Thursday, 22 July 2010

Rewrite time

From the nature of convergence to the impact of the digital newsroom on professional journalistic identity. The emphasis of my research has shifted more substantially than I realised over the past year (mainly because I didn't look at my research questions for months on end but just kept on reading in the tiny cracks of time between teaching and marking).

When I looked yesterday at the research aims and objectives I wrote at the beginning of the year, they looked dull and shallow. So I've completely rewritten them to reflect my more recent reading and to focus on what for me is a far more interesting question than the nature of convergence - what it means as a journalist to be a professional and how that professionalism is being challenged now that readers can insult them in comment boxes and blog in a parallel universe.

Cue piles of books on sociology, ethnography and the workings of groups and organisations, all vast areas of scholarship, as I'm now starting to realise. I keep telling myself that I may not be a sociologist by training (or at all) but that journalism studies at Sheffield is in the Faculty of Social Sciences, which gives me what sociologists might call a "pseudo-legitimacy".

My next task after a week's holiday next week: to draft two chapters of 8,000 words each on the context of my research and a review of the literature. I've worked out that if I write 1,700 words a day I should be able to do it in two weeks. Just keep writing....

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Is it worth climbing the Times paywall?

I've finally climbed over the Murdoch paywall and handed over my debit card details for access to Times Online. Partly out of professional curiosity and partly out of loyalty to my old colleagues at TO who fear no-one will go to the site if they have to pay. Rightly as it turns out - according to the latest figures, they've lost two thirds of their traffic since shutting out the greedy readers who want everything for free.

But the big question has to be - is worth paying for? I hate to say it but so far, the answer is no. I've been on the site several times today, looking mostly in vain for stories which I didn't read in this morning's print edition. The typeface is distractingly small and serif faces are difficult to read online. Quite a lot of the content is more than a few days old and there's little evidence of the sort of innovative multi-media story telling and hyperlinking that could bring in new readers or tempt existing ones to part with £8 a month.

Relaunches are hell, as I know from experience, and it's easy to carp from the sidelines. So I'll keep visiting... and hoping to be amazed.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Jewels out of jargon

Back to research (and this blog) after weeks of hellish marking and exam boards. Nothing to do but read. Judging by the emptiness of my inbox, my colleagues are all doing the same. Let's make the most of it before the slash and burn of higher education starts in earnest in the autumn.

Osbourne and co may not realise it but reading is hard work, not least because some academics seem to think that writing a book or article full of jargon somehow makes them cleverer. So what if no-one understands it? Only a handful of people are going to read it anyway and they're all peers to whom you need to do a bit of showing off. This is what academic research means, as my colleagues and I are quickly discovering. The only journals which seem to count in research assessments are peer-reviewed journals with a tiny readership, often written in inpenetrable language. Never mind if you're a journalism professor like my colleague Brian Cathcart who has written some scorching exposes on the deaths at Deepcut barracks, which attracted widespread praise and high readership numbers. This is journalism, not research, he was told by our new "Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise". Isn't it a bit enterprising to carry out a major piece of investigative journalism which exposes a giant cover-up? Clearly not.

At least Times Higher Education isn't afraid to point out that much academic writing is, frankly, terrible, driven by the requirements of the RAE, and now the REF. "Much academic writing would never be read for pleasure and decidedly fits into the have-to rather than the want-to category", the paper says today. Too right.

Back to my pile of books on the sociology of the professions. Will I find any answers to my questions about challenges to journalistic professionalism in a digital age? They may be in there somewhere but prising the jewels out of the jargon is another matter.