A spoon, a blow torch and a network of digital editors…

Digital Editors Network logoYou can’t beat a better introduction to a conference than for a speaker to heat a spoon with a blowtorch and pledge to place it on a delegate’s tongue to test if she’s lying. Apparently, if you tell the truth your mouth is moist, the tongue/hot spoon combo will create steam and it won’t hurt. If you’re lying, however, your mouth goes dry and a hot spoon on a tongue will result in blistering. Ouch.

Of course, the speaker didn’t go through with his pledge but he’d made his point and made it well. He also said that it’s not that easy to spot a lie – there are other factors that come into play, such as nerves, which can create the false impression that’s someone’s lying.

This intro was the start of the Digital Editors Network meetup at UCL in Preston on October 20th which I had the pleasure of attending. I also hooked up with some folk from the Midland News Association, the organisation I used to work for, as well as two former students of Paul Bradshaw, my MA tutor. That man knows everyone!

So, the #den2011 conf opened with a session on truth telling – and its potential impact on journalism. Can journalists tell when the people they interview are telling the truth or not? Well, given that this was a digital-themed conference, body language isn’t a pleasure us journalists get to experience so often, with most news gathering done online. Fact checking via Twitter, interviewing via phone or email, or researching with Google doesn’t offer the chance to judge body language and we’d need to be pretty proficient in it to call someone on their lie, based on a shrug of the shoulder or a change in their tone.

That said, it was hugely fascinating to learn about our core emotions and how we express them. And more so how those facial expressions of happiness, sadness, contempt, surprise or disgust are universal, applicable to people across history and culture. Our great, great grandfathers, African tribesman and our own children will all express disgust with the same facial expression and Cliff Lansley – the speak with the blowtorch, conducted a lively and engaging talk about how our bodies can give away so much about what we’re feeling.

For the rest of the conference – which is more directly relevant to journalism – please hop over to my Journo Nest blog, the one where I write about my MA in Online Journalism and the advantrues of my learning experience, of which #den2011 contributed.

There I write about ex-Brimingham Post editr Marc Reeves and TheBusinessDesk.com – a case study of old fashioned journalism in an online environment; Grig Davidovitz, a journalist and multimedia strategist, on ‘the product is dead, long live the experience’; and Paul Gallagher, Head of Online at the Manchester Evening News on live blogging.

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