you are trying to become a freelancer also it really pays to look at what the need is.
It’s no good going into a market with 50 other freelancers doing the same thing. If that need is being met and if you can see that there are some other niche that you can offer, or something else you can offer, by all means do it.
FIND YOUR NICHE
But, generally, it pays to do your research on what is needed. Go and meet with news bosses, if you can get the time, and talk to them about where they would like to add coverage — what locations they want more stories from. It’s those little bits of background information that could really be valuable to you when you are pitching a story.
Q: Is there any parting advice you would give to a person who is just graduating from journalism or who wants to get into media or who wants to get into the broadcast field?
Aela: Ummm, I have lots of advice that I could probably give. Don’t expect it to be easy but do expect it to be fun. Never, never give up. But don’t be so persistent that newsrooms are gonna think: “Oh no, not this person again”.
I said to a producer who came to me at the start of the year in Thailand, and she said: “Look I’ve moved here, I’m not gonna get any work, what am I gonna do?!” And I said to her: “Look, the biggest thing is to just stick it out.” A lot of the time, is to sit there and know your patch.
WORK WITH PEOPLE, NOT AGAINST THEM
If you’re not getting any story commissions, do your research, go and meet with other journalists. They’ll often be quite generous with their time and giving of advice. Work with people, try not to work against them. A lot of freelancers come in and start thinking: “Oh I want to sell these stories and so I am going to take work off someone else.”
You really do work together as a community of freelancers, there’s enough stories to go around. And people will be quite generous with that. So don’t abuse that.
This producer who came to me and said: “What am I going to do?” I said: “Really, 90 percent of it is just staying here, and waiting for the story to happen. If you’ve done your research, if you’ve done your background, when a big story breaks, you’ll get work.” And sure enough when the Red Shirts happened, she was really busy and flat out and now I employ her quite often as well.
It’s definitely something you need to stick out. Don’t expect to just turn up on the scene and say: “Here, I’m a freelancer. Look what I can do” and click your fingers and get work.
A lot of it is being there and meeting people so that when something does happen and there is a need — a gap to be filled — they think: “Oh that person was here and gave me their card and is around.”
That’s important too. But, like I said, it’s also important too make sure that you’re not unduly hassling people to the point that they are not going to use you, if they do think of you.
You’re able to work with much more flexibility as a freelancer. You can drop in and out of stories. You can continue to follow angles after all the big news organisations have pulled out and forgotten about it.
You can find things and spend time on things that people with a fulltime job do not have enough time to dedicate to it, so enjoy that, use that. Fill the needs and the gaps. Be maneuverable and very flexible in what you can offer.
You might want to be on camera, but you know you may be able to offer producing skills and that might be a way in as well. It’s just a matter of finding what the need is in a client and tailoring yourself to fit that need.
And never really saying no when the phone rings. It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and you don’t feel like getting out of bed but making sure that you still do bother to go those extra lengths and prove to people that you are willing to be there, and you are willing to do the hard yards.
Q: Perhaps, we can end with you just telling us what your Day In The Life was, say, in the last two days, what you actually did in the last two days and what’s it like.
Aela: OK. The last two days, I have been shooting a story in Cambodia which was fairly stressful, as the story changed quite dramatically as we arrived and we had to adjust our needs to be able to continue to do the story. It involved a five-hour trip out of Phnom Penh and I worked probably two seventeen-hour days. I’ve just spent the morning editing those stories, and trying to get them out before I head to Southern Thailand for a couple of stories in Pattani.
Right now It’s pretty manic. And generally for some of the year, most of this year actually, it has been pretty manic because Thailand’s been such a news hub.
“OH NO, WHAT AM I GONNA DO?”
However, there were days when I started that I, literally, would just sit there, willing my phone to ring. And sitting by the pool, going: “Oh no, what I am gonna do?” Or sitting at home, you know.
Use that time productively. A lot people get trapped in this sense of “Oh my god, I’m not working, what I am going to do?’” and they really do nothing with their time. You know, I’ve used that time to take some language courses, to try and go and have lunch with people that could be potential contacts in the future and it’s only, over time, that that actually pays off. And, like I said, a lot of it is about being in a place and sticking it out and knowing your stuff at the right time when the big stories break.
But also look for ways to diversify yourself and fill those times when you don’t have a break or a lot of cashflow. That might be writing a blog that can generate some income, that might be selling some photos if you are a good photographer, it might be something completely different, not related to journalism but you can use that as a backup. Definitely, when I was just starting out, it felt like I had my fingers in all sorts of different pies and it wasn’t until, probably, two years in that it started to settle, and I started to have my own clients and get a workflow happening.
It’s nice to know I’m at a point where I do know I have some work coming in. I’m in a pretty privileged position as a freelancer at the moment — being so busy. Having said that, it would be nice to get a day off!
That’s the other thing about being a freelancer, because you are your own boss effectively and you have to decide when to pull the plug and say: “Hey, I am taking time off”, and then there’s always the fear that: “What if they don’t call me when I get back from holiday,” and you have to get yourself into a rhythm again.
You know, that all just comes with time. I really, really enjoy what I do. I would recommend that people do it. As I said, don’t expect it to be easy but it can be immensely rewarding.
Interview, Aela Callan, part 1
Interview, Aela Callan, part 2
Aela Callan Show Reel
Aela Callan: Services and Contact
Thai ‘Orange Shirts’ a transport tool
My presentation on Journalism Entrepreneurship and being a freelancer
“People who visit the auto page are interested in autos. But what ad do you show next to an earthquake story?” Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist.
Hal Varian shares some sober reasoning on why the newspaper industry is in the doldrums. From his blogpost:
The news industry’s financial problems started well before the web came along. Circulation has been falling since 1985 and circulation per household has been falling since 1947! Ad revenue for newspapers was roughly constant in real terms up until 2005, and ad revenue per reader actually increased up until that time. Since then, the drop in advertising rates due to the recession, coupled with a significant drop in circulation, has exacerbated newspapers’ financial difficulties.
In the last five years many more people have been reading the news online: About 40% of internet users say they looked at online news “yesterday.” Higher income households report even larger numbers, making online news readers a potentially attractive audience for advertisers.
However, visitors to online newspaper sites don’t spend a lot of time there. The average amount of time looking at online news is about 70 seconds a day, while the average amount of time spent reading the physical newspaper is about 25 minutes a day. Not surprisingly, advertisers are willing to pay more for their share of readers’ attention during that 25 minutes of offline reading than during the 70 seconds of online reading. So even though online advertising has grown rapidly in the last five years, it appears that somewhat less than 5% of newspapers’ ad revenue comes from their internet editions, according to the most recent Newspaper Association of America data.
There’s a reason for the relatively short time readers spend on online news: a disproportionate amount of online news reading occurs during working hours. The good news is that newspapers can now reach readers at work, which was difficult prior to the internet. The bad news is that readers don’t have a lot of time to devote to news when they are supposed to be working. Online news reading is predominately a labor time activity while offline news reading is primarily a leisure time activity. One of the big challenges facing the news industry is increasing involvement with the news during leisure hours, when readers have more time to look at both news content and ads.
What about search engines? Many readers go directly to their favorite news site, but a good fraction use search engines to access news specific news topics. According to comScore, clicks from search engines account for 35-40% of traffic to major U.S. news sites. Since most newspaper ads are priced on a per-impression basis, this means that 35-40% of major U.S. newspaper online revenue is coming from search engine referrals. That is a big fraction of online advertising revenue but, as we saw above, online ad revenue is only about 5% of the total.
Furthermore, the real money in search engine advertising is in the highly commercial verticals like Shopping, Health, and Travel. Unfortunately, most of the search clicks that go to newspapers are in categories like Sports, News & Current Events, and Local, which don’t attract the biggest spending advertisers.
This isn’t so surprising: the fact of the matter is that newspapers have never made much money from news. They’ve made money from the special interest sections on topics such as Automotive, Travel, Home & Garden, Food & Drink, and so on. These sections attract contextually targeted advertising, which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising. After all, someone reading the Automotive section is likely to be more interested in cars than the average consumer, so advertisers will pay a premium to reach those consumers.
Traditionally, the ad revenue from these special sections has been used to cross-subsidize the core news production. Nowadays internet users go directly to websites like Edmunds, Orbitz, Epicurious, and Amazon to look for products and services in specialized areas. Not surprisingly, advertisers follow those eyeballs, which makes the traditional cross-subsidization model that newspapers have used far more difficult.
Some have argued that the solution to the financial problems of newspapers is to charge for access. Many people place a high value on news, and there is clearly a significant social value to having a well informed citizenry. The problem is that there is a lot of competition among news providers, and this competition tends to push prices down. News sources that have highly differentiated content may be able to make pay-for-access work, but this will likely to be difficult for more generic news sources.
In my view, the best thing that newspapers can do now is experiment, experiment, experiment. There are huge cost savings associated with online news. Roughly 50% of the cost of producing a physical newspaper is in printing and distribution, with only about 15% of total costs being editorial. Newspapers could save a lot of money if the primary access to news was via the internet.
New tablet computers like the Kindle, iPad, and Android devices may encourage people to read online news at home in the comfort of their easy chairs.
If Marshall McLuhan were alive today, would he instead say the messenger is the media?
The media is crass, commercial and aimed at the lowest common denominator. An endless parade of wannabe idols on a dubious stage. You have to have the “whole package” yet “be original’ and then have 14-year-olds decide your fate. Or wipe out.
The media is biased, agenda-laden and orchestrated. It is the coloured ball bouncing around on a snooker table, depending on who’s holding the cue for the day. It gets sunk into holes of its own choosing, only to be retrieved by another, so points can be tallied up for either side.
The messenger is the filter, the curator, the aggregator, the means by which we decide what we want to see, hear, debate. When the messenger massages the media, we like him all the more. We subscribe to his take, his point of view, his clarification of the thoughts we think — but can’t seem to express. No spin, nor hype. Just the truth. Plain and simple.
The media is flawed, the messenger is flawed genius. We like him all the more for that very fact. The messenger validates us. He needs us as much as we need him. We become one with him — momentarily. But we are not so naive as to take him wholesale, all the time. We are, afterall, as empowered as him.
The messenger helps us keep our wits about us when everyone else seems to be losing theirs. He keeps us in the loop and affirms our right to know. He digs down deep, and pushes us to the edge of reasoning. He draws from diverse sources and sieves what needs to be shared, what has to go out, what can’t be bought and sold under-the-table, what can’t be taken from us by those who feel entitled.
The messenger is in our corner. He’s on our team. He doesn’t give us a bollocking at half-time even though we are losing. He restores our faith in what we already know. That we need to get out there and just play the game. The way we know. The way we trained for it. For what is the point of being on the field anyway, if we don’t want to play the game? He gives us a sense of worth and pride.
The messenger puts us all on the same playing field. It may not always be level, but at least we know the rules of the game. The right way, the way it should be done.
The messenger makes us want to aspire for our higher selves. To make things accountable. To stem the rot and change the status quo. The messenger is our avatar. He is blue and larger than life. We live our lives vicariously through him.
The messenger is the media. The messenger is us. We are the new media.
Murrow, played by a very serious David Straitham, begins and ends this austere, black and white movie, with a 1958 speech that still has bearing on the state of journalism today. Below are the two halves edited together by a YouTuber Evmonk:
The movie focused on a series of TV news reports that helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Some highlights from original speech:
This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.
I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard that produces words and pictures. You will forgive me for not telling you that instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know….
I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER.
For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done–and are still doing–to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.
I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained and more mature than most of our industry’s program planners believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence. I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is–an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate….
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, “When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard.” The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.
Here’s a list of useful resources on multimedia journalism:
1. MINDY MCADAMS’ Reporters’ Guide to Multimedia Proficiency is a 42-page PDF of all 15 posts on her blog compiled since Feb, 2009. This is great mini-manual to learn multimedia journalism skills such as how to post an audio interview on your blog, edit video using iMovie or Windows Movie Maker or produce slideshows using Soundslides.
3. MEDIA HELPING MEDIA has a diverse range of training resources. David Brewer and Craig Kanalley have contributed some useful posts on the social networks and online and multimedia sections such as 30 tips on online news presentation, multiplatform authoring, tips for livetweeting and “Grazing on Rumour, Feeding on Facts”.
9. RYAN THORNBURG’s The Future of News has some interesting how-tos and slide stacks eg: How to Edit for Online and SEO, Social Media and User Generated Content for Journalists and Reporting for Online Media.
10. JOE MURPHY, a Denver web developer and journalist, posts at his Joe Think blog. Some choice posts:
“Towards meaningful metrics”, “Tips on writing headlines”, “Getting your online news site off the ground in 7 steps”.
FOR MULTIMEDIA INSPIRATION visit these sites as suggested by Angela Grant: Kobre Guide, MultimediaShooter, Interactive Narratives, Las Vegas Sun videos, The Globe and Mail multimedia section and News Videographer.
BONUS: 10,000 Words
American journalists are ready and eager to speed up the transition from print to digital, and almost half surveyed believe their newsroom is moving way too slowly.
The Northwestern University’s Media Management Center came to this conclusions in a report, “Life Beyond Print” (3.8M PDF) based on a survey of almost 3,800 print, digital, and hybrid journalists in a cross section of 79 U.S. newsrooms.
The survey classified journalists into six groups:
1. Digitals (12%): They already spend a most of their time working online. They are either online editors or producers, but about 17% are reporters or writers, and more than half are journalism grads. They are newer to journalism (< less than 10 years experience) but are open to change, new career options and more likely to try something new. In a typical newsroom, they likely got the most training last year.
2. Major Shifts(11%): Those who are currently doing the least digital work but would like to increase it by five times. They are the most dissatisfied with their current state, more pessimistic about staying in the business long-term and want the most pronounced changes. An equal mix of reporters, mid-level editors, copy editors, designers and videographers, most of whom have been in the business at least 15 years are deeply engaged online in their personal and social lives, but see a disconnect at work. They could help the newsroom adapt faster, but need a sign they should stay in newspapers.
3. The Moderately Mores (50%): Those who would like to double their current digital activities to achieve a 50-50 split with their print efforts. They have been in news business more than 20 years. They believe their newsroom transition has been too slow although they do think it is headed in the right direction.
4. The Status Quos (14%): They believe the 30% of effort they currently devote to online is sufficient and prefer to see no change. Most believe the pace of change to date has been “about right.” This group is slightly older than the overall population. Nearly half are age 50 or older and 1-in-10 is 60 or older.
5. Turn Back the Clocks (6%): Those nostalgic for a return to print and wish online would go away. They report about 30% of their current effort is spent online, nearly triple the amount they would prefer. This is a group that has tested the online environment and they don’t like it. They less satisfied than their Status Quo colleagues and have the lowest opinion of leaders of all the groups and are least likely, in particular, to believe executives really understand what it takes to put out the newspaper.
6. The Leaders (5%): Publishers, editors and managing editors, most of whom have been in the news business more than 20 years. Most report their roles are primarily print-focused but want to shift to online. Like Digitals, they describe themselves as open to change and optimistic about their career options. The Leaders report spending about 25% of their work effort on online matters, but believe the emphasis should shift to favour digital (53%) over print responsibilities. 28% of Leaders think their job is changing too fast overall, which could reflect the lack of clarity around a business model to sustain digitally delivered journalism but nearly 70% say the newsroom is on the right track. This group reports somewhat greater Internet use outside work than other journalists.
There are differing expectations for leaders among the segments:
* The Digitals want The Leaders to be even more immersed in online trends and to sharpen the digital vision.
* The Major Shifts want more risk-taking.
* The Status Quos generally like what leaders are doing and advocate staying the course.
The study by Vickey Williams, Stacy Lynch and Bob LeBailly, found that online desire in the newsroom is not driven by the fallacy of youth.
The top predictors of wanting to switch to digital are:
1. Heavy Internet use outside work.
2. Online customer knowledge.
3. Openness to change at work and adaptability.
4.Digital training: Receiving training necessary to learn online skills.
5. Personality: Keeping up with company initiatives, online trends and industry changes.
THE STUDY CONCLUDES:
1. Journalists’ passion for the mission is there, but they need basic tools for reinvention and more engaged leadership. More than half of the journalists working primarily in print had no training in the previous year to equip them for a digital transition. One in four journalists reports having had no training at all.
2. There are major gaps between how leaders think they are doing and how staff view them, in such areas as fostering collaboration, seeking out input from employees at all levels, and communicating strategy in a way that relates to employees’ jobs.
3. Senior managers rate research about what online users want low on their list of priorities suggesting that editors are at risk of repeating the errors of the past by not ensuring that everyone in the newsroom develops a deep knowledge of who their readers are and what they want.
4. Despite the turmoil in the industry, the vast majority of the journalists surveyed reported that they were “still satisfied with their jobs and believed they would be in the news business two years from now — and more than half with the same newspaper.”
5. The surveyors advised: “Leaders should encourage all employees to use downtime to edit video, tweet, upload mobile photos to Facebook pages and otherwise keep current in online trends. Even for employees who don’t have any online work responsibilities, the more engaged they are with the Internet on their own, the more eager they will be to transition to online at work.”
Full script of the extended presentation on “Mobile and social media as a force for change.”
Hi. My name is Julian and I have five stories to share with you on today. One from Iran, one from India, one from Kenya and, because I really don’t like government slogans, 2 from Malaysia.
1. IRAN: This is Neda Agha-Soltan. She was 26, an university student in Teheran studying philosophy, music and was planning to learn how to play the piano. She’d already ordered the piano.
On June 20, 2009, at around 6:30 p.m, Neda was stuck in a traffic jam for more than an hour inside a Peugeot 206 with a poorly working air conditioner. She and her music teacher, a family friend, decided to get out of the car for some fresh air.
The two were near where protesters were marching and chanting. Suddenly, Neda is on the ground — felled by a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Cameraphone footage show men kneeling beside her trying to help. But it is too late. Neda’s eyes roll back, her body falls limp and blood streams from her mouth and nose. The teacher is heard calling out: “Neda, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.”
She died on the way to hospital. Later, a witness said her last words were: “I am burning, I am burning!” Neda neither supported Mousavi nor Ahmadinejab, the two candidates in the elections.
Here is the video. Warning to weak-hearted — the scenes are graphic and explicit.
Neda became the symbol of injustice in Iran. Her killer was never found. Protesters took the streets with the graphic images of her bloodied face. By marching they risked arrest, and possibly a bullet themselves.
The online community used Neda icons and badges on blogs and personal sites and replaced avatars with Free Iran buttons in sympathy.
In France, a 40th memorial day march was held in her honour and the marchers held up Neda images to their faces as if to say “We are all Neda”.
The video struck a chord with sympathisers around the world. President Obama himself described it as “heartbreaking.” To date (Oct 20, 2009) it has racked over 4.6 million views from various copies on YouTube and other sites. The trending topic #neda on Twitter continues to be used until today on any news coming out of Iran.
I tell you this story without ever having stepped in Iran. But based on Neda’s story and the 17 others reportedly killed in protests on the streets of Teheran, there is definitely an underlying and seething unhappiness in Iran.
These people were young, urban, self-motivated and self-organising as far as we can tell. There was no backing from any invested party. They marched because they were angry on the results of an election that didn’t reflect their beliefs. I don’t even think Mousavi or Ahmadinejab knew what was going on until the protests began.
The bottomline, the peaceful protesters connected with each other, armed only with their mobilephones and the power of social media skills.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
2. INDIA: The second story takes us to Mangalore, in India in Jan, 2009. A group of about 40 followers of Hindu fundamentalist group Sri Ram Sena pulled out women found drinking at two bars in Mangalore and then proceeded to beat them up. Two women were hospitalized. The videos of the attacks were shot with cameraphones and posted on YouTube.
Sri Ram Sena chief Pramod Muthalik (left) condoned the beating of women , Nisha Susan (right) fought back with Facebook
The man on the left is Sri Ram Sena Chief Pramod Muthalik. His organisation also planned to protest the upcoming Valentine’s Day and he warned any couples found in restaurants and pubs would be dragged to the nearest temple to be married. Thank god, good sense prevailed and police arrested most of the men involved in the incidents and Muthalik himself was held on the eve of Valentine’s Day.
But the incident riled many people around the world who saw the videos. Tehelka journalist Nisha Susan turned to Facebook and formed a protest group called “The Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward women”. Within days, the group grew exponentially, and Susan decided to launch an offline activity via a blog: the Gandhigiri-inspired Pink Chaddi campaign.
To mock the fact these religious conservatives are called Chaddi-wallas – people who wear big, loose underwear – The idea was to send Sri Ram Sena cadres pink underwear. Over 39,000 people joined the Facebook group within ten days from all over the world and dispatched a variety of underwear to Sena’s offices. The group page was later hacked.
But the protest had already struck a chord with women and women supporters around the world. They were encouraged to write whatever they felt on the underwear – these women (above) scrawled Discrimination, Bigotry and Intolerance, then sent the pic and underwears off.
The Pink Panty Protest was non-violent. It shamed the perpetrators and brought global attention to the issue. It wasn’t easy like an email petition which wouldn’t have had the same impact. The protesters had to mail in the panties. The unusual protest received worldwide coverage.
Clay Shirky in his book Here Comes Everybody says efforts like these suggest how ridiculously easy it is to organize people now. “The cost of all kinds of group activity – sharing, cooperation and collective action – have fallen so far so fast that activities previously hidden beneath the floor are now coming to light.” He has gone so far as to call what is happening a revolution — “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”
3. KENYA: This third story is from Kenya. The United Nations agency Habitat is working with 15 youth groups to build businesses through microfinancing and the use of mobile phones in the slums of Nairobi.
This is Kibera in Nairobi. It is the largest urban slum in East Africa with an estimated population of between 600,000 to 1.2 million inhabitants. Kibera accounts for less than 1% of Nairobi’s total area, but holds more than a quarter of its population.
Kibera is one of the most studied slums in Africa, not only because it sits in the centre of the modern city, but also because Habitat, the United Nations’ agency for human settlements, is headquartered close by. Ban Ki-moon visited the settlement within a month of his selection as UN secretary-general.
Kibera is heavily polluted by garbage and contaminated with human and animal faeces, thanks to the open sewage system and the lack of sanitation and no regular supply of running water.
The dam water that people use is the root to cholera and typhoid. It is estimated that one-fifth of the 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV/AIDS live in Kibera. Access to a cheap alcohol called Changaa, drugs and glue-sniffing has led to crime, rape and and unwanted pregnancies. Just 20% of Kibera has electricity. This place is the closest version of what you would call hell on earth. The children and youth here often ask “Why was I born here?”.
The government, UN-Habitat and a contingent of NGOs, charities and churches, have made brave attempts to lift these settlements out of squalor. On Sept 16, 2009, the Kenyan government started moving families out of Kibera as part of a mass relocation project, which is expected to take five years. However, more than 80 people – a mix of “landlords” and residents – have gone to court to fight the government from demolishing their shacks. If you had watched the science-fiction movie District 9, shot in South Africa, you will find many parallels to what is going on in Kibera. If you read our local newspapers you will find parallels to Kampung Buah Pala and other squatter re-settlement issues.
But there is hope and it comes in the form of a Mobile Movement. Here is the video that is self-explanatory on the initiative.
4. MALAYSIA: TWESTIVAL: My fourth story is closer to home. This is about the Twestival movement which is reaching hundreds of thousands of Twitter users across the world and here in Malaysia too. Twestival is an event run via Twitter and combination of the words Twitter + Festival. It started from an idea a group of friends had in Britain to do something for a charity – something real-world and meaningful from all their chatter and friendship in the online world. Twestivals allowed tweeters to meet and socialize in person over drinks, music and entertainment and tie the social event to a fundraising activity.
The first global Twestival was held in Feb 12, 2009 across 200+ cities. It raised US$250,000 that went to non-profit charity:water. Charity:water builds wells in African countries and raises awareness about the serious issue of contaminated water in the developing world.
On Sept 12, 2009 there was a second global Twestival event, and participants could raise money for local charities of their choice. In Malaysia, the KL Twestival was organized in two weeks, via Twitter, SMS, Facebook and blogs and utilized the talents and financial support of the local Twittersphere to make this happen.
By rallying together, under short timescales, for a single aim on the same day, the KL Twestival was a small but significant success. There was entertainment, music and dance performances, an auction and participants left with goodie bags.
A number of sponsors and celebrities came in in short notice and every sign-up was announced on Twitter – so you could see it in real-time. The event raised RM11,000 and two free desktop PCs with broadband access which went to a deserving home for delinquents in Klang.
On Sunday, (Oct 18) the PCs were delivered to the home and a friend who helped organize it said the pastor of the house was so grateful for the money and PCs he hugged him.
The common grounds again: The Twestival participants were young or young-at-heart, self-motivated, armed with mobile devices and the power of social media.
This is Niki Cheong. He perhaps exemplifies the demographic we have been talking about all day today. He was a co-organizer of the event.
He is an assistant editor for The Star, the largest English daily in Malaysia, he writes a column called Bangsar Boy, he manages several reporters under him including a section called R.AGE, he is a blogger and manages his own personal website.
He also helps train the young teenage journalists who attend the B.R.A.Ts programme and teaches them journalism and multimedia skills. He dabbles in theater and has over 1,650 friends on Facebook, and 1,770 followers on Twitter. Niki has been involved in media activities for the last 15 years, and get this he just turned 30. In a sense, Niki is the kind of person we look to to bring change in this country.
Full disclosure — I met Niki through our training efforts. For the past three years we have been training journalists and media professionals in various industries on multimedia skills.
As former IT journalists ourselves, my partner Anita and I were shocked at the huge gap with those who had the skills and those who didn’t. So we designed and developed modules on how to use Google for research, how to edit audio and photos, how to conduct interviews via email, instant messaging and Skype, how to write for the web, and we extended the training to other companies on how to use social media, how to monitor your brand online and engage with your online constituents, how to fight negative feedback online or react to an incriminating video, how to do effective media relations and crisis communications in the online world.
We are still surprised that many companies, even public-listed companies still don’t get it. They put up walls and lock off YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, photo sites and blogs. But how will they firewall this – the mobilephone? These companies fail everyday to tap a golden resource – the very youths we spoke of in Iran, India, in Kenya and in small ways here in Malaysia.
5. MALAYSIA: CITIZEN JOURNALISM: My last story is about Malaysiakini, the independent news site that hits a milestone in its tenth year in Malaysia in November. Malaysiakini has been profitable for the last four years. Its pageviews on some days exceed that of The Star Online. It has successfully built a subscription model that works, and even advertisers that were previously terrified to advertise have come in.
Malaysiakini started an interesting project last year to train citizen journalists – people who were keen on reporting on the news they were witnessing. The course is short and intensive and covers all the tools to equip Malaysians with the know-how to be responsible citizen journalists.
These CJs submit videos every week and some are picked up and published by Malaysiakini.com. I would like to show you one example done by Jimmy Leow in Penang, of an uncompleted highway in Balik Pulau and the danger it poses.Remember this is done by someone who only recently learnt about scripting, handling videocams,, editing and putting a whole package together for a news site. Shortly after the video was posted, the agency responsible for the project re-started it.
Here in summary are what I hope you takeaway from these stories.
1. Everyone is the media.
2. We are no longer passive consumers, we are ACTIVE participants, creators, producers and organizers.
3. This change is fundamental, permanent and messy.
Live with it.
Alfred Hermida suggests that editors and journalists in the mainstream media still see themselves as the gatekeepers and the people “formerly known as the audience” is still the audience to them:
“The space for the audience to participate in journalism is, by and large, clearly delineated. The public can send in their news tips, photos and videos, but the journalist retains a traditional gatekeeper role, deciding what is newsworthy and what isn’t. There is little room for the public to be involved in the actual making of the news — in deciding whom to interview, how to frame the story and how to produce it. Once the story is complete and published, the audience can freely comment on the final product.”
Some valid points:
1. No change in old media: “A growing body of research suggests that the advent of participatory journalism, or user-generated content (UGC), has done little to change the way the media works.”
2. Journalists still too controlling: “Journalists are seeking to maintain their position of authority and power, rather than create a more open, transparent and accountable journalistic process that seeks to work with readers.”
3. UGC seen as just as a tool for newsgathering not collaboration: “BBC staff see UGC as a part of newsgathering operations; basically, it’s a way of obtaining photos and videos, eyewitness accounts or story tips. Researchers did find some examples of BBC journalists that view it as a way to collaborate on stories, or as a shift towards networked journalism. But these views existed at the edges.”
4. Comments are seen as more work: “Comments were seen as a way to attract more visitors and increase loyalty, but these benefits were counterbalanced by problems with abusive comments, a lack of contributions, and the cost of moderation.”
5. Audience free to comment but not take part in creating: “There are very few signs that news organizations are reinventing their relationship with the audience and tapping into the participatory potential of the web to re-imagine journalism.”
Hermida’s commentary contrasts with former chairman of Dow Jones & Co Peter Kann’s piece in WSJ recently lamenting the “decline of democracy” and that “Quality Reporting Doesn’t Come Cheap”
Kann’s assertions are typical of old media titans still wanting to suckle on the cash cow of old media even while it heads to the abattoir.
Kann’s Martian analogy makes his case even more ridiculous. He says: “Indeed, a business analyst landing here from Mars logically might question why an unwieldy newsprint product, stale as soon as it rolls off the press and not updated till another sun rises, should not be free whereas the new Internet product, offering all the same news plus more and evolving as does the news around the clock, should not be worth a pretty price? An even wiser Martian might conclude that customers should be given a choice, or offered a combination, but that they should be expected to pay for both.”
Hah. I am sure any alien of superior intelligence arriving here would wonder why it took us so long to figure out that printing ink on flattened trees was far more destructive to our planet, regardless of the business considerations of setting up paywalls to supposedly save “the future of news.”
Mr Kann’s belief that the public is “the loser” from the rise of the Internet and blogs – which, in his narrow view, is all about “comment” – must be reading a different Internet. The net has brought more diversity to news as content than any other single news organisation or indeed collectives of news publishers.
And the public, Mr Kann, is now the winner on many counts – more access, interactivity, better viewpoints, clearer visuals, richer content, and the immense capacity to add, share, mould and re-distribute the news as they see fit.
The net is empowering us as a whole new generation of citizens of the world. News should be what we make of it, not what a few people want to dictate it to be behind their walled gardens and ivory towers. And this is why your empire will continue to crumble, with false prophets like Mr Kann preaching about “saving democracy”, when in truth, they only want to marginalize the many to enrich the few.
Note: Alfred Hermida blogs at Reportr.net.