news:rewired Opening Sessions

Notes from the opening session of the very first news:rewired in January 2010

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

George Brock

head of journalism department, City, University of London

George Brock has just given a rather inspirational address at the beginning of news:rewired, and I’m not just saying that because I was one of the first people he name-checked…

He speech celebrated chaos, the idea that we’re in a process of massive change, and that the “spaghetti throwers”, those actively promoting and exploring change, is vital. We’re throwing spaghetti at the walls and seeing what sticks…

Many of our past assumptions are false. Traditional, established professional journalism is not as old, traditional or established as we think it is.

And I love some of his ideas – journalism taught on the “teaching hospital” model. Brilliant. Great agenda setting.

Kevin Marsh

BBC College of Journalism

Three key ideas while facing the practical challenges of educating journalists:

One: Rate of change

Journalists were suddenly expected to take on new roles and new skills that didn’t exist within the BBC before. We were putting at the centre of the news offer not the bulletins but “live and continuous”. The internal news agency became the flywheel of the whole operation. Blogging and podcasting became much freer.

Our landscape is shifting – it’s changing faster than we can understand it, it’s changing faster than we can handle in any formal way. If you think you have the answer, you didn’t understand the question.

Large organisations are changing from within – in a way that can look like chaos – but only in the way that any living organism looks chaotic.

Two: New skills needed

Two core skills:

  1. Finding, checking and assessing facts.
  2. Telling those facts.

That duality was at the heart of his infamous e-mails about Andrew Gilligan and the Hutton enquiry. Multimedia skills do not supplant traditional journalistic skills – making contacts, findings stories, pursuing investigations, etc.

However, he sees an anxiety amongst journalists about how much they are expected to do. A newsroom does not need to be populated exclusively by pan-media people. You need people with higher than average skills, but not everyone needs to have them all. He’s making the comparison with one man media machines like Ben Hammersley.

Look at what attracts you. Look at what you do well. Evaluate new skills and media – what do they add to what you do? Is it working for you? Is it delivering? If not, drop it. When you find the skills that work for you, keep innovating. Once you stop innovating, the chances are you should be moving on and looking at something else.

Blogging has done more than anything else to transform how journalists work. Nick Robinson and Robert Peston are cited as examples. Robinson has destroyed the notion that a story isn’t a story until it appears on the 10 O’Clock bulletin using his blog. It puts expertise to the front – both knowledge and authenticity.

Three: skills and tech are in service of journalism

Any skills you have are a means to an end, not an end in itself. We spend too much time talking about the applications and not about what they can do. Stay outside that bubble.

BBCcity universitygeorge brockjournalism educationkevin marshnews:rewired

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.