In defence of brand journalism

When Andy Bull got in touch for a masterclass he is running on brand journalism for his current book/website at Multimedia-journalism.co.uk, he got me thinking about exactly what this term means. He reminded me of a comment I left on a post of his, which goes:

“I call myself many things – web editor, blogger, content strategist – but have only recently come across the title ‘Brand journalist’. The slipper seems to fit as I work for a digital publishing agency.

“I’m not producing marketing material but I am creating editorial that focuses on where the target readers’ interests meet the business. The work is not just being a brand reporter but a sub-editor, commissioning editor, publisher and change management adviser – since brands are new to publishing and need a point person on many publishing fronts.
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Travmedia launches new social network for travel trade

Profile%20travmedia.com

Travmedia, a press release and journalist alert service which connects journalists and PRs, has just made a very smart move (I hope) by launching a Facebook-style social network, that will facilitate many more travel trade connections and work opportunities, and make travel freelancers like myself more visible to travel editors.

‘My Network’ is a little clunky to use at first – a beta feedback option would be good for members so that they can improve the user experience. And there are currently some privacy issues – if you are a Travmedia member you should immediately update your default profile so that your full address doesn’t show, for example.

But I think this might be the first useful work-oriented network I’ve joined since Twitter, which has become a little noisy of late.

The success of ‘My Network’ may be dependent on whether others adopt its usage and how Travmedia develops the service. But it’s already been helpful to me in finding PRs for areas I want to cover, for reconnecting with friends I’ve met on press trips and for posting feature pitches and commissions.

We shall see how our relationship progresses after the first flush is over.

My first attempts at ‘journalism’ circa 1984

A few weeks ago Stirchley News discovered some old issues of Snooze aka Stirchley News zine from the mid 1980s in someone’s attic:

“My mother recently discovered a pile of these local interest newspapers in her loft. Mum helped on Snooze and was part of the Stirchley Community Action Group. I also helped a little on Snooze, occasionally, with typing and layout…”

Full story here.

Now, I also helped on Snooze – as a 15-year-old local Stirchley schoolgirl who had a vague idea of one day becoming a fancypants, hi-falutin’ journalist. My bezzie mate Tracey and I compiled the back page section. We called it Hot Gossip and basically filled it with immature jokes, droodles and general silliness.

But I’ve been waiting with some trepidation for the issue to come out with my first attempt at ‘serious journalism’ – or that’s the way I remember it. It involved going down Stirchley High Street and counting the number of different restaurant types, doing an interview and writing up a special report.

Well, finally the issue has been posted online but it’s hardly the in-depth article I remember.

Continue reading “My first attempts at ‘journalism’ circa 1984”

The joy of Creative Commons

…is better parties, social occasions, family life and harmony. Possibly.

Yes, the Creative Commons licensing of your content has the direct side-effect of shareability, clarity and time efficiency of not chasing copyright permissions. But it also has the real-world, real-time impact of more people (hopefully) attending what is a truly lovely family event in Birmingham this weekend. And here’s why – in a 24-hour timeline:

Saturday 12.00: Yesterday, I took photographs at a family day out at this weekend’s Traditional Edwardian Fete at Winterbourne House and Garden, and as is my habit, set them uploading to my Flickr photo account, during the making of dinner. Here’s the set of 60 and also in slideshow format:

Saturday 22.00: After adding a few captions and tags and the like, at midnight I posted the link to the family on Facebook, and then also posted to Twitter.

My tweet about the fete

Sunday 10.00: This morning, I discovered that Nick Booth from my Twitterstream had blogged about my day and posted some of my photos on the Birmingham Conservation Trust charity website.

Birmingham Conservation Trust post

No need to contact me first; the pics were released under Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial licence.

Creative Commons license

RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008

My blog mentor used to say keep your posts short. One point per post. Three paragraphs should do it.

Well, here it is. The perfect post. Albeit leading to 3,000 >more< words of juicy goodness about a trade that is being eroded, outsourced and killed off as mainstream media declines. Over on Subs’ Standards, I’ve just posted up the final chunk of a three-part epic looking back over my 21 years as a sub-editor.

And here is it: RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008. Enjoy! Meanwhile check out these taster pics: of my old-skool kit and the changing size and shape of technology…

Typewriter, typescale, proof marks, reproduction computer
Typewriter, typescale, proof marks, reproduction computer
Typewriter vs laptop
Silver Reed vs MacBook

12 things I learnt at SXSW 2010

I learnt…

* …that Austin looks awesome from the 33rd floor

Frost Tower AustinFringe events outside of the main SXSW programme are occurring all the time. I just found out today for example that there were THREE Twitter parties (not just the official one). But you can often only come across these serendipitously through the people you meet at South-by. One off-programme invite I got was courtesy of Stephanie Frost, a rather lovely marketing lady from Atlanta and co-author of a new book called Marketing Unmasked. Being from Atlanta, she had access to SExSW (which spells Sex SW, I know), a party put on for those hailing from the south-eastern states. Stephanie’s invite took me to the Frost Bank Tower, the second highest building in Austin, for some rather pretty views, chats and a glass of the good stuff up in the 33rd floor penthouse suite.

* …the ABC of douchey panels
Sometimes you just get a panel that doesn’t live up to its blurb. Irritating if you picked that one out of three others that you also wanted to see. It happens; there are hundreds of panels at SXSW. Here are your options:
A. Revel in the backchannel snarking.
B. Leave in search of an alternative or take a sunshine break.
C. Use the time to catch up on your Twitter, emails, feeds, SXSW blog, uploading your SXSW pictures and video, filling in job applications, etc.

* …about the digital agency workflow
Well, one agency’s workflow in particular. I kind of felt sorry for Archetype, the Interactive Agency Workflow panel guys. They had a packed room but killed it by using themselves as the only example. Result? The room emptied by degrees. They also got a slating on the Twitter backchannel. However, being a web writer/editor, I’m often at the end of the digital agency production line and don’t get to see the overall process so this was quite interesting to me. It was good to see the wireframes, hear how not to burn out your staff and some ways of dealing with the post-delivery jubilance that is then crushed by the client hating it.

* …that being called a bitch is good news
I don’t >think< I’ve been called a bitch, but according to @Cinnachick on the #sxswbitch panel, I’m missing out, because this situation is full of WIN. ‘When they call you a bitch, it means you’ve won. Why? Because they aren’t smart enough to continue the conversation,’ she says. Fair point. She loaded this up with a whole list of projects set up by women who haven taken on the establishment in some way to create their projects. Here’s the blog post/slides.

* …that heartbreak and wonderful things often occur simultaneously
The Fray Café is a SXSW regular. It’s an event where people stand up on stage and tell stories, ­with only one proviso: IT MUST BE TRUE. Having had a couple of crap years here and there myself, several stories really resonated. One in particular from Baratunde Thurston, Web & Politics editor at The Onion, was both amusing and tragic at the same time. The audience was sworn to secrecy due to the personal nature of the story, but I was reminded of 1996 – the year I lost my Dad, uncle and grandmother, but also found one of my favourite friends and went off to explore the world. HsAPaPdY.

* …that the average blog is read by 6 people
That stat from Danah Boyd’s keynote. So think about that the next time you feel pressure or guilt to produce a blog post for your audience but should really do other, more important things instead.

* …to JFDI!
Am I a video blogger? No. But Social Wayne impressed on me to ‘JUST DO IT’ in his Becoming a Real-Time Video Blogger in 2010 talk and, you know what, I think I will. After all, YouTube is the No2 search engine, the 4th most visited website, has over 20 hours of video uploaded every minute and is watched for 8.3 hours every month by the average viewer. I also remember randomly overhearing in the corridors: ‘There are just too many words, man!’ So, my takeaway: more video. (And here I am in real-time trying to video blog after 22 hours no sleep on the train to Austin…)

*…two new words
Propinquity is the coincidence of being near – in ‘physical proximity, a kinship between people, or via a similarity in nature between things’. This was brought up by Peter Kim in the Social Business Design panel. Propinquity is what business has to fight/extend/engage with in order to get people to venture beyond their near friends/family. Twelpforce was an example quoted as helping creating this engagement and getting close to consumers by offering a Twitter help squad to answer questions beyond the local store experience. Slacktivist was another word from the Little NGO That Could panel but for some reason this type of portmanteau word reminds me too much of chillaxin’. Bleugh.

* …that content strategists are like WallE
We go around cleaning up the Armageddon-like mess of crap that has been thrown up on the Web often without a thought by brands, marketers and others. And when we find something beautiful amongst the endless crap we get all excited and want to store it and share it. The WallE analogy was used by Kristina Halvorson to bookend her Content Strategy FTW talk.

*…about porn startups
I think #futuresmut was one of the catchier hashtags of SXSW this year and the potential for a smutty backchannel loomed large, especially when an attendee arrived wearing an above-the-knee kilt. While the backchannel (surely a smutword in itself) had a humour fail, the panel did with get right down-to-business (#smutgalore) with pointers for the wannabe pr0n kings and queens in the Hilton Ballroom. Conrad Hilton must be turning in his grave. Here’s what the man in the kilt doodled during the panel by the way – check out the hairy knees.

* …that journalism is getting interesting again
The panel on combining news with context (how revolutionary!), or context with attached news, had some great speakers. What seems clear is that big organisations ar failing to do this well because they are constrained by their traditional roles – which leaves opportunities for the agile. The other interesting thing was The Newspaper Club – a 4IP-funded tool called ARTHR for producing your own newspaper on those ‘magnificent bits of infrastructure that are just lying around’ – printing presses . I heard more than one classic Austin ‘awesome’ when people circulated the ‘limited edition’ newspaper the group had printed at 7am that morning on the Austin Statesman presses. As the endline of the presentation went: ‘We have broken your business, now we want your machines.’ How funny that the internet is accelerating content in the form of old-school newspapers, and how great that these newspapers are made by the readers themselves using traditional publishing infrastructure.

* …that we are networking as Rome burns
Sci-fi author Bruce Sterling traditionally does the final remarks of SXSW and this year his dour look into the future added a fat dollop of real-world context to all us little digitalists running from panel to panel, searching for answers to today’s business conundrums. But in essence we must face the digital demonetisation of our new world – many business models are broken and the numbers involved in their replacements are not large enough to sustain us. Oh and we will be hated by future generations for what we are building or throwing away now – just to warn you.

Tomorrow: the practical gains of attending SXSW this year. [UPDATE: now blogged at Five things I gained at SXSW 2010].

My first video interview ends in a Midlands Today fantasy

This is quite exciting, to me anyway, because I’ve done print interviews and I’ve taken video – now I’ve finally put both together. There are lots of mistakes but on the whole I’m not unhappy with it, especially as it runs uncut with no major hiccups.

Video interviewing feels kind of like driving a car. You can steer perfectly well but then you have to learn to duck-paddle your feet at the same time. Ie, you can ask questions but you also have to be thinking about the shot, and the directional mic (oops), and a good final line, and what they are saying, and what you might ask next, and oh dear, did I not even mention the name of the shop or who Chris and Pete are. (Well, it was spontaneous.)

In digital journalism, you’ll also most likely be holding the camera, too – fortunately, it was an easily manageable Flip in this case – but it can be hard to hold it steady when you’re gesturing with the other hand to keep on talking or trying to direct Pete Ashton back into shot…

Then you’ll need to write up a traditional news intro for your BBC Midlands Today presenters (or whoever), something like:

‘Retail is hard!’ – that’s the view of two local bloggers who have become shop managers overnight after opening the BullRing’s first-ever pop-up arts shop.

Local artists in Birmingham will be competing alongside big names such as Debenhams and Selfridges, after Chris Unitt and Pete Ashton were offered the chance to turn their arts blog into a retail opportunity in one of Europe’s largest shopping centres.

Called Created in Birmingham, after the blog, the shop aims to sell everything from paintings and prints, t-shirts to local photographs, all made by Birmingham artists. Shoppers are even being encouraged to come in and have a chat on the sofas to find out more about the artworks and how they are made.

It opened last night [25.02.2010] and we went along just as they let out their last customer…

Created in Birmingham shop opening night from Katchooo on Vimeo.

Then simply finish with a few quick voxpops with local grizzled shoppers, a cheesy chat between Nick Owen and Suzanne Virdee, and that’s a wrap.

Ok, well maybe I need a bit more practise first.

For more on the CiB shop, here’s the lowdown from the CiB blog.

Transparent journalism – the Web 2.0 way to compile a Top 10 list

Been having fun over on my travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller with exposing the messy inner blood and guts of how I put together two Valentine’s Day features on the ‘top 10’ romantic places in the UK and around the world. The main mashup was an experiment using TravMedia for the big callout for suggestions, Google Docs as a collecting funnel and Twitter as a refinement option for feedback from the non-PR world.

It was going to be a short exposé but in the end turned into a five-part series, culminating in the Creative Commons release of all the PR source material, featuring 101 romantic places around the UK and the world.

I think different people will be interested in different links depending on whether you’re a journalism student, a social media or digital journalist, or a reader in lurve, so here they all are:

  1. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 1: transparency and the trouble with top tens
  2. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 2: the commission
  3. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 3: the seven tools of feature research
  4. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 4: the results of the Google Docs experiment
  5. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 5: 101 romantic places around the world