Tagged: hyperlocal

Are we the same people online as we are offline?

Hello. This is a post from the online Joseph Stashko. He’s perceptive, diligent and occasionally amusing. The online Joseph doesn’t bother anyone with moaning about his train being late, or getting a flat tyre on his bike. He hopes that he doesn’t inflict his irritating personality traits on the online audience, and while some of his shit-fits may occasionally make their way onto Facebook, he’s more or less a productive member of online communities.

Enough of writing in the third person. The concept I’m trying to explore is that often we present idealised versions of ourselves online. Far from being transparent, online activity can be restricted to the aspects of our personality we’d want people to admire us for rather than the more unsavoury traits. I sense that this because of two main reasons, the first being our own behaviour, and the second being the nature of the web.

People love to reinvent themselves. You see it when they join a new school, start university, begin a new job or enter a new social circle. It provides an opportunity to start afresh and to present yourself as an apotheosis of the person you’d like to be seen as.

The web can be seen as the embodiment of this type of behaviour. Each time we sign up to a new account online we are presented with a blank canvas onto which we illustrate with broad brush strokes a painting of our personalities from scratch. There’s no history and no secrets from the past. In essence, we get the chance to begin our digital life in the way we wish our real lives played out, with all the positives and none of the negatives, and who’d blame us? It’s rare that we ever experience anything that isn’t tainted by people’s preconceptions and personal prejudices. Our online counterparts discard this and present platonic conceptions of ourselves.

Some aspects of the web also encourage this type of behaviour by being so nice. As I glance through Twitter, I’m always confronted with a chumminess and a sense of camaraderie.

If people are only tweeting things seen through the prism of what they believe to be their admirable personality traits, then an artificial environment is created in which anyone saying anything untoward is deemed to be dour or unsavoury. It’s an unspoken fallacy that we should all be joyful and happy all the time, and empathise with everything we see. How can that possibly be realistic? Facebook’s lack of a “dislike” button confirms this. We are only able to “like” things or remain gracefully silent. There is no option to express disagreement.

Maybe those people who do are just more human? That’s the key here. It’s human to mess things up. Being callous, selfish and flawed are key human traits. I can count on two hands the people I know who act the same offline as they do online. Maybe that’s because they’re better communicators, and maybe people’s decision to upgrade their personalities online isn’t a conscious one. But logically following this argument, Twitter and online interaction can be fairly dehumanising, rendering us as broadly similar people, identikit vignettes on the tapestry of the web.

The open access and ability to judge people on their actions rather than their history means that people like Josh Halliday get a job with the Guardian. It means that people have been aware of my hyperlocal work. But who’s to say that there isn’t someone in a similar position to me, doing the same or better work but getting no recognition for it? I’m broadcasting things that I’m engaged in, because that’s the productive aspect of my personality. Who’s to say that if I stopped doing that and instead tweeted about my breakfast then people would stop taking notice of my work? Would that make my work any less valid or relevant? If a journalist writes an article and no one is around to read it, does it exist?

For my part, I’d rather inject more personality into my online persona, even if that means I annoy a few people along the way. If we disagree on the basis of links I post or beliefs that I hold, it’s unlikely that we’d get on in real life either. Far from wanting to be a deliberate polemiscist, I’d much prefer to have healthy disagreement and discourse that’s based on my true beliefs, and not just selective elements.

3 New Year’s Resolutions

I spend most of my time on this blog commenting on the media at large, on other people’s efforts or wider issues spurred on by personal experiences. So allow me this one indulgence of combining two pet hates of mine; ‘List’ posts and blogging about myself. What I’m going to focus on here are media related matters and goals I have for the new year.

1. Dedicate more time to Blog Preston

As some of you may know, I co-edit Blog Preston, the hyperlocal website for Preston, Lancashire in my spare time. The great thing about it is the freedom that’s been granted to me over the last 6 months; I can dictate my own terms and decide to put as much or as little into a story as I want.

Successes have mainly centred around our live event coverage, be that the impact of the government cuts or the general election. It’s a style that was largely unfamiliar to me before contributing to Blog Preston, but one which serves certain news stories very well. Apart from improving my own cross-platform skills, liveblogging can be a tipping point for a whole host of other stories and content. This was particularly true for our coverage of the EDL march, which apart from getting us record hits also allowed us to mine a local business angle, a video package, and an audio slideshow as well as the initial write up and live blog.

So what for the future? Put simply; do more. Since Ed Walker set up Blog Preston in 2009 it’s grown and grown. I’ve got plans to establish the town’s first Social Media Cafe, something that I’m passionate about and will hopefully bring a whole lot more discussion and community to individuals and local businesses. There’s also plans to invest in advertising for local businesses on the site, as well as potential expansion and collaboration with other local organisations in the pipeline.

All these bells and whistles are fantastic, and something I’m really excited about, but they fall down unless we continue doing what we do; producing local content that serves our community. To that end I want to step up the content production from my end and also encourage more readers to use our platform to talk about the issues that matter to them.

2. Be a better journalist

I’ve done a fair amount this year, and been involved in loads of great projects including journalism.co.uk, the Frontline Club and Blog Preston. All that is superb, and it’s been as enjoyable as it has been a learning curve, but what I occasionally can’t shake from my head is that I’m not really doing journalism anymore.

This blog has come in for some low level recognition, as have the other things I’ve been involved with, which is great. But a lot of it involves views, deconstruction, community management, moderation, digital and social media know how. It’s become apparent to me that what I want to do in the future may have changed significantly, I just don’t know what to!

What I do know is that I want to be involved in some way with the production and process of journalism if not necessarily being on the front reporting line (like this).

Does such a position exist, and would I be hired at an entry level? Unlikely. So the goal for 2011 is to simply keep plugging away at being a better journalist, avoiding those typos, being persistent and tip-toeing around libel.

3. Find a specialism

This is an interesting one. Ostensibly it’d seem that my specialism is having a keen grasp of multimedia potential within journalism, as well as a passion for digital media. But therein lies a quandry. Areas like finance, politics and science are in some sense, locked in time. They continue to evolve and change, weave in and out of fashion and create new sub-genres, theories and principles, but expertise in these areas largely relies on understanding and interpreting a fixed structure of rules and applying them to contemporary situations.

Technology, on the other hand, moves much faster. And as it moves much faster, so the need for all journalists to grasp a basic understanding of it gathers pace. What I’m trying to say is; Am I running the risk of becoming irrelevant in 2 years time when multimedia becomes even more commonplace amongst hacks in the newsroom? It’s still unclear exactly what employers want from young journalists, and what looks accomplished now may well become the norm as we approach the middle of the decade. It’s only a matter of time before my extra knowledge starts to become a normality rather than a specialism.

So to that end I’d like to develop some kind of speciality that’s less transient and more tangible. Maybe it could be a more clear understanding of media matters and the future of journalism, or improving my Ukrainian so that I’d feel comfortable writing articles in another language, who knows. Either way I want to find something to latch onto whereby people might point in my direction if the question “Who’s an expert in…X?” is posed.

They’re my trio of New Year’s Resolutions. You’ll see no more self-centred writing for at least another 355 days.

Introducing…Hacks/Hackers Manchester

Update: I’ve been alerted to the fact that some people have already been working on this for Manchester, but it’s been under wraps until now. Nonetheless, we’re going to co-operate and hopefully produce something in the near future. The post below still stands as a mission statement, but I’ll leave it up to the concerned parties to announce where Hacks/Hackers Manchester is headed.

Hacks/Hackers is an organisation in the US that encourages people from journalism and technology communities to come together. Recently they leapt across the pond with last week’s launch of Hacks/Hackers London. A whole new realm of possibilities can be created from this kind of participation.

It’s with this in mind that I’d like to announce the formation of a similar event for Manchester. The city already has a friendly, knowledgeable and prolific journalism and digital scene. It’s already very open to collaboration, and events like the Social Media Cafe regularly show that people from across all industries frequently come together to chat and exchange ideas. I’ve been in touch with Hacks/Hackers HQ as to whether we’ll officially integrate into their wider online community, but we certainly have goals and aspirations that are in line with their mission statement.

In many ways, data-driven journalism has been thrown into the mainstream by the recent coverage of Julian Assange’s Wikileaks over the past month. For many people, it represents a goldmine of new opportunities and strategies. With Columbia University launching a combined master’s degree in journalism and computer science, and national newspapers starting to specifically employ coders, journalists are grasping the nettle and widen their understanding of the web to implement ideas previously written in a notepad and never followed up.

I’ve always wanted to be able to make data visualisations, and that’s now possible by presenting a coder with the raw information and letting them get to work on the nitty gritty. The value of this is two-fold. First, I can use these projects to better engage a reading audience and add value to text-only stories. Second, coders (hopefully) get an exciting project to work on using real statistics as a form of digital storytelling.

By virtue of this, Manchester is the ideal place to launch another branch of Hacks/Hackers. A passionate hyperlocal scene in the northwest (the likes of Inside the M60, Blog Preston and Saddleworth News) has already shown it’s the ideal proving ground for innovation. Hacks/Hackers Manchester has the potential to be a really worthwhile event that can enrich new forms of journalism by harnessing the power of data and programming proficiency, as well as providing a social event for people who are interested in the ideas listed above.

I’m meeting with a few people next week in order to think through some strategies to get it going, and we’ll be presenting a few ideas at the next Manchester Social Media Cafe. If you’re a coder looking to collaborate with some journalists or vice versa, then come along to hear what we’ve come up with. Alternatively if you fall into neither of the above then feel free to turn up as well! The concept is very much in an embryonic stage and we welcome ideas from everyone.

Thoughts on Standf1rst

I haven’t blogged much here of late, due to commitment with quite a few other projects. However, I’d like to offer my thoughts on Standf1rst, the hyperlocal venture that was launched three weeks ago by Bournemouth University students. It’s intended to “serve the BU community, both staff and students”. Below are both my qualms and eulogies of the project.

1. Audience and reach

Standf1rst is limited to the university campus. Produced by students, for students. How tedious and predictable is that? As far as I understand, BU already have a student newspaper in the form of The Wire. Apart from overlapping in terms of content, isn’t this all a bit safe and insular? By proxy, campus news is very niche. I think hyperlocal news should seek to serve a community, voicing citizens’ concerns and giving publicity to causes and events that otherwise don’t get much coverage.

Students are a community, that much is clear, but it’s an artificial one rather than organic. I’d love to see students from BU going off campus*, making Standf1rst a voice for the wider Bournemouth community, using multimedia (I hear the resources at BU are excellent) and generally covering the oddities and issues that get oft get passed up by local trad. media. It seems an opportunity wasted to collect a team of young, passionate, talented writers and then have them solely report on “News for the BU Community”.

2. The issue of lecturers

According to their website, Standf1rst is supervised by Chindu Sreedharan and Dan Hogan, lecturer in Journalism & Communication and programme leader for BA Multimedia Journalism respectively. These two obviously have experience where it counts, and have set the standard for this type of course in the UK.

What I’d like to know is how far their involvement stretches. Having a helping, adroit hand is obviously a good thing for students, but could it ever go too far and result in an over-reliance on lecturers? I’d like to think that the students are left to their own devices, with the lecturers checking in every so often to see how things are going. If they’re leading publication structure and digging out stories for students to go and pursue, then something is wrong.

Hyperlocal is very experimental, that’s the beauty of it. It’s such a wide umbrella of websites that it encourages people to try out new ideas. I’d like to think that the students aren’t leaning too heavily on the lecturers, because there won’t be anyone holding their hands once they set graduate.

3. Long form journalism

I thought I’d end on a good note, because I didn’t want this to look like a bombardment of cynical judgements on what I expect is a well intentioned and commendable project. Standf1rst have persevered with long form journalism, something unusual in the hyperlocal community and even more unusual in the student community. I think this is both praiseworthy and encouraging.

There are articles I’m reading on the website that if honed and taken up a few grammatical registers could see their authors gracing the pages of the New Yorker in 10 years time. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration, because to be able to sustain a narrative over several thousand words and still “keep it journalism” takes incredible skill and verve at a young age. It’s no secret that I find the majority of pyramid-style journalism dull, so to read content like this coming from a student publication is very promising.

That’s about it. I welcome a response from Standf1rst, and I’d like to reiterate that this isn’t a post that attempts to discredit and demean others’ efforts, just a few critiques and thoughts. Let the discussion start in the comments below.

*This issue has rightly been corrected via the comments. My point still stands about wanting to see a wider participation of the Bournemouth community, but I certainly can’t accuse the students of not going off campus.