London trip: constructive, impressive, innovative. Part 1

I’ve been to London for three days of tours of three different newsrooms and the two big Houses of Parliament. It was a trip designed and paid for by the University of Sheffield for the Web and Magazine journalism students. I will describe it using one word for each place I’ve been to during these days in one of the most busiest and tiresome cities in the world.

This is also a form of a feedback for our great tutor Bill Carmichael who had the patience to wait for all of us and the energy to answer our questions and even to have dinner with us in China Town! 🙂

Group picture in China Town

Group picture in China Town

First of all, I want to emphasize on the importance of this trip, especially, to the Newsrooms because they have offered us a good taste of the real world of journalism. It’s not fake, it’s not an exercise, it is what it is: journalism in some of the largest newsrooms in UK or in the world. We could have never learned about them from staying in Sheffield.

1.BBC Online – impressive
2.The Independent – constructive
3.Daily Mail Online – innovative (yet realistic)

Tour of BBC

Tour of BBC

BBC Television Centre is the name of this huge newsroom with thousands of people working for it. It is impressive to step in a centre where you can actually feel the journalism in every bit of it. TV studios, live broadcasting, phones ringing, tweetDecks refreshing chaotically, TVs on each desk, people typing frantically and a real town underground with shops, pharmacies and cafes. How cannot this be impressive?

BBC Television Centre

BBC Television Centre

The tour just gave me chills. I think it’s every journalist’s dream to have at least some months of work for the BBC. Though what sort of discouraged me was Matthew Eltringham‘s frank response about the hard chances a journalist has nowadays to get a job with the BBC considering the cuts they have suffered in the past six months. However, a man can dream, right? 🙂

The Independent newsroom is, obviously, much more different and smaller. Still, journalists act almost the same: Stamina and nerve all the way. Jack Riley was our host at Northcliffe House, a building that gives home to several newspapers such as Daily Mail, London Evening Standard, Metro and some others which I can’t really remember now. We mostly talked about social media and the roles it plays in the life of a newspaper, in terms of marketing and newsgathering. Hmm, actually I reckon we talked more about the marketing side of social-media and how it helped the newspapers (the 20p “I” too) gain more readers.

Anyway, it was a constructive talk with good questions coming from my classmates. I believe it is also important to mention here that the Independent looks to find an efficient way of payable content like the Times. It is an interesting challenge, but I consider there are too many ways to read the news for a paper to earn money through this system. It should probably upload online some great, exclusive materials worth to be paid for.

Finally, the Daily Mail Online, the newsroom which seems the perfect place for web journalists. It was the ONLY newsroom that gave me the feeling that the WEB Department really matters for a newspaper. I say this because for BBC and the Independent the online seems to be the “necessary evil” (apud Hanne). The web is just an auxiliary tool fed with information coming from TV, Radio and news agencies. It just seems boring to me…but I pray to God to be wrong.

Northcliffe House

Northcliffe House

Unlike many other newsrooms, Daily Mail cares about its website, it might be because it’s the second read/largest in the world after the New York Times? Although they opened their website later than all the others competitors in the UK, Daily Mail tried to change the traditional, sometimes boring, journalism. I know Daily Mail does not have the most qualitative news in the media, but its way of writing them (online) triggers millions of readers per day. I loved it the most maybe because our speakers, Sarah Graham and Claire Bates (former student at Web Journalism, Uni of Sheffield) expressed a really realistic view on what readers want from a news website.

Long headlines that explain the whole story, a catchy teaser, many photos with short captions, some more photos, bullet points, photos again and in the end, a big section of commentaries moderated by people hired especially for this job.

A 24-hour newsroom, with night-shifts and people updating the homepage sometimes within seconds. They have reinvented the traditional journalistic titles. Because this is online and that’s the beauty of it: no space limit. Sure, most of the people skim through an online text and that is why Daily Mail based its strategy on the big, long headlines that would attract a reader and not deceive him with some short, lacking (almost) sentences.

There are definitely different views on this – they don’t teach you this in school; I know some journalism teachers who would die from heart attack if I wrote such titles for my patch stories 😀 – however, it works for them, and it works pretty damn good too. Daily Mail has recently opened two offices in New York and Los Angeles, going after the first place in the world by overrunning the NYTimes. Fingers crossed!

They spoke the truth: rewriting stories is vital for web journalism otherwise you could never get 400 stories a day for your online version. There’s no shame in that as far as journalists use their own words and dig for some more info. In-depth research comes when it’s time for that. Phones are best friends with these journalists and so are the Picture and Video agencies, those which provide them with great content. And on top of everything is the unique style they are using for writing these stories.

Inside BBC

Inside BBC newsroom on Wood Lane

Overall, I think the trips to the newsrooms showed us that web journalism is not as evolved as I thought. I mean, as a web journalist you have to do broadcast and print at the same time, but by using twitter and your multi-tasking phone. Matthew, from BBC, said there is no such thing as a “specialised web journalist”, therefore I ask myself if the online reporters are really doing a journalistic work or if the web will ever become more important than the print? Because, obviously it hasn’t yet or at least most of the traditional journalists don’t see it like that.

My second part on the Houses of Parliament and our political speakers will be published soon 🙂

Westminster

Tour of Houses of Parliament

Twitter lesson with @fieldproducer

As a journo at University of Sheffield, I had the great pleasure to meet Neal Mann aka fieldproducer today, on a Twitter workshop. He describes himself as a “Freelance Journalist & social media junkie working for the likes of Sky News.” Basically, he has been breaking news on Twitter since 2009 for Sky News. Neal was a former broadcast MA student at the Uni. And he came to teach us some in-depth about this weird, yet fabulous micro-blogging platform. I admit I’m not such a big fan of tweeting, but I guess that’s because I’m more of a Facebook person.

However, there’s another story with Mark Zuckerberg’s billion wonder – it’s more friend like than newswise. There are many tips about Twitter on hundreds or thousands of blogs, yet not many people use Twitter as a tool for news gathering. Most of the print and web journalists, especially in my country, Romania, tweet only for promoting their articles, editorials etc. And that’s just fine, but there is more than selling your news on Twitter. There are stories hiding behind those 140 character messages, stories which can reach you faster and stronger even than media agencies such as AP or Reuters.

I remember, when I worked for www.adevarul.ro, that some of the very first pictures I’ve seen with the bomb attacks on Moscow metro last year came from Twitter. And so did the pictures of the airplane landing safely on Hudson river or the pictures of the train crash in Belgium in Feb. 2010. There are numerous examples of the “hand” that Twitter gives to journalists and I think that those who grab this hand can score some white-pinkish points in their news rooms.

Obviously, you have to know who to follow and who are the three (or several) reliable sources you need as a journalist to put together a story. Breaking news is not simple in an era of global, digital journalism in which there are so many people who have access to a diversity of sources, from bloggers to common citizens. That’s when a good twitter account makes the difference!

Neal advised us to use Twitter for making lists of people according to our and their interests (i.e. police, military, council lists). It’s not easy to gain important, influential people as your followers, but building a brand of yourself for the virtual world triggers confidence and privacy. And then people will feel safe and confident enough to talk to you first before going to other journalists. So, Twitter helps us gain the trust of thousands of people that we have not even met before in the flesh. For a conservative, traditional journalist this sounds as an absolute madness, however famous media trusts base some of their most valuable news stories on such investigation.

It takes time, a smart phone and a good wi-fi connection to be on Twitter all day long, seven days a week, and sometimes it might be boring, but I strongly believe it can easily become an addiction. Oh, and one more thing I was told today: don’t broadcast your hangover, the colour of your piss or the smell of your morning coffee…nobody cares about it, unless you’re famous, of course! 🙂

Experimenting social media

how an addict looks like 🙂

Alright, after the seminar we had yesterday at the Uni with Matthew Eltringham from BBC I tried to get to know social media better. I think it can help you a lot in finding new stories, although going out on the streets is always better. However, this Tweetdeck is pretty smart and concise and I’m hoping to bring me some good stuff, because it’s pretty damn hard to start over with no connections in a new city. (e.g. Sheffield – for me)

On the other hand, I just think social media (including here the most famous twitter and facebook ) can eat you alive. I mean, there is so little of you and your true life left in the world. We could practically breathe the virtual air and nobody would bother. I love internet, it helps me a lot and gives me reasons to be happy, but what about the real stuff..that palpable thing that you believe in. It’s not superficial, it’s just that sometimes I miss the peace of a day in which I wouldn’t feel the need to go online.

Whatever, it could be just the late hour. I got two links to share:

1. First of all it’s a blog post about the guy from BBC. It’s on Christine Cawthorne’s website. (she teaches us, web students)
http://www.crocstar.com/2010/10/live-blog-with-matt-eltringham-from-the-bbc/

2. Secondly, it’s the trailer for a great movie about the inventor(s) of Facebook (this gigantic souls thief 😀 )

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