It’s been a stressful week.
Not only have I been setting up my own website (similar content to this, but with a proper url + a better display of posts) but also got to work on a hyperlocal news website with my friend Andy Halls.
Safe to say I have html coming out of my ears, my visual lexicon presently formulated entirely by lines of code.
Despite all the hard work, a couple of things struck me regarding potential journalists.
A lot of them simply don’t know how to report news.
Objectivity is constantly emphasised, almost as a threat. Woe betide the student whose article takes on a subjective slant. Furthermore, students are also asked interminably: “what news angle are you going to take?”. Even so, once someone has chosen an angle to run with for a news story, they are already disregarding facts, glossing over particular details and only recording one part of a wider state of affairs.
This is at odds with the incessant focus on objectivity. One cannot pick a story angle and then lay claim to total objectivity, and vice versa. Telling budding journalists to be objective has its merits in a legal arena, priming them to avoid pitfalls like libel, defamation and contempt of court. But what it also does is suck any kind of soul out of a story, increasing the likelihood of churnalism and stifling creativity.
The second notion that entered my mind was that of a news story.
A story, an anecdote, an account. News is a developing narrative with endless twists and turns, heroes and villains, and occasionally a nail biting final chapter. It’s my view that a lot of student journalists aren’t being given the necessary drive and desire to create stories.
At student newspaper meetings, I saw time and time again editors hand out stories, almost ready made for print, just needing a few rewrites and possibly quotes. Student journalists are sidelined to being like ancillary press officers, simply reduced to moving phrases around and adding a few minor embellishments.
If “news” constituted something to be handed out on a plate like this, then the profession of journalism would never have existed in the first place. Individuals who have dogged determination, a keen eye for when things don’t seem kosher, and a drop of self-importance have become our news emissaries over time.
This resolve to uncover facts and stories is at the root of journalism. The inherent qualities that make up a journalist are also those which encourage creativity, not to toe the line, and not to take things at face value.
Part of the reason I started a hyperlocal site was to foster a sense of community and news gathering. Reporting on news in a small community instantly gives you a connection to your environment, physically and mentally. This local knowledge and ability to present stories that create an interdependence between news consumer and news publisher is essential.
Through my work with hyperlocal news, I hope to at least encourage a few students to begin operating like working journalists. If we can inspire students to self-generate and follow up news stories, then the job is already half done. I’m aware that there are many who’ll disagree with me, but sometimes to uncover discrepancies and wrongdoing in journalism one has to be bloody-minded, provocative and yes, the dirty word: subjective.
Hyperlocal is taking off in a big way this year. While a clear business model still doesn’t exist, I believe that if sites like this can be maintained they could help re-form once lost communities. In the age of Web 2.0, perhaps hyperlocal can help reform neglected neighbourhoods, helping them rediscover what makes their area geographically and culturally unique, and halting the further homogenisation of the UK.
An sanguine statement, maybe. But like I said, it’s been a stressful week.