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Online journalism

Women who blog (and why I haven't been)

Cybher 2012 logo
So, while I haven’t actively been blogging much of late, I have been focussing on blogging in a slightly different way. My multimedia project for the MA in Online Journalism I’m almost half way through is now in full swing and I’ve just launched a microsite called Ladies Wot Blog, featuring audio interviews with some lovely women bloggers.

These bloggers, bar one who I approached from an expert/academic viewpoint on women in the blogosphere, are all attending Cybher 2012, the all-inclusive conference for female bloggers, which takes place next Saturday 12 May in London. And I can’t wait! I still have a couple more interviews to conduct, one to edit and will also endeavor to do an audio report from the event, venturing into live blogging territory I guess. I’ll also take some piccies and follow up with a full blown report of the day when I return home, and possibly some more audio.

I’ve learned loads while doing this project – and continue to do so – and have had the pleasure of chatting with some fab and interesting people. Studying has never been so much fun!

So if you blog and want to hop over to my microsite and share your blogging stories, highs or lows, or just comment on some of the interviews, please feel free to do so. The more the merrier!

My day at the Guardian Open Weekend

Author’s note: I wrote most of this post the day after the event and failed to finish and publish it. So it’s a belated report of the Guardian Open Weekend but better late than never, eh?

I’ve just been wracking my brain on the premise that this blog post would start with the highlight of my day at the Guardian Open Weekend. And cupcakes popped into my head. A stall set up just outside the Guardian’s office on York Way sold cute little cupcakes emblazoned with the Guardian logo (in icing, no less) and they were yummers. But that wasn’t the highlight of the weekend, I’m just… Obesessed. With. Cake.

It was great for The Guardian to open its doors for the weekend and let us civilians in to poke around and be the ones asking the questions for a change. Not only could we glimpse the offices over the shoulders of burly bouncers who stopped us straying to where we shouldn’t, we also indulged in some great talks. There were loads of sessions I’d like to have attended and many weren’t targeted at media types. The jewellery making session – they got pliers to play with! –  appealled but I plumped for sessions on careers (very topical in my workplace right now), how to make a video (scores points and work and for the MA), how to publish your own book (a blatant ad for Blurb.com but interesting in case I (when) can’t get published the traditional way) and a talk about how the Guardian’s gone multimedia (interesting, relevant and showcased the Guardian’s great work).

This was a two-day event but my buddy Angie and I attended on Saturday only. So, while Ang sloped off to attend a session on gender and equality – and learned the word ‘pinkification’ – I attended “How to change your career’ led by Richard from careershifters.org.

I love career change stories, I find them really uplifting and they remind me that life’s journey doesn’t have to be straight and narrow. One of the audio case studies played during the session was from a chap called Hugo, and it lingers in my mind still.  “Changing career has given me licence to be the same person in work as I am outside of work.” That’s what I want.

Session leader Richard shared his own career change – from international corporate to social entreprenuer – and his body language changed dramatically as he did. The anger and loathing of his old job showed through his tensed fingertips, tort face and you could see the inner rage come out in his words. Moving on to talk about how he made the change and his body relaxed, he lit up and spoke with passion.

It was interesting, to me at least, that there were at least three journalists in the room (all looking for a new career?) in what was a small ish session comprising no more than 30 people. One young woman was working as a trained lawyer didn’t want a career in law; and that the other session leader Sarah is still trying to find out what she wants to do and is embarking on a portfolio career, trying lots of different things until she finds something that fits.

So, to summarise, Careershifters recommends a five step formula:

  1. Get committed (decide to make a change and be proactive about making it happen)
  2. Get to know yourself (look at what switches you on, not what’s on your CV. Define your ideal career ingredients and take the trial and error approach  – attend classes or workshops to see what you like doing)
  3. Explore your options (use your networks to search for opportunities and set up brief meetings with people rather than firing off a CV. Decide if the strategic (planned) approach is for you; whether you want to ‘jump off the cliff’ and straight from one career to another or the parachute approach which is somewhere between the two.
  4. Make the change (put yourself amongst the right people, get the skills you need, manage your finances)
  5. Stay the course (fear of finances, fear of failure, fear of what friends and family think? Don’t let that put you off)

Session number two was about how to make a video, led by the accidental comedy duo of John Domokos and Laurence Topham. Clearly unrehearsed and unprepared these two characters – Laurence the chatty, hyperactive one and John the demure, straight-talking one – flipped from offering advice to showing clips to demo-ing the iPhone and taking questions.

All Guardian reporters – including those from a print-only background – will be trading their Blackberry for an iPhone soon in order to capture video on the fly. They gave some great examples of video interviews and mini films caught on the iPhone and how you can even edit from your smartphone.

In between trying/failing to establish who was lading the session, the pair offered some great tips on lighting, positioning, angles etc before aiming to split us into teams and briefing us to gallivant off and collect vox pops, wide angle shots and general views (GVs) so they could edit it together for a video report on the Guardian Open Weekend. And when they sent us off on our mission, it was only then they realised they needed to get the footage off us, somehow, in order to edit and use it. It was a last minute scramble to hand over an email address to send clips, and the session ended in semi confusion.

Ang and I didn’t take up the video challenge, which clashed with lunch on a noisy side street and our following two sessions – plus a browse around the event’s bookstore featuring the wares of Guardian authors – but this is what some of the others came up with..

We attended a session on how to publish your book which I was expecting to be about why you’d choose to self publish over battling for an agent and then a book deal in this day and age when the publishing industry is flagging. But nope, it was a blatant advert for Blurb.com, a company which helps you publish your own books, whether you’re aiming to be the next JK Rowling or wanting to create an album of photos for loved ones. A few people got up and left after 15 mins but we stuck it out to the end and it was actually interesting. There’s no need for me to fill you in though, you can head straight to Blurb.com for all the info.

Our day ended on very low comfy chairs listening to a handful of Guardian folk talking about how the company has gone multimedia. If you think the Guardian is just about a newspaper, you’d be very wrong, and they plough a lot of time and energy into creating awesome videos, including this incredibly moving and powerful animation; multimedia journalism at its best. They alsolaunched Streetstories, an audio-community-history project for the Kings Cross area.

It was a great day, I left knowing more about the Guardian and hopefully other folk did too. Plus the cupcakes were really rather tasty.

My Pancake Day podcast…

… in which I sound like a bit of a tosser.

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Disclaimer: I had to do this as part of my MA. As an audio experiment. Honest.

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.

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.

To what degree do you need a degree? My next challenge…

It’s not like I don’t have anything else to fill my spare time but last year was pretty monumental… got engaged, moved house, got a dog, celebrated someone special’s 30th birthday, got married, honeymooned and spent my first Christmas as a wife surrounded by a lot of snow after only just making it home from New York in time thanks to an icy runway at Heathrow.

So this year, apart from another house move, has been pretty tame in comparison and I do like a challenge. And this one’s pretty huge too – in a couple of weeks I start an MA in Online Journalism with Birmingham City University (distance learning).

What’s so big about that I hear you cry? Well, I work full time in a busy job as it is, have a pretty active social life, sporting commitments and a family who occasionally like to see me (go figure) so there’s the time angle. This MA will take up around 18 hours of my week and when you factor in everything else in my diary, that’s not going to leave a lot of time for lazing around reading crime novels, watching my Murder She Wrote boxsets or scoffing curries after work with my colleagues.

But there’s anther angle too… I don’t have a degree and a Masters is what you’re supposed to do after the degree. Luckily for me my experience ‘in the field’ has made up for my lack of degree and not only did they let me in, they also gave me an advanced scholarship. So I don’t want to let them, or me, down.

Journo Nest logoI say lack of a degree like it’s a bad thing but I have to say that not having one has never ever held me back. I’ve always applied for jobs which are for graduates and got interviews; and, of course, got my current job that way. Yes, my current employer – a university – questioned my lack of degree but I answered with: “I have three years experience working full time in the industry instead of a degree. That makes me three years ahead of anyone else my age with a degree, it would be impossible for them to have as much work experience as I do.” And that did the trick.

And in newspapers, the industry I worked in before my current job, it was never about qualifications, it was about experience, ability and enthusiasm. That’s not to say qualifications aren’t necessary, they often are and I’ve endeavored to do any qualification offered to me while also working – some NVQ Levels 4s, a CIPR Diploma in Public Relations etc – so on top of experience, so far, that’s stood me pretty well. If you can gain experience AND work towards a qualification, grab the opportunity with both hands. It’s one of the reasons The Open University works so well, it offers people of any age and background the chance to do both. But don’t underestimate the power of experience, it’s what says you can actually do the job.

When I did my journalism training at just 18, my mentor confessed to preferring to take on 18-year-olds than 21-year-olds grads – we were youger, keener, easier to shape and the full-time college experience was much more a replica of a working day than the traditional university lifestyle which made graduates a bit lazy. His words, not mine.

So, not only am I worried about the time it will take me to complete the MA – which is over three years and done from home – I’m also worried about the academic side of it. Am I up to it? I screeched and moaned my way through the CIPR Diploma because it was tough (perhaps because I was a journo sitting in a room of PRs?) but if I had my time again I’d still do it.

And this is a small worry but my peers are likely to be a decade younger than me, probably a lot cooler and grew up with online tools where as I’ve had to actively learn them. But this is minor league, I’m down with the kids and looking forward to swapping knowledge and views and experience.

But all of those worries sit beneath a bubble of excitement that I get to study the subject I love under the guidance of a well respected and talented tutor (see Online Journalism Blog), and that will boost my career and my qualifications. I’ve reached the point where I’d like to be academically more able and have some theory behind what it is I’ve been working at for more than a decade.

So, it starts in a couple of weeks and I’m desperately trying to get ahead by preparing, doing some background reading and trying to conjure up some kind of study plan. And seeing my friends because I won’t have so much time to do that when the MA kicks in.

And until it does start, I am full of excitement, nerves and questions. I’ll keep you posted. Oh, and the plan is to blog as I go at Journo Nest, the sister blog of Robyn’s Nest.