Thursday, 26 November 2009

Is it really all about ink and woodpulp?

**This is a cross post from the BBC College of Journalism**

The Italian newspaper magnate, Carlo De Benedetti is undoubtedly a man to listen to - an opportunity afforded by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism who invited Ing. de Benedetti (in Italy, the qualification 'Engineer' - 'Ingegnere' - is used respectfully as a title) to deliver its 2009 memorial lecture. You can read it here.

Carlo de Benedetti is Chairman of Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso and La Repubblica - the media group that owns those eponymous weekly and daily titles as well as handful of regional papers, radio stations and internet content.

He's a hugely respected leader of liberal opinion in Italy where his opposition to Prime Minister Berlusconi, both politically and as a rival businessman, has made him something of a hero to centre and centre-left alike.

His theme was the importance of newspapers to democracy and citizenship. Newspapers, note - not journalism. Here's his reasoning:
"Starting from a fact, which flashes naked and unembellished across internet screens – unmatched in terms of speed and immediacy – or across TV screens or radio waves, a newspaper organizes this fact, giving the reader an overview which aids understanding and puts it into context. It thus creates an authentic information system that enables citizen-readers to map out the issue and by reading about it form their own independent and complete final judgement. This passage is the difference between knowing and understanding, between looking and seeing, between being informed and being aware, to the point of ultimately being able to take responsibility for a reasoned personal opinion."
It'd be odd if Ing. De Benedetti didn't defend newspapers and their role in our democracies but what was striking here was his insistence that ink on woodpulp - and all the rigmarole that surrounds it - was somehow different from other ways of delivering journalism. His line that newspapers and newspapers alone can support citizen-readers' democratic decision making feels a bit of an oddity in 2009 .

Both in his lecture and in response to direct questions, Ing. De Benedetti characterised broadcasting and the web as transitory and ephemeral, good for the 'what' but lacking the 'why' - "the difference between knowing and understanding".

Perhaps the media landscape in Italy is very different from that in the UK where examples of genuine understanding derived only from broadcasters or genuine depth derived only from the web are too many to enumerate - indeed, they're routine. Perhaps it's Snr. Berlusconi's dominance of Italian TV that conditions Ing. De Benedetti's view of broadcasting's democratic potential.

Perhaps, too, newspaper culture in Italy is very different from that in the Anglo-Saxon world where, according to Ipsos/MORI's routine 'Trust' polls more than twice as many of us (54%)trust a total stranger to tell us the truth than trust a journalist (22%) to do the same. When 78% of your citizenry can't believe what they read in the papers, it's a bit hard to describe those papers as "an authentic information system".

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A new ethical universe

This is a re-post from the BBC College of Journalism 'Discussion on CoJo' pages.
*** UPDATE: Kurt Greenbaum's response here. ***
Kurt Greenbaum is the director of social media for the St Louis Post-Dispatch. He blogs on his own account as well as running a sector of the newspaper's website -
On Monday, 16 November, Kurt posted this article both to his blog and to 'The Editor's Desk' - one of the parts of the website for which he's editorially responsible.
It told the story of a reader who'd posted a one-word response to an earlier blog which asked the question "what's the craziest thing you've ever eaten?" That word was obscene and would certainly have been removed by any moderator of any responsible blog - which is precisely what happened.
But it didn't stop there. Kurt takes up the story himself:
"A few minutes later, the same guy posted the same single-word comment again. I deleted it, but noticed ... that his comment had come from an IP address at a local school. So I called the school. They were happy to have me forward the email, though I wasn't sure what they'd be able to do with the meagre information it included.
About six hours later, I heard from the school's headmaster. The school's IT director took a shine to the challenge. Long story short: using the time-frame of the comments, our website location and the IP addresses ... he tracked it back to a specific computer. The headmaster confronted the employee, who resigned on the spot."
Kurt's actions have not gone down too well with his blog's readers. At the last count, there were 152 entries, most of them condemning what he did - some in strong terms, including phrases such as "thought nazi".
Sentiments such as this from 'Andrew' are more reasoned and catch the tenor of the responses:

"That was a really low move. The Post-Dispatch opens up their message boards to all users and takes it upon themselves to self-police them. Retaliatory attacks against users is not something that any person should expect from using these boards, save for threats of bodily harm or death."
What seems to have got up the noses of most of his readers is Kurt's tone in both telling this story in the first place and subsequently defending it where, in message board posts, he urges reader/writers to "follow the rules" and then they'll be OK.
So here's an ethical question journalists have never had to confront before. Is removing obscene or offensive comments in moderation enough? Is banning users from future posts enough? This offensive comment was posted from what appeared to be a school computer - does that change the ethical issues involved?
Should a message board poster risk losing his or her job for a comment which, though offensive and obscene, is neither illegal nor threatening?
I've emailed Kurt to ask if he's had a chance to reflect on all of this yet - I'll let you know what he says.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Emerging into the light

It now looks pretty certain that December 14th will be the day the BBC College of Journalism goes truly global with the launch of its new website on - free to UK users, under subscription overseas.
It's been a pretty frustrating couple of months - not with the build of the site; that's been going rather well thanks to the patience and expertise of Web Manager Jon Jacob. There's one niggly little techie thing to finish and then we're there.
No, the frustration has been around the prep work - writing, editing, blogging - to build the content, knowing that no-one outside the BBC can see it yet.
Vital though that constituency is for us - our mantra is 'BBC learning for BBC journalists by BBC journalists' - it has meant that a lot of our discussions on the site have had a dimension missing; journalists and audiences outside the BBC.
Anyhow, here's another sneak preview of the homepage:
A large part of that front page is, as you can see, feeds of various kinds.
We're using, for example, to share blogs and articles that have some learning for journalists in them.
Some of you will be familiar with the College on Twitter - once we're fully public, we'll be able to link from our tweets to our content and blogs ... not being able to do that, for fear of annoying the hell out of non-BBC followers, has felt very restrictive for the last few months.
But there are also links to the content - liking the carousel top centre? And there's a lot of content inside.
About 2,500 pages at the last count. And something like a couple of hundred videos. And dozens of 'virtual newsroom' scenarios ... and quizzes ... and tests. And. And. And.
It's all arranged into four main categories: Ethics and Values, Law, Skills and Briefing. There's also a cross-category bit of the site - the Glossaries.
We've tried to keep the structure as flat as possible - the idea is that you should be able to go exactly where you want with no more than a couple of clicks ... something that's helped by the site's 'intelligent learning environment' - each page's metadata should ensure that you're offered on that page something else similar or related to the learning you're reading or watching.
We'll be adding new content regularly - there's already more stuff in the pipeline on court reporting, numbers, field production and political reporting - and building what we hope will be one of the most important networks around journalism and journalism education in the world.
We'll see.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Getting nearer day by day

One of the most frustrating things about the stage we're at with the new BBC College of Journalism website is that we're so close to publishing ... and yet can't really show anyone what's going on.
I guess it must always be like this. But to bring up to speed those of you who haven't been able to follow ... here's a quick summary of the game so far.
We launched a BBC College of Journalism intranet site back in January 2007 ... aimed at the 7,500 journalists in the BBC (not all of them in News, incidentally).
It wasn't lavishly resourced and some of us - me - who were probably supposed to be thinking strategy and direction learned instead about coding and HTML and Flash and and and ...
A handful of us put together about 1200 pages of learning - guides, tips, advice - and about 250 bits of video; a blog, podcasts, interactive tests and quizzes and built the tools to deliver them. A lot of late nights and a lot of really satisfying work.
Satisfying, too, because we put into effect some really cool ideas about informal learning and were able to find out how early and mid career journalists learn best. (Clue - it's not in the classroom and not from people the journalists don't respect or even admire).
Something went right - about half of our client group visited the site at least once a month (many more than that) and stayed for about 25 minutes using about 14 pages per visit.
The plan always was to share this content with the people who'd paid for it - UK licence fee payers. And to make it available for BBC journalists to work on at home or in parts of the world where a www connection was more reliable than an intranet link.
Which is where we more or less are now.
We've taken all the intranet content; re-shot some of it, re-authored most of it; added to it to create an initial offer of about 1800 pages of learning, 200+ films, audio and interactive tests and quizzes ... and put it all on a site.
You can peek at the front page here.
Anyhows ... the wraps come of for BBC users on 13 October; it being gently launched as a beta site with the inention that our colleagues will help us improve it.
Then - mirabile dictu - sometime just before or around Christmas it'll be available free to UK users and, probably, to global users under subscription.
And though we're sharing BBC learning, the website will remain a site for BBC journalists by BBC journalists - anyone going there will be able to experience exactly the same learning material that BBC journalists use.
Coming soon ... promise.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

A long silence ...

... though why should anyone care.
It's been all about this:

The new BBC College of Journalism site - on and, I hope, soon to be launched to the UK public.
More news soon.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The uses of literacy

Been meaning to post this one for a while.
I imagine it's mere chance - both ads have been appearing for sometime in the New Yorker but always on different pages and never, as here, one above the other. Of course, these ads are one of the many reasons for still having a subscription to the paper and ink version. Someone who does maths should be able to work out the next time these two are likely to come into conjunction.
'Course, it might not be chance. Maybe a temp in the small ads department or setting the page has a wicked sense of humour.
And the New Yorker has visitied similar territory before - the June 9/16 front cover.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Cross fertilisation

By the way, should you want to keep up with how the thinking is evolving in developing the publicly facing College of Journalism website ... take a look here. A working knowledge of Latin is helpful.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Discovering another America

My daughter, Ellen, gave me a splendid Xmas present ... something she came across in one of the second-hand bookshop world's best kept secrets - the Oxfam shop in Turl Street in Oxford. It is a bound collection of The Century Magazine covering May to October 1895.
For those of you who haven't come across The Century Magazine, there's a brief Wikipedia entry here ... which hides as much as it reveals.
The first real thrill came when I opened the volume - it was presented to the writer, architect and gardener Walter Hindes Godfrey in February 1896 - when the young Godfrey was just 15 years old - for 'the best map of ancient Italy'. Godfrey is perhaps best known for his restoration of Herstmonceux. I am no great fan of Godfrey ... but there is something both thrilling and intriguing about knowing who owned a book before you.
The Century is described as a 'popular magazine' - which on the strength of its sales alone, it certainly was. And the style of much of its fiction certainly deserves that description. But in no other sense can the other meanings of 'popular' be ascribed to it. It is a dense read; its pages - 60 lines in two columns - are forbidding to modern eyes and as thickly textured as its illustrations, mostly drawings and engravings with the odd photograph, exemplifying the horror vacui of the time.
The Century was truly global in its subject matter - Napoleon Bonaparte coming high on the list with half a dozen articles during the six months or so of this collection ... presumably marking the centenary of his appointment as CiC of the French army, the event that began his rise to supreme power. There are articles on travels to the orient, the Balkans and England; on personalities; obituaries. And there is fiction. Oh yes, there is fiction - mostly written by apparently formidable women authors, much of it serialised, some of which, "An Errant Wooing" by Mrs Burton Harrison for example, yields nothing in emotional intensity to modern soaps.
But what is most wonderful about The Century Magazine from these latter years of the 19th century is that it clerks and logs the self-discovery of an America that was still bemused by its own existence. For many of the educated middle classes of New York and Boston, America was an un- or partially known presence. For those in late middle-age, the Civil War was a living memory and much of the West, though by the 1890s well-established states of the Union, remained more of an idea than a reality to many Americans on the Atlantic coast.
Unsurprisingly, then, there is much in the pages of The Century Magazine that feels like an exploration of the notion of 'homeland' ... in both fact and fiction. Stories are set on the transcontinental railroad, opened a generation earlier; folk festivals of rural America are studied and described. There is polemic against the tenement landlords of Manhattan who have to be forced to mend the foul drains that condemn their tenants to disease; and a consideration on the marriage prospects of college educated women.
If you want a flavour of The Century Magazine you can dip in here.

Another small stone on the mountain

I've hesitated before adding to the post-Chilcot comment mountain. But there are a couple of things that strike me - especially since ...