News, Twitter and Michael Jackson’s death

So Michael Jackson is dead. An era of pop has ended. Sorry to be such a hack about what a great story to go out on.

It’s 0145 BST and I’ve just got home after a frantic few hours in the newsroom, extended past my normal late shift finishing time.

On the taxi home I was wondering to myself if this will be one of the stories that everyone in media gets into a frenzy over but which actually in the cold light of day turns out to be irrelevant to most of the public.

We’ve totally gone to town on this story. First there was a breaking news bulletin a 11.33, followed by hourly updates. Three teams are being sent from London to the US to cover the story and the Washington desk has also had to decamp.

I was on the phone non-stop to Uri Geller’s house and lined up an interview for tomorrow morning at 8.30pm which should be shown on the special 9.30am bulletin as well as the news at noon. The real thrill was watching websites for updates – the LA Times’ coverage was outstanding, both on their site and through links on Twitter (care of Andrew Nystrom).

On the way home in the taxi the radio station was playing back to back Michael Jackson tracks. In the office the screens that I’d been staring of street scenes in LA, at the hospital, outside his house all gradually became  filled with a mass of people pouring out to express their grief.

As I got out of the taxi, shattered after a long day and on an adrenaline comedown I told the driver I hoped he enjoyed the Jackson tracks. “Actually,” he replied “I’m really upset about it.” Look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.

Becoming a Thomson Foundation trainer

Just back from a Thomson Foundation ‘Training the Trainers’ day at the Oriental Club, an old-school gentleman’s club in London.

It was a jam-packed session enabling practicing journalists to learn the skills they need to share their skills with others in the industry.

We were introduced to the tricks and techniques that help people to remember what they’ve understood and to make sure that they way that we train stimulates learning.

The key to all of this is to change the trainees’ behaviour. It’s all well and good putting on an entertaining show but if people who’ve attended your course go back to their working environment and cut put into practice or worse can’t remember what you’ve talk then it’s you the trainer, not them who’s failed.

After a few hours of introduction and learning we were put to the test, split up into groups of tv, print, radio and online people. Needless to say I was the only online person and found myself with the unenviable prospect of being in a group of one!

Many of the others had the advantage of not only having decades of experience in the trade but also having been on training courses and some had even been trainers before.

Well where the hell could I start on that one? Literally everything I know about the world of online I’ve taught myself. It’s not even like I had a distant memory of a course that I could repurpose.

Do you start with SEO, podcasting, online video? Seriously I was on the edge of an anxiety attack as I sat there pondering what the hell I could tell this assembled panel of legendary journalists including the likes of Robin Oakley who on average had more experience in the trade that I did on planet  earth.

In the end I decided to hone in on the basics. The likelihood is that most journalists won’t have entered the train to work online and while buzz words like social media are flying around the newsroom, it may not necessarily obvious how or why they can you such tools to their advantage in the world of work.

So the learning objective of my course was to teach journalists how to use social media to create a conversation with their audience. Ultimately I think that’s where the real value in stuff like twitter, flickr, social networking sites and blogs lies.

It was a really useful experience, but to be honest I’m still shaking from nerves two hours on. Not a bad experience, less than 24-hours after learning that I’ll be jobless.

Another hack bits the dust

In the week that the citizens of Iran used digital media to empower their demands for change and circumvent constrictions on the flow of information, Britain’s largest commercial news broadcaster decides it doesn’t need a website. Go figure!

I’ve just found out I’m facing redundancy. But wait, don’t bring out the violins. My situation is one that thousands of journalists are facing. At least I don’t have kids or a mortgage to fund. To be honest I’m ecstatic about the adventure that lies ahead of me.

As nonsensical as the decision to end the contract for the website may seem, it’s no more messed up than the concept of running an unmanaged site with no defined purpose or editor. There were no referrals to the stats, minimal original content and it existed mainly as a dumping-ground for video content from the thrice-daily bulletins. Oh, and did I mention that all of the video content was geo-blocked?

I’ve met some lovely people along the way but I have never had such a pointless job in my life. (I’ve stuffed envelopes, worked as a scanner in a legal department and been a sandwich maker for postmen, so trust me, I know what I’m talking about).

How would I describe my experience? It’s been akin to being on the border between purgatory and hell. It was never so horrible that you could get angry but the tedium and frustration pushed me close to insanity (maybe even beyond, my doctor might say).

Why did I stay? Fear, I guess; the idea that this was where it was supposed to be at. This was the renowned news bulletin where so many had made their name. Despite my lowly position I was part of the inner sanctum of editorial meetings at which the gods of media decided what information the masses would consume. At times it was intoxicating, getting wrapped-up in breaking news, knowing the inside story months before it ever hit the headlines…

Yet deep down I knew it was never going to be for me. The ideology behind the programmes wasn’t one I would ever ascribe to and to pretend to do so simply for a monthly pay check and to give the impression that I’d ‘made it’ would have made me a fraud.

So I stuck it out; going the full gamut from anxiety to apathy to a conviction that something better had to be out there. The truth might well be that it’ll be down to me to create that something. But I’m fine with that. I’ve bloody earned it – both through lasting this long here and from the decade plus of experience in journalism that I’ve accumulated.

What young journalists think about journalism and its future

Young journalists are braced for the rise of multiplatform journalism and the decline in traditional news sources yet few of you imagine yourselves working outside of mainstream news in the foreseeable future.

In 2007 I came up with the idea of setting up a dinner club for young journalists to discuss the future of the trade. That has now blossomed into something even bigger and at our session last week I carried out a survey of ‘young’ journalists’ thoughts about our trade.

The findings of my (completely unscientific) survey raise questions as to how early-stage journalists expect to be able to maintain career longevity in a rapidly changing media landscape.

“Journalism is hugely overrated and unsatisfying for so many people but it teaches you the skill of proper writing so it’s worth doing,” was one comment that seemed to sum up many of your thoughts.

The main gripe cited about your current positions was the lack of opportunity to engage in original journalism. Poor organisation, the prevalence of desk-based reporting and increasing job insecurity were cited in equal measure. Only one person mentioned a poor salary as a bugbear!

Your reasons for becoming a journalist were very honourable. Most of you were attracted by the idea that you could make a difference through journalism, travel lots and do a job that was varied.

Despite some disillusionment with your choice to enter the trade, “I didn’t want to work in an office from 9am – 5pm. Instead I now work in an office from 8am – 8pm”, you’re all pretty optimistic about the future.

Back on it

Things have been quiet online because my offline existence has been hectic to say the least.

I’ve been settling into my new apartment, embarking on a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend in Ibiza, shadowing with videojournalists on ITV London, hosting dinners, starting a new tumblelog, attending seminars at the Reuters Journalism Institute at Oxford, setting up meetings, being interviewed as well as creating social networking site that’ll hopefully anchor all of these actions in the future.

Thank you for bearing with me! I’m not sure where all of these developments leave this blog but I will continue to post. If you’re looking for other locations at which to follow my path to who knows where, try clicking on the links above.