Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Helvellyn or top of the world

Proof that I don't just sit at a desk all the time has just arrived in my Twitter account - thanks @arrhenius. And I'm not just clinging to the trig point because Helvellyn is 950 m high...

@saramcconnell I've worked out how to upload photos, so here'... on Twitpic

Friday, 18 September 2009

Back to work - with an iPod Touch

My first day back at work after a four month sabbatical was considerably eased by the gift of an iPod Touch. All totally above board - the phone is part of a project my colleague @anthonymcneill is working on to promote Twitter as a learning tool and investigate its possibilities for creating new ways of classroom interaction. Given that students (certainly my students) have texted a whole message before I even manage to find the predictive text key, there could definitely be mileage in, say tweeting debate questions on Twitter to which students can text responses and see each others' tweets in real time. The challenge will be to strike a balance between innovation and technology for the sake of it, I think. Tony has started his own blog on the project and his ideas, which makes very interesting reading.

But he was keen to get journalism students involved because they are, as he rightly says, more obvious users of Twitter than, for example, engineers. My first move will be to set up a course- specific Twitter account as part of Tony's project, which I'll use to get students used to the idea that they can collaborate on their own stories, find sources and find other journalists to follow. I've just looked at the MA Journalism multi-media reporting module that I wrote for the first time last year and the first thing that struck me is how old-fashioned it looks (it doesn't help that I have to teach the NCTJ newswriting syllabus as part of the module but that's another story which I'll come back to). So the module is in for a complete overhaul. It won't be as hot on social media as the MA in social media run by @paulbradshaw at Birmingham City but it'll be a lot more up to date than the NCTJ's newwriting exam.

Re the iPod Touch. It's a beautiful piece of technology and the touch screen is a masterpiece. But how frustrating that wi-fi on the move is so minimal. Mobile internet access is a bit less useful when you can only really use it in places where you already have internet access through your desktop PC (ie at work or at home). Still, who am I to complain?

Friday, 11 September 2009

Why do people blog and tweet?

What's this blog for? Why do people blog and Tweet? I've just read journalism professor Mindy McAdams' post on her advice to journalism students when they write blogs or use Twitter. She tells them to ask themselves who they're writing for and why they're writing. In other words, the same advice journalism lecturers give their students at the beginning of every academic year.

But blogs are different from news stories, people argue. They're more of a comment, more personal. Yes, but you still need to know your audience and in this age of interactivity and instant response, even the most reader-phobic journalists have no excuse for writing in a self-imposed vacuum.

If I agree with McAdams (which I do), what is my blog for? I started it for a number of reasons: 1) that it would be a useful way of identifying some of the main themes coming out of my reading and research 2) that it could be an interesting exercise to start documenting the actual process of doing PhD research and looking at this process from the point of view of someone whose background is as a practising journalist, not as an academic and that 3), others engaged in the sometimes lonely process of PhD research may find it comforting to read that I'm stuck/bored/frustrated like they are.

There's also a 4), slightly less noble, which is that having blog is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity for professional credibility, especially for academics whose research touches on social media, as mine does. I still know of plenty of colleagues who don't blog and it doesn't seem to have done them any harm but equally, for people whose job is communication, a blog is a good way to get yourself out there.

As a lecturer in multi-media journalism, I also believe it's important to practise what you preach to the students. If you're teaching them how journalists use social media, you need to demonstrate that you're blogging and tweeting and keeping an eye on the trend topics.

Who is the potential audience for my blog? Hopefully, it's colleagues, students, other academics, people interested in journalism and journalism research and anyone engaged with more general new media and journalistic issues like the future of journalism and whether anonymous bloggers should be unmasked.

McAdams reports that some of her journalism students say they don't "get" Twitter. I don't think anyone does until they're signed up and using it regularly. It's then that you realise how important it's becoming as a source of information and interviewees for journalists, how they use it to collaborate and file eye witness reports, and watch stories emerge from some of the inconsequential chat.

So far, I've used Twitter as many other people do, to share interesting links about journalism-related topics, to link to my own posts, to see what the big topics are, to find people I haven't seen for a while and generally to be sociable. I've discovered from experience that you should choose who you follow carefully so that you don't get too many totally irrelevant tweets. Feel free to ignore people who ask to follow you if you're not interested. Choose relevant topics and save them to your searches so that you can quickly get to the debates you want to join. In short, take control and Twitter is an exciting journalistic tool.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A good start....

A good start - my supervisor was pleased with my draft contextual chapter. This didn't mean she didn't have questions and comments about what I'd written. It would have been worrying (if flattering) if she'd told me everything was marvellous. Now I've got to get on with the next phase - formulating my main research questions. I did this at the very beginning, when I applied to Sheffield in the first place and submitted a research proposal. But as I formulated a series of questions off the top of my head in an hour between teaching first year Approaches to Journalism and second year Online Journalism, it's fair to say the questions need work. Just maybe not today. No pressure...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

An activist's guide to the law

To #climatecamp for a law lecture to celebrate finishing and sending off the first draft of my PhD contextual chapter. I've been meaning to go up to the camp before it disbands tomorrow to see what's still happening on my doorstep, and I thought I'd pick up some useful information to pass onto any students thinking of going on demonstrations or covering them as student reporters.

The title, an Activist's Guide to the Law, suggested that this probably wasn't the sort of course you'd expect at law school. The venue was a tent on Blackheath and the most comfortable seat was a hay bale. There was plenty of useful advice about what to do if you were arrested and charged while on an "action", about how important it was not to tell the police if you had mental health issues unless you wanted them to put you on suicide watch and wake you in your cell every hour, and how the most important thing was not to grass on your mates. Check out Activists' Legal Project for more.

But the average age of the audience was probably mid-20s and most of them looked as if they'd be back up at university at the end of the month. Apart from a couple of seasoned campaigners, none of them had ever been arrested. The majority of the group was female and looked about as threatening as a girl guide pack. They had their notebooks out and their hands up and wanted to know the answer to very sensible questions - such as: "What effect will getting a criminal conviction have on my job prospects/mortgage/insurance?"

There's been much indignation among campers about reports in the Daily Mail portraying them as middle class. That would be too sweeping (what else can you expect from the Mail?) Idealistic, definitely. Approachable, polite. And they'll hate me for saying this - but pretty well organised. Anyone who can organise that many people, run an impressively varied programme of activities over four days, raise important climate issues and get locals on-side like they have, deserves some praise. And they call this anarchy?